Catullus, a brilliant Roman poet of the first century B.C., wrote lyric poetry, epigrams, elegaic poems, and an epyllion (a mini-epic). He was a member of the “neoterics,” a group of young poets who rejected early Roman tradition and looked to Hellenistic models for their poetry about modern life. Perhaps most famous is his Lesbia cycle of poems, in which he describes an affair from flirtation to break-up with a seductive woman who caresses him one day and is unfaithful the next. He sometimes addresses her as puella (“girl”), other times as Lesbia (in honor of Sappho, the poet who lived on Lesbos; nothing to do with lesbianism).
Two of his most famous poems feature Lesbia’s pet sparrow. Here is a brilliant translation of Catullus 2 by the scholar Gilbert Highet.
Tell me, sparrow, you darling of my darling
whom she plays with and fondles in her bosom,
you who peck when she offers you a finger
(beak outthrust in a counterfeit of biting),
when that radiant star of my aspiring
turns towards you, as a pleasant little playmate,
one small bird, to console her when she suffers,
by your love to relieve her burning passion—
could I possibly play with you as she does,
could I lighten the pain that still torments me?