Sappho was a prolific poet, probably composing around 10,000 lines. Her poetry was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, and she was among the canon of nine lyric poets most highly esteemed by scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria.
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Famous Sappo Poems
Workmen lift high
The beams of the roof,
Like Ares from sky
Comes the groom to the bride,
Than men who must die
Stands he taller in pride,
The Fisherman’s Tomb
Over the fisher Pelagon Meniscus his father set
The oar worn by the wave, the trap, and the fishing net;–
For all men, and for ever, memorials there to be
Of the luckless life of the fisher, the labourer of the sea.
The Death Of Adonis
This is the lamentation-song
For Adonis — woe for Adonis, woe!
Thus wailed Aphrodite in anguish-throe,
As she strove to hold him back from death:
‘Let thine heart not faint, O love! Be strong!
O me, it burns me, thy failing breath!
It kindles through all my being a fire!
My heart is aflame with despairing desire!’
She calls to her Eros of golden wing,
She bids him steep in the ice-cold spring
Fine linen, and lay on Adonis’ brow: —
‘O love, let its coolness revive thee now! . . .
Vain, vain! — his eyes see me no more;
They are fixed in a gaze upon Hades’ door!
They close — he sleeps — not the sleep of the dead!
Hush, stir not a pebble with heedless tread!
No, no! this is death! Now remaineth to me
No sweetness on earth — nor honey nor bee!’
To A Youth Who Wooed A Woman Older Than Himself
Friend, woo me not so earnestly.
Vain is thy prayer.
Nay, if in truth thou lovest me.
My wearied ears a suit denied.
Go, choose for thee a younger bride.
Not I will brook to live with thee.
An old wife to a young man tied,
Doomed as the years fleet by to see
A spouse who gazes hungry-eyed
On such as she can never be.
The young and fair.
And waits to enshroud her clay with glee,
And graveward bear.
We Shall Enjoy It
We shall enjoy it
as for him who finds
fault, may silliness
and sorrow take him!
To A Rich Vulgarian
Thou fool — that thou shouldst plume thyself
On rich attire, on jewel-hoard,
On dross of thine ill-gotten pelf,
On carcanet and flashing ring,
On meats and wines that load thy board!
Ay, cup on cup past numbering
Thou drainest with the drunken! Fool,
Who hast not learnt in wisdom’s school
That wealth is an accursed thing
Dislinked from goodness! Only when
These twain are wedded, happiness
True and abiding comes to bless
The fleeting life of dying men.
Fool! — yet not as in wrath I speak:
Not I on thee would vengeance wreak.
A quiet spirit dwells in me
That scorns to bruise such worms as thee.
Nay, but the inevitable Fate
Even now decrees thine after-state: —
When thou art dead, so shalt thou lie
Ever: thy very name shall die.
Thy sordid story not outlast
Thy burial; for no part thou hast
In Song-land’s roses, whose perfume
Breathes life immortal, o’er the tomb
Triumphant. Unregarded all
Shalt thou stray lost in Hades’ hall
Amidst the fameless dead forlorn,
A vile, ignoble thing of scorn!
To Atthis The Inconstant
I loved thee, Atthis, — even thee! —
Ah, long ago!
As Aphrodite’s handmaid bright
As gold wert thou then in my sight.
A very queen of love to me
Then didst thou show.
Fair gifts I sent thee — ‘broidery
Of golden thread whose shimmering light
Flashed mid the purple on thy knee,
A gleam and glow.
Then I knew not thine heart aright:
But now I know!
Thou incarnate false inconstancy —
To whom I grow
A thing to hate! — thou takest flight
On wings of love to — who is she?
A rustic wench whose garments flow
About her heels ungracefully!
O yea, let thy false love requite
Andromeda’s worship! Take delight
In her — thou who from my love’s height
Hast sunk so low!
To Anactoria, Who Has Forsaken A Once-Loved Girlfriend Of Sappho
Rushing war-hosts, horsemen or foot or galleys —
These doth one call, those doth another, fairest
Sights on earth: I say that my love of all is
Sweetest and rarest.
Hear the proof, which lightly, I wot, convinces: —
‘Mid the comely, Helen would fain discover
One without peer, and of the goodly princes
Chose for her lover
Him who brought the glory of Troy to ruin!
Reckless all of parent and child, she lavished
On the alien love for her own undoing;
Troyward was ravished.
Anactoria — she who contemns the blessing
Near at hand, is like to a reed wind-shaken.
Such are you! — love held in secure possessing
You have forsaken.
Her whose footfall’s music myself had rather
Hear, and see her face in its beauty beaming.
Than to gaze where horsemen and footmen gather
What is best is set above man’s attaining;
Yet, if Fortune smiled on us once, ’tis better
To recall with prayer and with upward-straining
Than to forget her.
Like the very gods in my sight is he
Like the very gods in my sight is he who
sits where he can look in your eyes, who listens
close to you, to hear the soft voice, its sweetness
murmur in love and
laughter, all for him. But it breaks my spirit;
underneath my breast all the heart is shaken.
Let me only glance where you are, the voice dies,
I can say nothing,
but my lips are stricken to silence, underneath
my skin the tenuous flame suffuses;
nothing shows in front of my eyes, my ears are
muted in thunder.
And the sweat breaks running upon me, fever
shakes my body, paler I turn than grass is;
I can feel that I have been changed, I feel that
death has come near me.
Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Ode To Anactori
That man, whoever he may be,
Who sits awhile to gaze on thee,
Hearing thy lovely laugh, thy speech,
Throned with the gods he seems to me;
For when a moment to mine eyes
Thy form discloses, silently
I stand consumed with fires that rise
Like flames around a sacrifice.
Sight have I none, bells out of tune
Ring in mine ears, my tongue lies dumb;
Paler than grass in later June,
Yet daring all
(To thee I come).
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
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.’
Maidens Dancing In Moonlight
Then, as the broad moon rose on high,
The maidens stood the altar nigh;
And some in graceful measure
The well-loved spot danced round,
With lightsome footsteps treading
The soft and grassy ground.
Cool murmur of water through apple-wood
Troughs without number
The whole orchard fills, whilst the leaves
Lend their music to slumber.
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.
To A Girl In A Garden
O soft and dainty maiden, from afar
I watch you, as amidst the flowers you move,
And pluck them, singing.
More golden than all gold your tresses are:
Never was harp-note like your voice, my love,
Your voice sweet-ringing.
Yea, Thou Shalt Die
Yea, thou shalt die,
Dumb in the silent tomb;
Nor to thy name
Shall there be any fame
In ages yet to be or years to come:
For of the flowering Rose,
Which on Pieria blows,
Thou hast no share:
But in sad Hades’ house,
‘Mid the dim shades that wander there
Shalt thou flit forth and haunt the filmy air.
The Torments Of Love
O Queens of Song, descend from your home.
From the golden halls of Olumpus on high!
O shell divine, now, now become
Voiceful, to utter mine heart’s wild cry!
O Calliope, vouchsafe thine aid
Unto one whom the Muse of Love hath betrayed!
Ah me, I know not what to do
Who am wildered all, in a strait betwixt two!
I cry from a homeless heart storm-tossed
As a child for her mother, a young child lost.
Yet not after all-unattainable things
Do I strain, nor I hope on passion’s wings
To soar to the heavens’ empyreal blue.
But oh, I yearn, how I yearn to slake
My thirst where Love’s feet brush the dew!
For he who the strength of the mighty can break,
He whose bitter sweetness no tongue may tell,
The dragon whose onslaught none may quell,
Love — mine whole being doth Love’s breath shake.
Ah, sleep I cannot: soft-cushioned bed
Wooes never my wearied frame to sleep;
No pillow brings rest to my throbbing head.
From my couch, as one in a nightmare, I leap.
Ever Eros is tossing to and fro
My spirit, as when great storm-winds blow
O’er a tempest-tormented mountain-steep,
And down on its groaning oak-woods sweep;
So groaneth my spirit, love-scourged so.
To A Bride
Bride, around whom the rosy leaves are flying,
Sweet image of the Cyprian undying,
The bed awaits thee; go, and with him lying,
Give to the groom thy sweetness, softly sighing.
May Hesperus in gladness pass before thee,
And Hera of the silver throne bend o’er thee.
He seems to he a god, that man
Facing you, who leans to be close,
Smiles, and, alert and glad, listens
To your mellow voice
And quickens in love at your laughter
That stings my breasts, jolts my heart
If I dare the shock of a glance.
I cannot speak,
My tongue sticks to my dry mouth,
Thin fire spreads beneath my skin,
My eyes cannot see and my aching ears
Roar in their labyrinths.
Chill sweat glides down my back,
I shake, I turn greener than grass.
I am neither living nor dead and cry
From the narrow between.
Hesperus The Bringer
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.