Classics  
Greek    c. 600 BCE   
The only contemporary source which refers to Sappho's life is her own body of poetry, and scholars are skeptical of biographical readings of it. Later biographical traditions, from which all more detailed accounts derive, have also been cast into doubt. An Oxyrhynchus papyrus from around AD 200 and the Suda ... Read more
The only contemporary source which refers to Sappho's life is her own body of poetry, and scholars are skeptical of biographical readings of it. Later biographical traditions, from which all more detailed accounts derive, have also been cast into doubt. An Oxyrhynchus papyrus from around AD 200 and the Suda ... Read more

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

With flowers fair adorn thy lustrous hair,
Dica, amidst thy locks sweet blossoms twine,
With thy soft hands, for so a maiden stands
Accepted of the gods, whose eyes divine
Are turned away from her--though fair as May
She waits, but round whose locks no flowers shine.

I have no complaint
prosperity that
the golden Muses
gave me was no
delusion: dead, I
won't be forgotten

What country maiden charms thy heart,
However fair, however sweet,
Who has not learned by gracious Art
To draw her dress around her feet?

Dapple-throned Aphrodite,
eternal daughterf God,
snare-knitter! Don't, I beg you,

cow my heart with grief! Come,
as once when you heard my far-
off cry and, listening, stepped

from your father's house to your
gold car, to yoke the pair whose
beautiful thick-feathered wings

oaring down mid-air from heaven
carried you to light swiftly
on dark earth; then, blissful one,

smiling your immortal smile
you asked, What ailed me now that
me me call you again? What

was it that my distracted
heart most wanted? "Whom has
Persuasion to bring round now

"to your love? Who, Sappho, is
unfair to you? For, let her
run, she will soon run after;

"if she won't accept gifts, she
will one day give them; and if
she won't love you -- she soon will

"love, although unwillingly..."
If ever -- come now! Relieve
this intolerable pain!

What my heart most hopes will
happen, make happen; you your-
self join forces on my side!

Awed by her splendor
stars near the lovely
moon cover their own
bright faces
when she
is roundest and lights
earth with her silver

I took my lyre and said:
Come now, my heavenly
tortoise shell: become
a speaking instrument

Blest as the immortal gods is he,
The youth whose eyes may look on thee,
Whose ears thy tongue's sweet melody
May still devour.

Thou smilest too!--sweet smile, whose charm
Has struck my soul with wild alarm,
And, when I see thee, bids disarm
Each vital power.

Speechless I gaze: the flame within
Runs swift o'er all my quivering skin:
My eyeballs swim; with dizzy din
My brain reels round;

And cold drops fall; and tremblings frail
Seize every limb; and grassy pale
I grow; and then--together fail
Both sight and sound.

I have a daughter,
Claïs fair,
Poised like a golden flower in the air,
Lydian treasures her limbs outshine
(Claïs, beloved one,
Claïs mine!)

Children astray to their mothers, and goats to the herd,
Sheep to the shepherd, through twilight the wings of the bird,
All things that morning has scattered with fingers of gold,
All things thou bringest, O Evening! at last to the fold.

Throned in splendor, immortal Aphrodite!
Child of Zeus, Enchantress, I implore thee
Slay me not in this distress and anguish,
Lady of beauty.

Hither come as once before thou camest,
When from afar thou heard'st my voice lamenting,
Heard'st and camest, leaving thy glorious father's Palace golden,

Yoking thy chariot. Fair the doves that bore thee;
Swift to the darksome earth their course directing,
Waving their thick wings from the highest heaven
Down through the ether.

Quickly they came. Then thou, O blessed goddess,
All in smiling wreathed thy face immortal,
Bade me tell thee the cause of all my suffering,
Why now I called thee;

What for my maddened heart I most was longing.
"Whom," thou criest, "dost wish that sweet Persuasion
Now win over and lead to thy love, my Sappho?
Who is it wrongs thee?

"For, though now he flies, he soon shall follow,
Soon shall be giving gifts who now rejects them.
Even though now he love not, soon shall he love thee
Even though thou wouldst not."

Come then now, dear goddess, and release me
From my anguish. All my heart's desiring
Grant thou now. Now too again as aforetime,
Be thou my ally.

O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferred,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
A gentle goddess, hear me now.
Descend, thou bright immortal guest,
In all thy radiant charms confessed.

Thou once didst leave almighty Jove
And all the golden roofs above:
The car thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hovering in air they lightly flew;
As to my bower they winged their way
I saw their quivering pinions play.

The birds dismissed (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again:
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In every heavenly feature smiled,
And asked what new complaints I made,
And why I called you to my aid?

What frenzy in my bosom raged,
And by what cure to be assuaged?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Though now thy offerings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Though now he freezes, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.

Celestial visitant, once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distempered soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.

He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes--
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you -- he

who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing

laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can'

speak -- my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,

hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body

and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn't far from me

O Hesperus, thou bringest all good things--
Home to the weary, to the hungry cheer,
To the young bird the parent's brooding wings,
The welcome stall to the o'erlabored steer;
Whate'er our household gods protect of dear,
Are gathered round us by thy look of rest;
Thou bring'st the child too to its mother's breast.

Sleep, darling
I have a small
daughter called
Cleis, who is

like a golden
flower
I wouldn't
take all Croesus'
kingdom with love
thrown in, for her

---

Don't ask me what to wear
I have no embroidered
headband from Sardis to
give you, Cleis, such as
I wore
and my mother
always said that in her
day a purple ribbon
looped in the hair was thought
to be high style indeed

but we were dark:
a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers

I took my lyre and said:
Come now, my heavenly
tortoise shell: become
a speaking instrument

Fragments 91, 92, 99, 106, 104, 103, 100, 105, 101, 102, 96, 109, 93, 94, 97, 95, and 133 combined.

Raise high the beams of the raftered hall,
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Ye builders, of the bridal-dwelling!
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Lo, the bridegroom comes, as the War-god tall —
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Now nay — yet our tallest in stature excelling;
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
For stately he towers above all the throng
As the Lesbian singer towers among
All alien poets, a prince of song.

O happy bridegroom! it cometh to-day,
The bridal thine heart hith longed for aye!
At last shall she be thine own, the maid
For whom thou hast sighed, for whom thou hast prayed.
For none other maiden beneath the skies,
O bridegroom, was like unto her in thine eyes.
Whereunto may I liken thee, bridegroom dear?
To a green vine-shoot in the spring of the year.
Now, now let the bridegroom rejoice, for the bride
Into the hall cometh joyful-eyed.
Ethereal-pale is her lovely face.
Hail, bridegroom! Hail, bride, queenly in grace!
How goodly to see thy lord stands there!
And his goodness will keep him for thee ever fair.
Ah, doth she, ah doth she regretfully brood? —
Does her heart still yearn after maidenhood?
Nay, not in this hour she cries:
'Maidenhood, maidenhood, whither away
Forsaking me?'
While maidenhood replies:
'Not again unto thee shall I come for aye,
Not again unto thee!'
No more, no more doth she chant
Proud young virginity's vaunt:
'As the sweet-apple flames on the tip of a spray against the sky,
At its uttermost point, which the gleaners forgat, and passed it by —
O nay, they forgat it not, but they could not attain so high.'
But she thinks of the fate, an evil thing,
That the years fast-fleeting to fair maids bring.
When the roses are faded, the gold turns grey.
And the smoothness is furrowed, as singeth the lay —
'As the hyacinth-flower on the mountain-side that the shepherds tread
Underfoot, and low on the earth its bloom dark-splendid is shed.'
Lo, her hand into thine hath her father given.
And thou leadest her home 'neath the Star of Even;
To thy portal the bridal-train draws near.
And the Chant Processional rings out clear:
'Hail, Hesper, who bringest home all
That radiant Dawn scattered wide,
Bringest back unto fold and stall
The sheep and the goat, and thy call
Brings the child to the mother's side.
Let the rose-ringed Star of the Evenfall
Usher thee on, love's willing thrall,
Bride, garden of loves like roses blowing.
Bride, loveliest image of Paphos' Queen!
So pass to the bride-bower, pass within
To the nuptial couch, for the sweet bestowing
On the bridegroom, whose measure is overflowing.
Of the bliss, wherein honoured is Hera: 'tis owned
Of the Marriage-goddess, the silver-throned.'

Cytherea, thy dainty Adonis is dying!
Ah, what shall we do?
O Nymphs, let it echo, the voice of your crying,
The greenwood through!

O Forest-maidens, smite on the breast,
Rend ye the delicate-woven vest!
Let the wail ring wild and high:
'Ah for Adonis!' cry.
O Sappho, how canst thou chant the bliss
Of Kypris — after such day as this?
'Oh Adonis, thou leavest me — woe for my lot!
And Eros, my servant, availeth me not!'
So wails Cytherea, grief-distraught.
'Who shall console me for thee? There is none —
Not Ares my god-lover, passionate one
Who sware in his jealousy forth to hale
Hephaestus my spouse from his palace, if he
Dared but to lift his eyes unto me.
Not he can console me, Adonis, for thee!'

Wail for Adonis, wail!

Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
are immortal

In the spring twilight
the full moon is shining:
Girls take their places
as though around an altar

 
To comment on this poem, please log in or create a free account
Log in or register to comment