A Poem a Day: Sappho

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet who lived somewhere between 630 BCE and 570 BCE. She was born on the island of Lesbos, and yes, that is where the word lesbian originated from. I’ve heard scholars debate whether Sappho’s relationship with other women was physically passionate and akin to our modern day romantic relationships, or more Socratic in fashion. I say, read her poetry, and judge for yourself how much it matters what sex is the person to whom she is speaking. Do you think it adds or detracts beauty? Or does it add layers to the language you may not have noticed before? Once last word: let us not forget, to assume all poetry is autobiographical is complete and utter hogwash. This selection was translated by Anne Carson:

“Fragment 31”

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing—oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead—or almost
I seem to me.

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

My photo, Sappho by Comte Prosper d'Épinay at the Met Museum, NYC

My photo, Sappho by Comte Prosper d’Épinay at the Met Museum, NYC

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