Dirty Renaissance poem, translated from Latin

By John Dobby Boe

I plan to use this blog to post poems, translations, stories, thoughts, and jokes, most of them my own, many of them dirty. Some of you might object that I should use the term “erotic” rather than “dirty,” arguing, “Sex isn’t dirty.” I say that if you don’t think sex is dirty, then you’ve never had sex with me.

So, to begin, here’s my translation of a poem by Thomas Campion (1567-1620), originally written in Latin because Renaissance gentlemen were supposed to keep their dirty stuff from young, female, or less educated readers by writing it in Latin. Campion, a poet and a composer, was a rough contemporary of Shakespeare’s. He was also one of W.H. Auden’s favorite minor poets and is my favorite Renaissance English composer.

The theme of Campion’s autobiographical poem articulates a common educational madness that existed throughout much of the world before Alfred Kinsey: discouraging the young from masturbation by any means necessary—in this case telling boys that if they masturbated their dicks wouldn’t work when they were adults. Campion, like other boys, believed this lie.

The reader should note that in the last line I use an unusual word, “penivorous,” which could as well be rendered as “dick-hungry.” But I think penivorous (which word I steal from the only other translation of this poem) is a fine and needed English word, a word we should bring back into general usage.

On Himself
From the Latin of Thomas Campion

When I was a boy, I was a fool, a total blockhead.
I was scared that if I aroused my penis,
Made it tall, twisting it till its head swelled,
Then I wouldn’t be able to use it when I became a man.
I didn’t dare to touch it, even to push it away,
I was so afraid that when my sprout was fully-grown
It wouldn’t be able to stand up
To the embrace of the sexual circle.

Of course now I know better, just as all you men know,
And you girls too—especially you many bad girls—
What a stupid idiot I was to suffer like that,
In order to be able eventually to enjoy
Life’s supreme delight. Why if I’d worked on it
Until it was bigger than an alder tree,
I wouldn’t have had to worry a bit.
I’d still have been able to get it up
And into the grasp of a penivorous girl.

2 comments on “Dirty Renaissance poem, translated from Latin”

  1. And just what is the Latin word for “penivorous”?

  2. The last sentence of the poem is
    Nec si grandior exiisset alnu
    Idcirca fore mi magis verendm,
    Aut plus penivorae arduam puellae.

    The only other translator, Walter R Davis, renders these lines as”If it had grown higher than an alder, I would not have had to be any more afraid for my happiness, nor would pleasure have been farther from the reach of a penivorous girl.”

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