THE POETRY OF SAPPHO:
Deathless Aphrodite - Daughter of Zeus and maker of snares -
On your florid throne, hear me
My lady, do not subdue my heart by anguish and pain
But come to me as when before
You heard my distant cry, and listened:
Leaving, with your golden chariot yoked, your father's house
To move beautiful sparrows swift with a whirling of wings
As from heaven you came to this dark earth through middle air
And so swiftly arrived.
Then you my goddess with your immortal lips smiling
Would ask what now afflicts me, why again
I am calling and what now I with my restive heart
Whom now shall I beguile
To bring you to her love?
Who now injures you, Sappho?
For if she flees, soon shall she chase
And, rejecting gifts, soon shall she give.
If she does not love you, she shall do so soon
Whatsoever is her will.
Come to me now to end this consuming pain
Bringing what my heart desires to be brought:
Be yourself my ally in this fight.
For some - it is horsemen; for others - it is infantry;
For some others - it is ships which are, on this black earth,
Visibly constant in their beauty. But for me,
It is that which you desire.
To all, it is easy to make this completely understood
For Helen - she who greatly surpassed other mortals in beauty -
Left her most noble man and sailed forth to Troy
Forgetting her beloved parents and her daughter
Because the goddess led her away...
Which makes me to see again Anaktoria now far distant:
For I would rather behold her pleasing, graceful movement
And the radiant splendour of her face
Than your Lydian chariots and foot-soldiers in full armour...
Gather your lyre and sing for me
As desire once again enhances your beauty:
Your dress excites, and I rejoice
For I once doubted Aphrodite
But now have asked that soon
You will be with me again...
When I look at you
I know that even Hermione
Was not such as you -
Fairer to compare you to Helen
I see he who sits near you as an equal of the gods
For he can closely listen to your delightful voice
And that seductive laugh
That makes the heart behind my breasts to tremble.
Even when I glimpse you for a moment
My tongue is stilled as speech deserts me
While a delicate fire is beneath my skin -
My eyes cannot see, then,
When I hear only a whirling sound
As I shivering, sweat
Because all of me trembles;
I become paler than drought-grass
And nearer to death...
Awed by her brightness
Stars near the beautiful moon
Cover their own shining faces
When she lights earth
With her silver brilliance
Beautiful girls, towards you
My thoughts will never change...
Love shook my heart
Like the mountain wind
Falls upon trees of oak...
Age seizes my skin and turns my hair
From black to white:
My knees no longer bear me
And I am unable to dance again
Like a fawn.
What could I do? I am not ageless:
My youth is gone.
Red-robed Dawn, immortal goddess,
Carried Tithonus to earth's end
Yet age siezed him
Despite the gift from his immortal lover...
I love delicate softness:
For me, love has brought the brightness
And the beauty of the sun...
I can reveal to you that I wished to die –
For with much weeping she left me
Saying: "Sappho - what suffering is ours.
For it is against my will that I leave you."
In answer, I said: "Go, happily remembering me
For you know what we shared and pursued –
If not, I wish you to see again our former joys...
The many braids of rose and violet you wreathed
Around yourself at my side
And the many garlands of flowers
With which you adorned your soft neck:
With royal oils from fresh flowers
You anointed yourself
And on soft beds fulfilled your longing
She honoured you like a goddess
And delighted in your choral dance.
Now she is pre-eminent among the ladies of Lydia
As the rose-rayed moon after the sinking of the Sun
Surpasses all the stars and spreads its light upon the sea
And the flowers of the fields
To beautify the spreading dew, freshen roses
Soft chervil and the flowering melilot...
Restless, she remembers gentle Atthis -
Perhaps her subtle judgement is burdened
By your fate...
For us, it is not easy to approach
Goddesses in the beauty of their form
May you sleep on the breasts
Of your tender companion...
Once again, desire -
That loosener of limbs and bitterly sweet -
Makes me to tremble
You are irresistible...
Believe me, in the future someone
Will remember us...
Because you love me
Stand with me face to face
And unveil the softness in your eyes...
Yes, Atthis, you may be sure
Even in Sardis Anaktoria will think often of us
of the life we shared here, when you seemed
the Goddess incarnate
to her and your singing pleased her best
Now among Lydian women she in her
turn stands first as the red-
fingered moon rising at sunset takes
precedence over stars around her;
her light spreads equally
on the salt sea and fields thick with bloom
Delicious dew purs down to freshen
roses, delicate thyme
and blossoming sweet clover; she wanders
aimlessly, thinking of gentle
Atthis, her heart hanging
heavy with longing in her little breast
She shouts aloud, Come, we know it;
thousand-eared night repeats that cry
across the sea shining between us.
AND THEIR FEET MOVE
And their feet move
rhythmically, as tender
feet of Cretan girls danced once around an
altar of love, crushing
a circle in the soft
smooth flowering grass.
CYPRIAN, IN MY DREAMS
Cyprian, in my dream
the folds of a purple
your cheeks - the one
Timas one time sent,
a timid gift, all
the way from Phocaea
I HAVE NO COMPLAINT
I have no complaint
the golden Muses
gave me was no
delusion: dead, I
won't be forgotten
THE LYRIC POEM
I took my lyre and said:
Come now, my heavenly
tortoise shell: become
a speaking instrument
IN THE SPRING TWILIGHT
In the spring twilight
the full moon is shining:
Girls take their places
as though around an altar
IT WAS YOU, ATTHIS, WHO SAID
It was you, Atthis, who said
"Sappho, if you will not get
up and let us look at you
I shall never love you again!
"Get up, unleash your suppleness,
lift off your Chian nightdress
and, like a lily leaning into
"a spring, bathe in the water.
Cleis is bringing your best
purple frock and the yellow
"tunic down from the clothes chest;
you will have a cloak thrown over
you and flowers crowning your hair...
"Praxinoa, my child, will you please
roast nuts for our breakfast? One
of the gods is being good to us:
"today we are going at last
into Mitylene, our favorite
city, with Sappho, loveliest
"of its women; she will walk
among us like a mother with
all her daughters around her
"when she comes home from exile..."
But you forget everything
BEFORE THEY WERE MOTHERS
Before they were mothers
Leto and Niobe
had been the most
devoted of friends
STANDING BY MY BED
Standing by my bed
in gold sandals
Dawn that very
moment awoke me
now, today, I shall
sing beautifully for
my friends' pleasure
YOU KNOW THE PLACE
You know the place: then
Leave Crete and come to us
waiting where the grove is
pleasantest, by precincts
sacred to you; incense
smokes on the altar, cold
streams murmur through the
apple branches, a young
rose thicket shades the ground
and quivering leaves pour
down deep sleep; in meadows
where horses have grown sleek
among spring flowers, dill
scents the air. Queen! Cyprian!
Fill our gold cups with love
stirred into clear nectar
Tonight I've watched
the moon and then
The night is now
goes; I am
in bed alone
WE PUT THE URN ABOARD SHIP
We put the urn aboard ship
with this inscription:
This is the dust of little
Timas who unmarried was led
into Persephone's dark bedroom
And she being far from home, girls
her age took new-edged blades
to cut, in mourning for her,
these curls of their soft hair
WE SHALL ENJOY IT
We shall enjoy it
as for him who finds
fault, may silliness
and sorrow take him!
WITH HIS VENOM
With his venom
of limbs, Love
strikes me down
From all the offspring
of the earth and heaven
love is the most precious.
THE LAUREL TREE
You lay in wait
behind a laurel tree,
you are a woman
wanderer like me.
I barely heard you,
you came in your
and suddenly: beauty
of your garments.
Nightingale, with your
lovely voice, you are
the herald of spring.
When the sun dazzles the earth
with straight-falling flames,
a cricket rubs its wings
scraping up a shrill song.
You would want
to be carried away.
You yourself know
but someone forgot.
Some might say
I will love
as long as there is breath
I say I've been a firm friend.
I will love.
* * *
Although they are only breath, words which I command are immortal
* * *