Methodology: “Catullus: Excrucior” by Frank Bidart
Description. In this exercise, participants use analogy to bridge/yoke two contradictions.
Objective. To write a short description that is a comparable depiction of a paradoxical statement.
Materials. Copy of “Catullus 85”
Begin discussion by introducing who Catullus is, explaining that Excrucior is the last word in the original poem “Catullus 85”, and clarifying that it is a Latin word that literally means crucified and, figuratively, tormented. Share with the students a copy of “Catullus 85” and background information that it is a poem dedicated to his mistress with whom he had a tempestuous affair. Here is a copy of the poem by the Roman poet.
I hate and I love. Why I do this perhaps you ask.
I do not know, but I sense that it happens and I am tormented.
Discuss the poem using the following as guide.
- Describe the parts of the poem. How are the two sentences similar to and different from each other? Compare the two lines. What happens to the I/speaker?
- In a short poem, every word counts. What are the repetitions that you see and why do you think the poet used them? What are the oppositions present in the poem?
- How is crucifixion similar to feelings of torment? How is crucifixion different from feelings of torment?
Ask the students to think of actual events in their lives when they could not help but feel love and hate at the same time. Write down “I hate and love.” or “Umiibig ako at nasusuklam.” Then, ask the students to imagine subjecting oneself to a situation of terrible suffering. What is this terrible suffering like? Describe the event in one sentence. Use action words.
Alternatively, the students can think of actual events in their lives when they felt strongly opposing feelings of pleasure and disgust/shame at the same time.
- Ask them to depict the two emotions as actions. Make the first sentence as short as possible.
- Then, ask the students to imagine an animal engaged in an activity it does out of instinct. Describe the physical reactions in the next sentence starting with the phrase “Its body…”.
Put the two sentences together and cut them into a couplet.
Note to instructor. This module touches on a variety of poetic elements and rhetorical devices, namely: imagery, tone, diction, description, paradox, lineation, juxtaposition, repetition, and structure.
Time allotment. One hour, broken down into 40 minutes for discussing the Bidart poem, and 20 minutes for writing.
For the copy of the poem CATULLUS: EXCRUCIOR, please click here.