Greek poetess, who lived on the island of Lesbos. Sappho is the most
famous female poet of antiquity, but only incomplete poems and fragments
remain of her work. Most of Sappho's love poems were addressed to women.
The Greek philosopher Plato called her the tenth Muse.
I asked myself
What, Sappho, can
you give one who
(in Sappho: A New Translation, by Mary Barnard)
Little is known for certain of Sappho's life, although there are many
anecdotes. Her parents were of aristocratic origin. Sappho may have been
born in 612 B.C. at Eresus, one of the towns of Lesbos. Her father was
Scamandronymus, or according to some sources his name was Scamander. She
had three brothers, Erigyius, Larichus and Charaxus, the eldest, who was
a merchant. He sailed to Egypt with a cargo of wine. There he was
involved with a local slavewoman named Doricha and purchased her
freedom. Sappho disapproved the affair. She was more fond of the young
Larichus; he poured the wine at council banquets.
As a child, at some date between 604 and 595 B.C., Sappho was taken
to exile in Sicily due to political disturbances. An inscription in the
Parian Chronicle says: "When Aristokles reigned over the Athenians
Sappho fled from Mitylene and sailed to Sicily." After returning she
spent most of her life at Mytilene, the native city of her mother Cleis.
Countless sources mention that Sappho was married to Kerkylas of Andros,
but according to Holt N. Parker, it's a joke name - "Dick Allcock from
the Isle of MAN" (see 'Sappho Schoolmistress' in Re-Reading Sappho, ed.
by Ellen Greene, 1996) Sappho's slightly senior contemporary poet,
Alcaeus, another leader of the Aeolian school of poetry, also came from
Lesbos. He wrote some erotic (homosexual) lyrics. Not much imagination
has been needed to develop the argument, that they lived in friendly
intercourse, especially when fragments of their existing poetry point to
the direction. Sappho had a daughter, Kleis, named after her
grandmother. Sappho speaks of her daughter's beauty: ''I have a
beautiful child who is like golden flowers / in form, darling Kleis / in
exchange for whom I would not / all Lydia or lovely." Ovid portrays the
poetess as short and dark in complexion. Alcaeus calls her ''violet
haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho''. The eleventh-century Byzantine
lexicon Suda writes, that Sappho had three companions, Atthis,
Telesippa, and Megara, and she was accused of "shameful love with them."
Her pupils were Anagora of Milestos, Gongula of Colophon, and Euneika of
Salamis. - Sappher probably could read and write, not a common skill at
that time, and it is not impossible, that she taught young women,
preparing them into adulthood. One source dating to the second century
C.E. speaks, that she educated "the best women not only from the natives
[of Lesbos] but also of Ionia". Sappho's advices were practical. In one
fragment she instructs Kleis, how to do her hair: "a girl / whose hair
is yellower than / torchlight should wear no / headdress but fresh
flowers" (trans. by Mary Barnard) .
In Mytilene, Sappho was the central figure of a female literary
group. It also formed the audience for her poetry. With her friends
Sappho may have performed religious rituals and worshipped the goddess
of love, Aphrodite, but her surviving poetry doesn't refer to any
systematic religious philosophizing. When antique philosophers examined
the laws of nature and the outside world, Sappho was interested in the
inner world, her own feelings. Aristotle said that "everybody honored
the wise... and the Mytilineans honored Sappho although she was a
woman." Sappho's lyrics were more personal than in the widely read or
recited Homeric epic. And her poems were really read - old Greek vases,
some of which date to the 5th century, provide the proof. One of them
shows an imaginary portrait of Sappho and words from her poem.
Because of her intense feelings for her own sex, Sappho has often
been described as a homosexual (lesbian) - originally the word "lesbian"
meant "a person from the island of Lesbos". In one fragment she wrote:
"At mere sight of you / my voice falters, my tongue / is broken." In the
poem she depicts her jealous passion while watching a young woman. A man
sits facing the woman, listening her "sweet speech and lovely laughter."
Sappho was unsentimental about the feeling of love: cold sweat pours off
the poet, trembling shakes her body, she is paler than grass. Longinus
praised the poem in his treatise 'On Sublimity', a classical work of
criticism from the first century C.E: "She is cold and hot, mad and
sane, frightened and near death, all by turns.... Lovers experience all
this; Sappho's excellence, as I have said, lies in her adoption and
combination of the most striking details." In some love poems Sappho
questioned the masculine, heroic gender role familiar from Homeric epic:
"I don't like a tall general, swaggering, / proud of his curls, with a
fancy shave. / I'd rather have a short man, who looks / bow-legged, with
a firm stride, full of heart." (trans. by Diane Rayor)
It is generally believed, that Sappho died c. 580 B.C.; she was about
thirty. The legend of her death is most probably a fabrication. The
comic playwright Menander tells in The Girl from Leukas, that Sappho
fell in love with the young Phaon, a boatman. When she was rejected, she
flung herself into the sea from the Leucadian cliff. In the Suda, this
person has the same name than Sappho, but she is not the well-known
poet. She is a harp player from the city of Mytilene and she composed
poetry, too. However, the story inspired Ovid, whose version is found at
the end of his Heroides, where she, supposedly writing to Phaon, "burns
like Etna". The English playwright John Lyly (1554-1606) and the
American playwright Percy MacKaye (1875-1956) have also dealt with the
subject. The person and poetics of Sappho have fascinated a number of
male and female writers, including John Donne, Tennyson, Baudelaire,
Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Richard Aldington, Hilda Doolitle, Renée
Vivien, Marguerite Yourcenar, Ezra Pound, and Lawrence Durrell.
Christina Rossetti imagined her living unloved and dying unwept,
untended and alone.
Sappho's poetry was translated respectfully into Latin and much of
her work survived until the end of antiquity. Scholars at the great
Alexandrian library collected her poems in an edition of nine books, but
this edition got lost during the Middle Ages. Such Roman poets as
Catullus and Horace in the first century B.C. knew her work. Horace used
the sapphic stanza frequently. Antipater of Thessalonica from the second
century B.C. included Sappho in his list of nine women poets. Later
critics quoted her works and there are also papyrus fragments. In
Sappho's time the Greeks had no paper. An average Greek used pottery as
a writing material, or anything at hand.
Approximately two hundred fragments have been attributed to Sappho.
Many of them contain only a few words. The earliest papyrus containing
Sappho's poems is from the third century B.C. The text, wrapped around
an Egyptian mummy, was rediscovered by two researchers at Germany's
Cologne University and published in 2005 with an English translation in
the Times Literary Supplement.
Sappho used the Lesbian vernacular, her language is direct,
spontaneous, and simple, but difficult to translate into English - or as
Ford Madox Ford noted in The March of Literature (1938): "But work at
your English version how you will, you will never - simply because
English vowel sounds are so indeterminate - get either the sonority or
the vowel coloring of the original Greek." Sappho mastered various
meters. One four-line stanza has been named after her. The first three
lines are long, and the fourth is short. Sappho's 'Hymn to Aphrodite'
was written in this meter. Is addressed to the goddess to aid her
seduction of a young girl whom the poet loves. Sappho also addressed
informal hymns to Hera, the sister and wife of Zeus. Her other works
include marriage songs (epithalamia), composed for choral performance.
The "Ode" (or "Prayer") "to Aphrodite" is the first poem in the
standard edition of Sappho's work by Edgar Lobel and Denys Page (1955,
1963) and in earlier editions by Theodor Bergk (1843), Ernest Diehl
(1924 -1925, 1935), and J. M. Edmonds (1928). Translators do not
regularly give it this pride of place; Susy Q. Groden (1975) does, but
Mary Barnard (1958) and Willis Barn-stone (1962, 1965) do not. There is,
indeed, nothing to warrant the kind of primacy that translators,
following editors, always accord to Pindar's Olympian I and almost
always to Catullus' dedicatory poem to Cornelius Nepos except the
assumption, hardly to be questioned, that this is the only complete poem
of Sappho's that has survived.
The canon of Sappho amounts to a collection, apart from this one
complete ode, of more than two hundred fragments, some of them no more
than a single word or a letter or two. Except for two fragments each in
excess of thirty lines but discontinuous because of lengthy lacunae, the
"Ode to Aphrodite" is Sappho's longest extant work. The poem comprises
seven four-line stanzas composed in the meter invented by Sappho and
named for her, the sapphic. About twenty percent of the fragments
ascribed to Sappho are in this meter.
The Sapphic stanza consists of three lines in the following scheme: -"
-x -"" -" —, followed by one line in the scheme called adonic (-"" -x).
The macron (-) denotes a long syllable, the equivalent of a half-note in
music; the micron (") denotes a short syllable, the equivalent of a
quarter-note in music; and x indicates that the syllable may be long or
short. The adonic is so called because its model is Sappho's line 6
tonAdonin (O, [poor] Adonis).
In the following translation of the "Ode to Aphrodite" no attempt is
made to reproduce the metric of the first three lines of each stanza,
but a pentasyllabic fourth line is used to suggest the adonic:
Colorfully throned immortal Aphrodite
daughter of Zeus, designer of deceptions,
please do not, great queen, make me
heartsick with grief now;
but, hearing my words from afar and
heeding them, come as you did before,
driving your chariot from your father's
palace all golden,
with birds of beauty and swiftness
speeding through heaven on racing wings
and bringing you through the space of the sky
over the dark earth.
Their swiftness prevailed and, Lady of Rapture,
smiling with your immortal visage,
you asked what my trouble was and why I
called for your help then:
"Whom exactly," you asked, "am I
to persuade to return to the sphere
of your affection? Who, dear Sappho, is
treating you badly?
"If she runs from you now, she'll run after you
soon; if she now spurns your gifts, she'll be
giving you gifts; and, willing or not, she will
presently love you."
Come to me now, Aphrodite; dispel
the worries that irritate and offend me;
fulfill the wishes of my heart; and
fight here beside me.
The poem is a prayer for a renewal of confidence that the person whom
Sappho loves will requite that love. Sappho identifies herself in this
poem; the name Sappho (Psappho) appears in only three other fragments. A
previous prayer seems to have been answered satisfactorily, but the
current situation is clouded over with doubt and uneasiness; reassurance
is needed. Presumably the current situation involves the same beloved,
in which case Sappho's anxiety has been heightened by a rival. The
subject of the earlier prayer was a woman, and the context of the poem
is female homosexuality. This is not the context of all of Sappho's
poetic constructions; one fragment reads, "Sweet mother, I cannot stay
at the loom:/ svelte Aphrodite has melted my will away/ and filled me
with longing for a boy," and another is a call to the speaker's lost
virginity. The speaker may not be Sappho in either of these heterosexual
contexts; but the likelihood is that in all of the first-person
fragments Sappho is expressing herself and her own feelings. In her
sensual and sexual pursuits Sappho could be, and perhaps should be,
identified as a bisexual: She had a husband, Cercylas, and a daughter
named Clei's (after Sappho's mother), and she was rumored, whether
accurately or not, to be romantically involved with the poet Alcaeus.
Still, it is the preponderantly homosexual ambience of the fragments
that has contributed to the English language the word "lesbian." Sappho
was in habitat a Lesbian; her home was the city of Mytilene on the
island of Lesbos.
The text of the poem is preserved partially on papyrus and partially in
quotation by ancient writers and scholiasts. This is the case with all
of the fragments; no unitary text of Sappho's collected or
representative poems appears ever to have been published in antiquity.
The "Ode to Aphrodite" was preserved by the critic Diony-sius of
Halicarnassus (late first century B.C.), who quoted it as an example of
smoothly flowing verse composition with a sonantal euphony resulting
from avoidance of excessive use of consonants. The consensus is that
Dionysius quoted the poem in its entirety and thereby provided posterity
with Sappho's only complete extant poem. The more famous poem that
begins Phainetai moi kenos isos theoisin (that man seems to me to be on
a par with gods), preserved by "Longinus" (first century A.D.) and
imitated by Catullus (c. 85-54 B.C.), is missing at lest one stanza.
There is, moreover, only one crux in the "Ode to Aphrodite": The fifth
stanza contains a lacuna of a letter, perhaps two, which appears to be
resolved by a reading in a fragmentary papyrus copy of the poem. There
is some variance in the handling of the passage by editors and
translators, but the sense of the passage is not irremediably obscured:
Sappho rehearses Aphrodite's response, in part, to the poet's earlier
prayer; the goddess had asked whom she was to persuade, or whom
Persuasion was to move, to return the affection of the suppliant.
The poem follows the ancient literary conventions of prayer. It opens
with an invocation to the deity, who is complimented by epithets and
recognition of attributes and is then reminded of having answered a
previous call for help. Sappho varies the formula slightly, introducing
a preludial plea between the invocation and the reminder. The reminder,
or the sanction, is the major part of the poem, taking up five of the
seven stanzas. It is itself in two parts: a lyrical description of the
goddess' physical approach to the suppliant, followed by a citation of
the goddess' verbal response. The prayer concludes peremptorily with
The symmetrical balance of immortal-daughter-designer of deceptions with
queen-father-immortal establishes the focal apposition of doloploke
(designer of deceptions) and potnia (queen). Aphrodite is invoked as the
queen of deception-designing or wiles-weaving. The focal emphasis
defines the substance of the prayer: Aphrodite, queen of deception, make
my beloved blind to any attraction but me. Sappho realizes that her
appeal to her beloved can be sustained only by the persuasiveness of
Aphro-ditean cosmetic mystery. It is the plight of many an erot-ically
or sensually inclined person whose desire exceeds her or his
desirability and who cannot become resigned to the inequity of the
The fourteenth line, which is the midpoint and the focal line of the
poem, reads literally, "smiling with [respect to your] immortal face."
This is one of the early instances in literature of the eternal smile,
which, turned inward, like that of the Buddha, radiates serenity, but
turned outward toward humankind, like that of the Etruscan Apollo of
Veii, signals cruelty or indifference. As suppliant, Sappho wants
Aphrodite to be symmachos (a fighter at her side) so that the smile,
directed inward when the goddess first appeared to Sappho, will now be
directed outward toward her rival. Sappho understands that the goddess
or, figuratively, the force of love and sensuality is regent and
militant, like Ishtar, the Babylonian counterpart of Aphrodite, who is
goddess of both love and war; Aphrodite's paramour, moreover, is Ares,
the god of war.
The juxtaposition of "designer of deceptions" and "queen" at the focal
hinge of a symmetrical sequence and the location of the eternal smile at
the focus of this poem which culminates in a calling of Aphrodite to
arms produce a powerful portrait of the force of love, to which the poet
entrusts herself in an exquisitely worded suppliant address. In doing
so, she experiences the substance of her hopes.
"Longinus" selected Sappho's Phainetai moi to illustrate the sublimity
of pathos (emotion) presented in such a way as to include both the
subjective experience of incipient jealousy and the objective
comprehension of the experience. The poem exceeds the sum of its parts.
Much the same thing could be said about the "Ode to Aphrodite." It has
all the fluency of expression that Dionysius found in it, yet this is
not the extent of its quality. It is a prayer that becomes, by means of
its perfect utterance, its own answer; it is a wish expressed so well
that its very expression constitutes its fulfillment. The flow of
vocalic music expedites the ode's smooth progression from arrested grief
and passivity to aggressively active participation in the immortal force
of love. The ode may be viewed as complete because this progression is
impeccably completed. Beyond that, however, each of the parts of the
ode—the invocation, the reminder, the speech of Aphrodite, and the
precise plea—is complete in itself. The ode is more than the sum of its
parts, and each of the parts is more than its own aggregation. The
fragments of Sappho's poetry retain a value analogous to that of the
fragments of a gold bar. If only a fragment of the "Ode to Aphrodite"
had been preserved, there would be less gold, but the quality of the
remaining gold would not be changed.
Each stanza of the ode frames a dominant image— throne, chariot, birds,
eternal smile, persuasion, gifts, battle—in the manner of a Japanese
haiku. Each stanza is therein a veritable poem, just as each line is a
passage of music. The image of battle in the final stanza is projected
in regimented word order: The stanza begins and ends with an
imperative—come, fight (literally, "a companion-fighter be")—and
contains two interior imperatives (dispel, fulfill); it also contains
two symmetrically balanced ranks of words. Ultimately it is the
irrefragable unity of form and content that lends distinction to every
part, every fragment of Sappho's poetry.
One of her fragments is the following invitation, which, with its soft
music and exquisitely framed imagery, creates the erotically religious
serenity to which the addressee is invited:
Come to this holy temple, where
there is a pretty apple orchard and
altars which, among the apple trees, are
smoking with incense.
and through the branches of the trees there is
a rustling sound of cool water; roses lend
their shadows to the grove, and sleep flows down
whispering tree leaves;
the grazing-meadow here has blossomed
with lotus flowers; and sweetest odors
issue from the anises—
This fragment creates the sound, the scene, and the mood to which the
"Ode to Aphrodite" expresses the militant desire to return.
Translated by Jilia Dubnoff
Immortal Aphrodite, on your intricately brocaded throne,1
child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, this I pray:
Dear Lady, don't crush my heart
with pains and sorrows.
But come here, if ever before,
when you heard my far-off cry,
you listened. And you came,
leaving your father's house,
yoking your chariot of gold.
Then beautiful swift sparrows led you over the black earth
from the sky through the middle air,
whirling their wings into a blur.
Rapidly they came. And you, O
a smile on your immortal face,
asked what had happened this time,
why did I call again,
and what did I especially desire
for myself in my frenzied heart:
Who this time am I to persuade
to your love? Sappho, who is doing you wrong?
For even if she flees, soon she
And if she refuses gifts, soon she shall give them.
If she doesn't love you, soon she shall love
even if she's unwilling.”
Come to me now once again and
from grueling anxiety.
All that my heart longs for,
fulfill. And be yourself my ally in love's battle.
Some say an army of horsemen,
some of footsoldiers, some of ships,
is the fairest thing on the black earth,
but I say it is what one loves.
It's very easy to make this clear
to everyone, for Helen,
by far surpassing mortals in beauty,
left the best of all husbands
and sailed to Troy,
mindful of neither her child
nor her dear parents, but
with one glimpse she was seduced by
Aphrodite. For easily bent...
and nimbly...[missing text]...
has reminded me now
of Anactoria who is not here;
I would much prefer to see the
way she walks and the radiant glance of her face
than the war-chariots of the Lydians or
their footsoldiers in arms.
That man to me seems equal to the gods,
the man who sits opposite you
and close by listens
to your sweet voice
your enticing laughter—
that indeed has stirred up the heart in my breast.
For whenever I look at you even briefly
I can no longer say a single thing,
but my tongue is frozen in silence;
instantly a delicate flame runs beneath my skin;
with my eyes I see nothing;
my ears make a whirring noise.
A cold sweat covers me,
trembling seizes my body,
and I am greener than grass.
Lacking but little of death do I seem.
Come now, luxuriant Graces, and beautiful-haired Muses.
I tell you
someone will remember us
in the future.
Now, I shall sing these songs
for my companions.
The moon shone full
And when the maidens stood around the altar...
“He is dying, Aphrodite;
luxuriant Adonis is dying.
What should we do?”
“Beat your breasts, young maidens.
And tear your garments
O, weep for Adonis!
But come, dear companions,
For day is near.
The moon is set. And the Pleiades.
It's the middle of the night.
Time [hôrâ] passes.
But I sleep alone.
I love the sensual.
For me this
and love for the sun
has a share in brilliance and beauty
And I crave.
You set me on fire.
Giver of pain...
Coming from heaven
his purple cloak.
Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me
a crawling beast.
As a wind in the mountains
assaults an oak,
Love shook my breast.
I loved you, Atthis, long ago
even when you seemed to me
a small graceless child.
But you hate the very thought of me, Atthis,
And you flutter after Andromeda.
Honestly, I wish I were dead.
Weeping many tears, she left me and said,
“Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho.
I really leave you against my will.”
And I answered: “Farewell, go and
You know how we cared for you.
If not, I would remind you
... of our wonderful times.
For by my side you put on
many wreaths of roses
and garlands of flowers
around your soft neck.
And with precious and royal perfume
you anointed yourself.
On soft beds you satisfied your
And there was no dance,
no holy place
from which we were absent.”
They say that Leda once found
like a hyacinth.
Where will you go when you've left me?”
“I'll never come back to you ,
I'll never come back to you.”
Sweet mother, I can't do my weaving—
Aphrodite has crushed me with desire
for a tender youth.
Like a sweet-apple
on the tip
of the topmost branch.
Forgotten by pickers.
they couldn't reach it.
Like a hyacinth
in the mountains
that shepherds crush underfoot.
Even on the ground
a purple flower.
To what shall I compare you, dear bridegroom?
To a slender shoot, I most liken you.
[Sappho compared the girl to an apple....she compared the
bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man's deeds to the
Himerius, (4th cent. A.D.), Or. 1.16
Raise high the roofbeams, carpenters!
Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!
Up with them!
Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!
A bridegroom taller than Ares!
Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!
Taller than a tall man!
Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!
Superior as the singer of Lesbos—
Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!
—to poets of other lands.
The Marriage of Hektor and Andromakhe
...The herald Idaios came...a swift messenger
...and the rest of Asia...unwilting glory (kleos aphthiton).
Hektor and his companions led the dark-eyed
luxuriant Andromakhe from holy Thebes and...Plakia
in ships upon the salty sea. Many golden bracelets and purple
robes..., intricately-worked ornaments,
countless silver cups and ivory.
Thus he spoke. And his dear father quickly leapt up.
And the story went to his friends through the broad city.
And the Trojans joined mules to smooth-running carriages.
And the whole band of women and...maidens got on.
Separately, the daughters of Priam...
And the unmarried men led horses beneath the chariots
set forth into Troy...
And the sweet song of the flute mixed...
And the sound of the cymbals, and then the maidens
sang in clear tones a sacred song
and a divinely-sweet echo reached the sky...
And everywhere through the streets...
Mixing bowls and cups...
And myrrh and cassia and frankincense were mingled.
And the older women wailed aloud.
And all the men gave forth a high-pitched song,
calling on Apollo, the far-shooter, skilled in the lyre.
And they sang of Hektor and Andromakhe like to the gods.
The marriage is accomplished as you prayed.
You have the maiden you prayed for.
I don't know what to do: I am of two minds.
For gold is Zeus' child.
I have a beautiful daughter
Like a golden flower
My beloved Kleis.
I would not trade her for all Lydia nor lovely...
When you lie dead, no one will remember you
For you have no share in the Muses' roses.
No, flitting aimlessly about,
You will wildly roam,
a shade amidst the shadowy dead.
Death is an evil.
That's what the gods think.
Or they would die.
Because you are dear to me
Marry a younger woman.
I don't dare live with a young man—
The Poems of Sappho
by John Myers O'Hara,
O'Hara, John Myers, 1870-1944, translated: The Poems of
Sappho: An Interpretative Rendition into English
ODE TO APHRODITE
Aphrodite, subtle of soul and deathless,
Daughter of God, weaver of wiles, I pray thee
Neither with care, dread Mistress, nor with anguish,
Slay thou my spirit!
But in pity hasten, come now if ever
From afar of old when my voice implored thee,
Thou hast deigned to listen, leaving the golden
House of thy father
With thy chariot yoked; and with
doves that drew thee,
Fair and fleet around the dark earth from heaven,
Dipping vibrant wings down he azure distance,
Through the mid-ether;
Very swift they came; and thou,
Leaned with face that smiled in immortal beauty,
Leaned to me and asked, "What misfortune threatened?
Why I had called thee?"
"What my frenzied heart craved in
Whom its wild desire would persuade to passion?
What disdainful charms, madly worshipped, slight thee?
Who wrongs thee, Sappho?"
"She that fain would fly, she shall
She that now rejects, yet with gifts shall woo thee,
She that heeds thee not, soon shall love to madness,
Love thee, the loth one!"
Come to me now thus, Goddess, and
From distress and pain; and all my distracted
Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling,
Still be my ally!
When the drifting gray of the vesper shadow
Dimmed their upward path through the midmost azure,
And the length of night overtook them distant
Far from Olympus;
Far away from splendor and joy of
From the voice and smile of their peerless Mistress,
Back to whom their truant wings were in rapture
Chilled at heart and grieving they
drooped their pinions,
Circled slowly, dipping in flight toward Lesbos,
Down through dusk that darkened on Mitylene's
Columns of marble;
Down through glory wan of the fading
Veering ever toward the abode of Sappho,
Toward my home, the fane of the glad devoted
Slave of the Goddess;
Soon they gained the tile of my roof
Slipped their heads beneath their wings while I watched them
Sink to sleep and dreams, in the warm and drowsy
Night of midsummer.
Hither now, O Muses, leaving the golden
House of God unseen in the azure spaces,
Come and breathe on bosom and brow and kindle
Song like the sunglow;
Come and lift my shaken soul to the
Shadow cast by Helicon's rustling forests;
Sweep on wings of flame from the middle ether,
Seize and uplift me;
Thrill my heart that throbs with
Chasten mouth and throat with immortal kisses,
Till I yield on maddening heights the very
Breath of my body.
Golden-Throned Muse, sing the song that in olden
Days was sung of love and delight in Teos,
In the goodly land of the lovely women:
Strains that in other
Years the hoary bard with the
Set to mirthful stir of flutes, when the dancing
Nymphs that poured the wine for the poet's banquet
Mixed it with kisses;
Sing the song while I, in the arms
Seal her lips to mine with a lover's fervor,
Breathe her breath and drink her sighs to the honeyed
Lull of the melics.
Come with Musagetes, ye Hours and Graces,
Dance around the team of swans that attend him
Up Parnassian heights, to his holy temple
High on the hill-top;
Come, ye Muses, too, from the shades
Let your songs, that echo on winds of rapture,
Wake the lyre he tunes to the sweet inspiring
Sound of your voices.
If Panormus, Cyprus or Paphos hold thee,
Either home of Gods or the island temple,
Hark again and come at my invocation,
Come thou, foam-born Kypris, and
pour in dainty
Cups of amber gold thy delicate nectar,
Subtly mixed with fire that will swiftly kindle
Love in our bosoms;
Thus the bowl ambrosial was stirred
For the feast, and taking the burnished ladle,
Hermes poured the wine for the Gods who lifted
High they held their goblets and
Spilling wine as pledge to the Fates and Hades,
Quaffing deep and binding their hearts to Eros,
Lauding thy servant.
So to me and my Lesbians round me
Each made mine, an amphor of love long tasted,
Bid us drink, who sigh for thy thrill ecstatic,
Passion's full goblet;
Grant me this, O Kypris, and on thy
Dawn will see a goat of the breed of Naxos,
Snowy doves from Cos and the drip of rarest
For a regal taste is mine and the
Zenith-lure and beauty of suns must brighten
Love for me, that ever upon perfection
THE DAUGHTER OF CYPRUS
Dreaming I spake with the Daughter of Cyprus,
Heard the languor soft of her voice, the blended
Suave accord of tones interfused with laughter
Low and desireful;
Dreaming saw her dread ineffable
Saw through texture fine of her clinging tunic
Blush the fire of flesh, the rose of her body,
Saw through filmy meshes the melting
Flow of line, the exquisite curves, whence piercing
Rapture reached with tangible touch to thrill me,
Almost to slay me;
Saw the gleaming foot, and the
Held by straps of Lydian work thrice doubled
Over the instep's arch, and up the rounded
Saw the charms that shimmered from
knee to shoulder,
Hint of hues, than milk or the snowdrift whiter;
Secret grace, the shrine of the soul of passion,
Glows that consumed me;
Saw the gathered mass of her xanthic
Mitra-bound, escape from the clasping fillet,
Float and shine as clouds in the sunset splendor,
Mists in the dawn-fire;
Saw the face immortal, and daring
Raised my eyes to hers of unfathomed azure,
Drank their world's desire, their limitless longing,
Swooned and was nothing.
Come, ye dainty Graces and lovely Muses,
Rosy-armed and pure and with fairest tresses,
Come from groves on Helicon's hill where murmur
Founts that are holy;
Come with dancing step and with lips
Gather near and view my ivory distaff,
Gift from Cos my brother Charaxus brought me,
Sailing from Egypt;
Sailing back to Lesbos from far
From the seven mouths of the Nile and Egypt
Up the blue Ægean, the island-dotted
Ocean of Hellas;
Choicest wool alone will I spin for
Winding reel with threads for the cloths as fleecy,
Soft and fine as they bring from far Phocea,
Sidon or Sardis;
While I weave my thought shall
engird the giver,
Whether here, or far on the sea, or resting
Couched in shady courts with the lovely garland
Girls of Naucratis.
MOON AND STARS
When the moon at full on the sill of heaven
Lights her beacon, flooding the earth with silver,
All the shining stars that about her cluster
Hide their fair faces;
So when Anactoria's beauty dazzles
Sight of mine, grown dim with the joy it gives me,
Gorgo, Atthis, Gyrinno, all the others
Fade from my vision.
THE SLEEP WIND
Softer than mists o’er the pale green of waters,
O’er the charmed sea, shod with sandals of shadow
Comes the warm sleep wind of Argolis, floating
Garlands of fragrance;
Comes the sweet wind by the still
Touching tired lids on the shores dim with distance,
Ever its way toward the headland of Lesbos,
Faintly one fair star of evening
On the dusk afar its lone fire Œtean,
Shining serene till the darkness will deepen
Others to splendor;
Bringing ineffable peace, and the
Return with the night of all things that morning
Ruthlessly parted, the child to its mother,
Lover to lover.
From the marble court of
All alone my feet again seek the little
Theatre pledged to the Muse, now deserted,
Facing the surges;
Where the carved Pan-heads that
laugh down the gentle
Slope of broad steps to the refluent ripple,
Flute from their thin pipes the dithyrambs deathless,
Songs all unuttered.
Empty each seat where my girl
friends acclaimed me,
Poets with names on the tiered stone engraven,
Over whose verge blooms the apple tree, drifting
Perfume and petals;
Gone Telesippa and tender Gyrinno,
Anactoria, woman divine; Atthis,
Subtlest of soul, fair Damophyla, Dica,
Maids of the Muses.
Here an hour past soul-enravished
While my rapt heart breathed its pæan impassioned,
Chanted its wild prayer to thee, Aphrodite,
Daughter of Cyprus;
Now to their homes are they gone in
Pensive to dream limb-relaxed while the languid
Slaves come and lift from the tresses they loosen,
Flowers that have faded.
Thou alone, Sappho, art sole with
Sole with night and dreams that are darkness, weaving
Thoughts that are sighs from the heart and their meaning
Vague as the shadow;
When the great silence shall come to
thee, sad one,
Men that forget shall remember thy music,
Murmur thy name that shall steal on their passion
Soft as the sleep wind.
Kypris, hear my prayer to thee and the Nereids!
Safely bring the ship of my brother homewards,
Bring him back unharmed to the heart that loves him,
Fair Immortal, banish from mind, I
Every discord's hint that of yore estranged us;
Grant that never again dissension's hateful
Wrangle shall part us;
May he never in days to come
Keen reproach of mine that had grieved him sorely;
Words that broke my very heart when I heard them
Uttered by others;
Words that wounded deep and
Bowed his head with shame at the public banquet;
Where my scorn, amid festal joy and laughter,
Sharpened the covert
Jests that stung his pride and
assailed his folly,
Slave-espoused when he, a Lesbian noble,
Might have won the fairest in Mitylene,
Virgins the noblest;
Open slurs that linked his name with
Lovely slave that Xanthes had sold in Egypt;
She whose wondrous charms the wealth of Charaxus
Ransomed from bondage.
Now that he is gone and my anger
Keen regret and grief for the pain I gave him
Pierce my heart, and fear of loss that is anguish
Darkens the daylight.
ODE TO ANACTORIA
Peer of Gods to me is the man thy presence
Crowns with joy; who hears, as he sits beside thee,
Accents sweet of thy lips the silence breaking,
With lovely laughter;
Tones that make the heart in my
For if I, the space of a moment even,
Near to thee come, any word I would utter
Instantly fails me;
Vain my stricken tongue would a
Subtly under my skin runs fire ecstatic;
Straightway mists surge dim to my eyes and leave them
Reft of their vision;
Echoes ring in my ears; a trembling
All my body bathed in soft perspiration;
Pale as grass I grow in my passion's madness,
Like one insensate;
But must I dare all, since to me
Bliss thy beauty brings that a God might envy;
Never yet was fervid woman a fairer
Image of Kypris.
Ah! undying Daughter of God,
Calm my blood that thrills with impending transport;
Feed my lips the murmur of words to stir her
Bosom to pity;
Overcome with kisses her faintest
Melt her mood to mine with amorous couches,—
Till her low assent and her sigh's abandon
Lure me to rapture.
If it pleased the whim of Zeus in an idle
Hour to choose a king for the flowers, he surely
Would have crowned the rose for its regal beauty,
Deeming it peerless;
By its grace is valley and hill
Earth is made a shrine for the lover's ardor;
Dear it is to flowers as the charm of lovely
Eyes are to mortals;
Joy and pride of plants, and the
Beauty's blush it brings to the cheek of meadows;
Draining fire and dew from the dawn for rarest
Color and odor;
Softly breathed, its scent is a plea
When it blooms to welcome the kiss of Kypris;
Sheathed in fragrant leaves its tremulous petals
Laugh in the zephyr.
Slumber streams from quivering leaves that listless
Bask in heat and stillness of Lesbian summer;
Breathless swoons the air with the apple-blossoms’
From the shade of branches that
droop and cover
Shallow trenches winding about the orchard,
Restful comes, and cool to the sense, the flowing
Murmur of water.
THE GARDEN OF THE NYMPHS
All around through the apple boughs in blossom
Murmur cool the breezes of early summer,
And from leaves that quiver above me gently
Slumber is shaken;
Glades of poppies swoon in the
Dreaming roses bend, and the oleanders
Bask and nod to drone of bees in the silent
Fervor of noontide;
Myrtle coverts hedging the open
Dear to nightly frolic of Nymph and Satyr,
Yield a mossy bed for the brown and weary
Limbs of the shepherd.
Echo ever wafts through the drooping
Ceaseless silver murmur of water falling
In the grotto cool of the Nymphs, the sacred
Haunt of Immortals;
Down the sides of rocks that are
gray and lichened
Trickle tiny rills, whose expectant tinkle
Drips with gurgle hushed in the clear glimmering
Depths of the basin.
Fair on royal couches of leaves
Interspersed with languor of waxen lilies,
Lotus flowers empurple the pool whose edge is
Cushioned with mosses;
Here recline the Nymphs at the hour
Back in shadows dim of the cave, their golden
Sea-green eyes half lidded, up to their supple
Waists in the water.
Sheltered once by ferns I espied
Tresses long, the tint of lilac and orange;
Just beyond the shimmer of light their bodies
Deftly, then, they girdled their
loins with garlands,
Linked with leaves luxuriant limb and shoulder;
On their breasts they bruised the red blood of roses
Fresh from the garden.
She of orange hair was the Nymph
And the lilac-tressed were Iphis and Io;
How they laughed, relating at length their ease in
Evading the Satyr.
HYMN TO PAPHIA
Immortal Paphia! have I earned thy hate,
That I should burn in passion's fatal flame?
Is not my constant service thine to claim,
My prayer's appeal with praise of thee elate?
Has not my life been one sole hymn
One quivering chord on Love's harp overwrought?
My soul has trembled up to thee in thought,
Probed to its depth thy every ecstasy.
Are not my countless heart-beats
each a vow,
Of tribute throbs a garland? For thy gain
The Fates have drenched my soul in passion's rain,
Pieria's roses twined about my brow.
The virgin harvest of my heart was
I shuddered in the joy that half consumed;
The votive garlands on thy altar bloomed,
My days were songs to nights of bliss divine.
Why try me, then, with torture,
Why verge me on this rapture's dread abyss,
Hold breast from breast and stay the yearning kiss?
Ah, couldst thou fashion pain that stung less keen?
The throe of Tantalus is mine to
Beauty that Thetis-like eludes my clasp;
Glances that lure, that make each breath a gasp,
And then disdainful gloat at my despair.
Scornful she dwells beyond my
Bathed in an aureole of carnal fire;—
O bind her equal slave to fond desire,
Let passion's tingling warmth her being touch!
Come to me, Goddess, come as once of
Hearing my voice implore thee from afar,
I drew to earth thy dazzling avatar;
Accord the smile of piercing bliss untold.
Ask me the dear suave question
phrased of yore;
"Sappho, who grieveth now thy mad fond heart?
Wouldst win her beauty, she who frowns apart?
Wild as thou lovest, she soon shall love thee more."
O fair Olympian, answer thus, I
Release me from this torment, yield my arms
The transport thirsted of her folded charms,
In glow that welds her heart to mine for aye.
From the gnarled branches of the apple trees
The heavy petals, lifted by the breeze,
Fluttered on puffs of odor fine and fell
In the clear water of the garden well;
And some a bolder zephyr blew in
Across the marble reaches of my court,
And some by sudden gusts were wafted wide
Toward sea and city, down the mountain side.
Lesbos seemed Paphos, isled in rosy
Green olive hills, the violet vale below;
The air was azure fire and o’er the blue
Still sea the doves of Aphrodite flew.
My dreaming eyes saw Eros from afar
Coming from heaven in his mother's car,
In purple tunic clad; and at my heart
The God-was aiming his relentless dart.
He whom fair Aphrodite called her
She, the adored, she, the imperial One;
He passed as winds that shake the soul, as pains
Sweet to the heart, as fire that warms the veins;
He passed and left my limbs
dissolved in dew,
Relaxed and faint, with passion quivered through;
Exhausted with spent thrills of dread delight,
A sudden darkness rushing on my sight.
Now Love shakes my soul, a mighty
Wind from the high mountain falling
Full on the oaks of the forest;
Now, limb-relaxing, it masters
My life and implacable thrills me,
Rending with anguish and rapture.
Now my heart, paining my bosom,
Pants with desire as a mænad
Mad for the orgiac revel.
Now under my skin run subtle
Arrows of flame, and my body
Quivers with surge of emotion.
Now long importunate yearnings
Vanquish with surfeit my reason;
Fainting my senses forsake me.
O Sappho, why art thou ever
Singing with praises the blessed
Queen of the heaven?
Why does the heart in thy bosom
Ever revert in its yearning
Throb to the Goddess?
Why are thy senses unsated
Ever in quest of elusive
Love that is deathless?
Ah, gracious Daughter of Cyprus,
Never can I as a mortal
Tire of thy service.
Thou art the breath of my body,
The blood in my veins, and the glowing
Pulse of my bosom.
Omnipotent, burning, resistless,
Thou art the passion that shaking
Masters me ever.
Thou art the crisis of rapture
Relaxing my limbs, and the melting
Ebb of emotion;
Bringing the tears to my lashes,
Sighs to my lips, in the swooning
Excess of passion.
O golden-crowned Aphrodite,
Grant I shall ever be grateful,
Sure of thy favor;
Worthy the lot of thy priestess,
Supreme in the song that forever
Rings with thy praises.
THE FIRST KISS
And down I set the cushion
Upon the couch that she,
Relaxed supine upon it,
Might give her lips to me.
As some enamored priestess
At Aphrodite's shrine,
Entranced I bent above her
With sense of the divine.
She had, by nature nubile,
In years a child, no hint
Of any secret knowledge
Of passion's least intent.
Her mouth for immolation
Was ripe, and mine the art;
And one long kiss of passion
Deflowered her virgin heart.
ODE TO ATTHIS
I loved you, Atthis, once, long years ago!
My blood was flame that thrilled to passion's throe;
Now long neglect has quenched the olden fire,
And blight of drifting years effaced desire.
I loved you, Atthis—joy of long ago—
Love shook my soul as winds on forests blow;
This lawless heart that dared exhaust delight,
Unsated strove and maddened through the night.
I loved you, Atthis, once, long
With pain whose surge I felt to anguish grow;
Suffered the storms that waste the heart and leave
A desert shore where seas but break to grieve.
I loved you, Atthis—spring of long
Watched you depart, to Andromeda go;
Then I, as keen despair its shadow cast,
O’er my deserted threshold, sobbing, passed.
I loved you, Atthis, once, long
The thought of me is hateful now, I know;
And all the lavish tenderness of old
Has gone from me and left my bosom cold.
I loved you, Atthis—dream of long
. . . . . . . . . . . .
How the fond words, impassioned music low,
Sustain the sigh of love's divine regret
No length of time may bid the heart forget.
Less soft a Tyrian robe
Of texture fine,
Less delicate a rose
Than flesh of thine.
Whiter thy breast than snow
That virgin lies,
And deeper than the blue
Of seas thy eyes.
More golden than the fruit
Of orange trees,
Thy locks that floating lure
The satyr breeze.
Less fine of silver string
An Orphic lyre,
Less sweet than thy low laugh
That wakes desire.
Upon a cushion soft
My limbs I place,
My every garment doffed
For deeper grace;
From burning doves embalmed
The scented fumes have calmed
Me like a kiss.
Beyond the phallic shrine
That tripods light,
I pledge with holy wine
An image white;
Than foam more fair,
When from the ravished sea
She rose to air.
Daughter of God, accept
These gifts of mine!
Last night my body slept
In arms divine.
These sated lips and eyes
That erstwhile sued,
Accord this sacrifice
Once on a time
They say that Leda found
Beneath the thyme
An egg upon the ground;
And yet the swan
She fondled long ago
Was whiter than
Its shell of peeping snow.
Death is an evil; so the Gods decree,
So they have judged, and such must rightly be
Our mortal view; for they who dwell on high
Had never lived, had it been good to die.
And so the poet's house should never
Of tears and lamentations any show;
Such things befit not us who deathless sing
Of love and beauty, gladness and the spring.
No hint of grief should mar the
Our dreams of endless beauty, lasting love;
For they reflect the joy inviolate,
Eternal calm that fronts whatever fate.
Clëis, my darling, grieve no more, I
Let wandering winds thy sorrow bear away,
And all our care; my daughter, let thy smile
Shine through thy tears and gladden me the while.
I saw a tender maiden plucking flowers
Once, long ago, in the bright morning hours;
And then from heaven I saw a sudden cloud
Fall swift and dark, and heard her cry aloud.
Again I looked, but from my open
My anxious eyes espied the maid no more;
The cloud had vanished, bearing her away
To underlands beyond the smiling day.