Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics by Bliss Carman

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  • 1904
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THE POETRY OF SAPPHO.–If all the poets and all the lovers of poetry should be asked to name the most precious of the priceless things which time has wrung in tribute from the triumphs of human genius, the answer which would rush to every tongue would be “The Lost Poems of Sappho.” These we know to have been jewels of a radiance so imperishable that the broken gleams of them still dazzle men’s eyes, whether shining from the two small brilliants and the handful of star-dust which alone remain to us, or reflected merely from the adoration of those poets of old time who were so fortunate as to witness their full glory.

For about two thousand five hundred years Sappho has held her place as not only the supreme poet of her sex, but the chief lyrist of all lyrists. Every one who reads acknowledges her fame, concedes her supremacy; but to all except poets and Hellenists her name is a vague and uncomprehended splendour, rising secure above a persistent mist of misconception. In spite of all that is in these days being written about Sappho, it is perhaps not out of place now to inquire, in a few words, into the substance of this supremacy which towers so unassailably secure from what appear to be such shadowy foundations.

First, we have the witness of her contemporaries. Sappho was at the height of her career about six centuries before Christ, at a period when lyric poetry was peculiarly esteemed and cultivated at the centres of Greek life. Among the _Molic_ peoples of the Isles, in particular, it had been carried to a high pitch of perfection, and its forms had become the subject of assiduous study. Its technique was exact, complex, extremely elaborate, minutely regulated; yet the essential fires of sincerity, spontaneity, imagination and passion were flaming with undiminished heat behind the fixed forms and restricted measures. The very metropolis of this lyric realm was Mitylene of Lesbos, where, amid the myrtle groves and temples, the sunlit silver of the fountains, the hyacinth gardens by a soft blue sea, Beauty and Love in their young warmth could fuse the most rigid forms to fluency. Here Sappho was the acknowledged queen of song–revered, studied, imitated, served, adored by a little court of attendants and disciples, loved and hymned by Alcaeus, and acclaimed by her fellow craftsmen throughout Greece as the wonder of her age. That all the tributes of her contemporaries show reverence not less for her personality than for her genius is sufficient answer to the calumnies with which the ribald jesters of that later period, the corrupt and shameless writers of Athenian comedy, strove to defile her fame. It is sufficient, also, to warrant our regarding the picturesque but scarcely dignified story of her vain pursuit of Phaon and her frenzied leap from the Cliff of Leucas as nothing more than a poetic myth, reminiscent, perhaps, of the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis–who is, indeed, called Phaon in some versions. The story is further discredited by the fact that we find no mention of it in Greek literature– even among those Attic comedians who would have clutched at it so eagerly and given it so gross a turn–till a date more than two hundred years after Sappho’s death. It is a myth which has begotten some exquisite literature, both in prose and verse, from Ovid’s famous epistle to Addison’s gracious fantasy and some impassioned and imperishable dithyrambs of Mr. Swinburne; but one need not accept the story as a fact in order to appreciate the beauties which flowered out from its coloured unreality.

The applause of contemporaries, however, is not always justified by the verdict of after-times, and does not always secure an immortality of renown. The fame of Sappho has a more stable basis. Her work was in the world’s possession for not far short of a thousand years–a thousand years of changing tastes, searching criticism, and familiar use. It had to endure the wear and tear of quotation, the commonizing touch of the school and the market-place. And under this test its glory grew ever more and more conspicuous. Through those thousand years poets and critics vied with one another in proclaiming her verse the one unmatched exemplar of lyric art. Such testimony, even though not a single fragment remained to us from which to judge her poetry for ourselves, might well convince us that the supremacy acknowledged by those who knew all the triumphs of the genius of old Greece was beyond the assault of any modern rival. We might safely accept the sustained judgment of a thousand years of Greece.

Fortunately for us, however, two small but incomparable odes and a few scintillating fragments have survived, quoted and handed down in the eulogies of critics and expositors. In these the wisest minds, the greatest poets, and the most inspired teachers of modern days have found justification for the unanimous verdict of antiquity. The tributes of Addison, Tennyson, and others, the throbbing paraphrases and ecstatic interpretations of Swinburne, are too well known to call for special comment in this brief note; but the concise summing up of her genius by Mr. Watts-Dunton in his remarkable essay on poetry is so convincing and illuminating that it seems to demand quotation here: “Never before these songs were sung, and never since did the human soul, in the grip of a fiery passion, utter a cry like hers; and, from the executive point of view, in directness, in lucidity, in that high, imperious verbal economy which only nature can teach the artist, she has no equal, and none worthy to take the place of second.”

The poems of Sappho so mysteriously lost to us seem to have consisted of at least nine books of odes, together with _epithalamia_, epigrams, elegies, and monodies. Of the several theories which have been advanced to account for their disappearance, the most plausible seems to be that which represents them as having been burned at Byzantium in the year 380 Anno Domini, by command of Gregory Nazianzen, in order that his own poems might be studied in their stead and the morals of the people thereby improved. Of the efficacy of this act no means of judging has come down to us.

In recent years there has arisen a great body of literature upon the subject of Sappho, most of it the abstruse work of scholars writing for scholars. But the gist of it all, together with the minutest surviving fragment of her verse, has been made available to the general reader in English by Mr. Henry T. Wharton, in whose altogether admirable little volume we find all that is known and the most apposite of all that has been said up to the present day about

“Love’s priestess, mad with pain and joy of song, Song’s priestess, mad with joy and pain of love.”

Perhaps the most perilous and the most alluring venture in the whole field of poetry is that which Mr. Carman has undertaken in attempting to give us in English verse those lost poems of Sappho of which fragments have survived. The task is obviously not one of translation or of paraphrasing, but of imaginative and, at the same time, interpretive construction. It is as if a sculptor of to-day were to set himself, with reverence, and trained craftsmanship, and studious familiarity with the spirit, technique, and atmosphere of his subject, to restore some statues of Polyclitus or Praxiteles of which he had but a broken arm, a foot, a knee, a finger upon which to build. Mr. Carman’s method, apparently, has been to imagine each lost lyric as discovered, and then to translate it; for the indefinable flavour of the translation is maintained throughout, though accompanied by the fluidity and freedom of purely original work.


Now to please my little friend
I must make these notes of spring,
With the soft south-west wind in them And the marsh notes of the frogs.

I must take a gold-bound pipe,
And outmatch the bubbling call
From the beechwoods in the sunlight, From the meadows in the rain.


Now to please my little friend

I Cyprus, Paphos, or Panormus

II What shall we do, Cytherea?

III Power and beauty and knowledge

IV O Pan of the evergreen forest

V O Aphrodite

VI Peer of the gods he seems

VII The Cyprian came to thy cradle

VIII Aphrodite of the foam

IX Nay, but always and forever

X Let there be garlands, Dica

XI When the Cretan maidens

XII In a dream I spoke with the Cyprus-born

XIII Sleep thou in the bosom

XIV Hesperus, bringing together

XV In the grey olive-grove a small brown bird

XVI In the apple-boughs the coolness

XVII Pale rose-leaves have fallen

XVIII The courtyard of her house is wide

XIX There is a medlar-tree

XX I behold Arcturus going westward

XXI Softly the first step of twilight

XXII Once you lay upon my bosom

XXIII I loved thee, Atthis, in the long ago

XXIV I shall be ever maiden

XXV It was summer when I found you

XXVI I recall thy white gown, cinctured

XXVII Lover, art thou of a surety

XXVIII With your head thrown backward

XXIX Ah, what am I but a torrent

XXX Love shakes my soul, like a mountain wind

XXXI Love, let the wind cry

XXXII Heart of mine, if all the altars

XXXIII Never yet, love, in earth’s lifetime

XXXIV “Who was Atthis?” men shall ask

XXXV When the great pink mallow

XXXVI When I pass thy door at night

XXXVII Well I found you in the twilit garden

XXXVIII Will not men remember us

XXXIX I grow weary of the foreign cities

XL Ah, what detains thee, Phaon

XLI Phaon, O my lover

XLII O heart of insatiable longing

XLIII Surely somehow, in some measure

XLIV O but my delicate lover

XLV Softer than the hill-fog to the forest

XLVI I seek and desire

XLVII Like torn sea-kelp in the drift

XLVIII Fine woven purple linen

XLIX When I am home from travel

L When I behold the pharos shine

LI Is the day long

LII Lo, on the distance a dark blue ravine

LIII Art thou the topmost apple

LIV How soon will all my lovely days be over

LV Soul of sorrow, why this weeping?

LVI It never can be mine

LVII Others shall behold the sun

LVIII Let thy strong spirit never fear

LIX Will none say of Sappho

LX When I have departed

LXI There is no more to say, now thou art still

LXII Play up, play up thy silver flute

LXIII A beautiful child is mine

LXIV Ah, but now henceforth

LXV Softly the wind moves through the radiant morning

LXVI What the west wind whispers

LXVII Indoors the fire is kindled

LXVIII You ask how love can keep the mortal soul

LXIX Like a tall forest were their spears

LXX My lover smiled, “O friend, ask not

LXXI Ye who have the stable world

LXXII I heard the gods reply

LXXIII The sun on the tide, the peach on the bough

LXXIV If death be good

LXXV Tell me what this life means

LXXVI Ye have heard how Marsyas

LXXVII Hour by hour I sit

LXXVIII Once in the shining street

LXXIX How strange is love, O my lover

LXXX How to say I love you

LXXXI Hark, love, to the tambourines

LXXXII Over the roofs the honey-coloured moon

LXXXIII In the quiet garden world

LXXXIV Soft was the wind in the beech-trees

LXXXV Have ye heard the news of Sappho’s garden

LXXXVI Love is so strong a thing

LXXXVII Hadst thou with all thy loveliness been true

LXXXVIII As on a morn a traveller might emerge

LXXXIX Where shall I look for thee

XC O sad, sad face and saddest eyes that ever

XCI Why have the gods in derision

XCII Like a red lily in the meadow grasses

XCIII When in the spring the swallows all return

XCIV Cold is the wind where Daphne sleeps

XCV Hark, where Poseidon’s

XCVI Hark, my lover, it is spring!

XCVII When the early soft spring-wind comes blowing

XCVIII I am more tremulous than shaken reeds

XCIX Over the wheat field

C Once more the rain on the mountain




Cyprus, Paphos, or Panormus
May detain thee with their splendour Of oblations on thine altars,
O imperial Aphrodite.

Yet do thou regard, with pity 5 For a nameless child of passion,
This small unfrequented valley
By the sea, O sea-born mother.


What shall we do, Cytherea?
Lovely Adonis is dying.
Ah, but we mourn him!

Will he return when the Autumn
Purples the earth, and the sunlight 5 Sleeps in the vineyard?

Will he return when the Winter
Huddles the sheep, and Orion
Goes to his hunting?

Ah, but thy beauty, Adonis, 10 With the soft spring and the south wind, Love and desire!


Power and beauty and knowledge,–
Pan, Aphrodite, or Hermes,–
Whom shall we life-loving mortals
Serve and be happy?

Lo now, your garlanded altars, 5 Are they not goodly with flowers?
Have ye not honour and pleasure
In lovely Lesbos?

Will ye not, therefore, a little
Hearten, impel, and inspire 10 One who adores, with a favour
Threefold in wonder?


O Pan of the evergreen forest,
Protector of herds in the meadows,
Helper of men at their toiling,–
Tillage and harvest and herding,–
How many times to frail mortals 5 Hast thou not hearkened!

Now even I come before thee
With oil and honey and wheat-bread, Praying for strength and fulfilment
Of human longing, with purpose 10 Ever to keep thy great worship
Pure and undarkened.

* * * * *

O Hermes, master of knowledge,
Measure and number and rhythm,
Worker of wonders in metal, 15 Moulder of malleable music,
So often the giver of secret
Learning to mortals!

Now even I, a fond woman,
Frail and of small understanding, 20 Yet with unslakable yearning
Greatly desiring wisdom,
Come to the threshold of reason
And the bright portals.

* * * * *

And thou, sea-born Aphrodite, 25 In whose beneficent keeping
Earth, with her infinite beauty,
Colour and fashion and fragrance,
Glows like a flower with fervour
Where woods are vernal! 30

Touch with thy lips and enkindle
This moon-white delicate body,
Drench with the dew of enchantment
This mortal one, that I also
Grow to the measure of beauty 35 Fleet yet eternal.


O Aphrodite,
God-born and deathless,
Break not my spirit
With bitter anguish:
Thou wilful empress, 5 I pray thee, hither!

As once aforetime
Well thou didst hearken
To my voice far off,–
Listen, and leaving 10 Thy father’s golden
House in yoked chariot,

Come, thy fleet sparrows
Beating the mid-air
Over the dark earth. 15 Suddenly near me,
Smiling, immortal,
Thy bright regard asked

What had befallen,–
Why I had called thee,– 20 What my mad heart then
Most was desiring.
“What fair thing wouldst thou
Lure now to love thee?

“Who wrongs thee, Sappho? 25 If now she flies thee,
Soon shall she follow;–
Scorning thy gifts now,
Soon be the giver;–
And a loth loved one 30

“Soon be the lover.”
So even now, too,
Come and release me
From mordant love pain,
And all my heart’s will 35 Help me accomplish!


Peer of the gods he seems,
Who in thy presence
Sits and hears close to him
Thy silver speech-tones
And lovely laughter. 5

Ah, but the heart flutters
Under my bosom,
When I behold thee
Even a moment;
Utterance leaves me; 10

My tongue is useless;
A subtle fire
Runs through my body;
My eyes are sightless,
And my ears ringing; 15

I flush with fever,
And a strong trembling
Lays hold upon me;
Paler than grass am I,
Half dead for madness. 20

Yet must I, greatly
Daring, adore thee,
As the adventurous
Sailor makes seaward
For the lost sky-line 25

And undiscovered
Fabulous islands,
Drawn by the lure of
Beauty and summer
And the sea’s secret. 30


The Cyprian came to thy cradle,
When thou wast little and small,
And said to the nurse who rocked thee “Fear not thou for the child:

“She shall be kindly favoured, 5 And fair and fashioned well,
As befits the Lesbian maidens
And those who are fated to love.”

Hermes came to thy cradle,
Resourceful, sagacious, serene, 10 And said, “The girl must have knowledge, To lend her freedom and poise.

Naught will avail her beauty,
If she have not wit beside.
She shall be Hermes’ daughter, 15 Passing wise in her day.”

Great Pan came to thy cradle,
With calm of the deepest hills,
And smiled, “They have forgotten
The veriest power of life. 20

“To kindle her shapely beauty,
And illumine her mind withal,
I give to the little person
The glowing and craving soul.”


Aphrodite of the foam,
Who hast given all good gifts,
And made Sappho at thy will
Love so greatly and so much,

Ah, how comes it my frail heart 5 Is so fond of all things fair,
I can never choose between
Gorgo and Andromeda?


Nay, but always and forever
Like the bending yellow grain,
Or quick water in a channel,
Is the heart of man.

Comes the unseen breath in power 5 Like a great wind from the sea,
And we bow before his coming,
Though we know not why.


Let there be garlands, Dica,
Around thy lovely hair.
And supple sprays of blossom
Twined by thy soft hands.

Whoso is crowned with flowers 5 Has favour with the gods,
Who have no kindly eyes
For the ungarlanded.


When the Cretan maidens
Dancing up the full moon
Round some fair new altar,
Trample the soft blossoms of fine grass,

There is mirth among them. 5 Aphrodite’s children
Ask her benediction
On their bridals in the summer night.


In a dream I spoke with the Cyprus-born, And said to her,
“Mother of beauty, mother of joy,
Why hast thou given to men

“This thing called love, like the ache of a wound 5 In beauty’s, side,
To burn and throb and be quelled for an hour And never wholly depart?”

And the daughter of Cyprus said to me, “Child of the earth, 10 Behold, all things are born and attain,
But only as they desire,—

“The sun that is strong, the gods that are wise, The loving heart,
Deeds and knowledge and beauty and joy,– 15 But before all else was desire.”


Sleep thou in the bosom
Of the tender comrade,
While the living water
Whispers in the well-run,
And the oleanders 5 Glimmer in the moonlight.

Soon, ah, soon the shy birds
Will be at their fluting,
And the morning planet
Rise above the garden; 10 For there is a measure
Set to all things mortal.


Hesperus, bringing together
All that the morning star scattered,–

Sheep to be folded in twilight,
Children for mothers to fondle,–

Me too will bring to the dearest, 5 Tenderest breast in all Lesbos.


In the grey olive-grove a small brown bird Had built her nest and waited for the spring. But who could tell the happy thought that came To lodge beneath my scarlet tunic’s fold?

All day long now is the green earth renewed 5 With the bright sea-wind and the yellow blossoms. From the cool shade I hear the silver plash Of the blown fountain at the garden’s end.


In the apple boughs the coolness
Murmurs, and the grey leaves flicker Where sleep wanders.

In this garden all the hot noon
I await thy fluttering footfall 5 Through the twilight.


Pale rose leaves have fallen
In the fountain water;
And soft reedy flute-notes
Pierce the sultry quiet.

But I wait and listen, 5 Till the trodden gravel
Tells me, all impatience,
It is Phaon’s footstep.


The courtyard of her house is wide
And cool and still when day departs. Only the rustle of leaves is there
And running water.

And then her mouth, more delicate 5 Than the frail wood-anemone,
Brushes my cheek, and deeper grow
The purple shadows.


There is a medlar-tree
Growing in front of my lover’s house, And there all day
The wind makes a pleasant sound.

And when the evening comes, 5 We sit there together in the dusk,
And watch the stars
Appear in the quiet blue.


I behold Arcturus going westward
Down the crowded slope of night-dark azure, While the Scorpion with red Antares
Trails along the sea-line to the southward.

From the ilex grove there comes soft laughter,– 5 My companions at their glad love-making,– While that curly-headed boy from Naxos
With his jade flute marks the purple quiet.


Softly the first step of twilight
Falls on the darkening dial,
One by one kindle the lights
In Mitylene.

Noises are hushed in the courtyard, 5 The busy day is departing,
Children are called from their games,– Herds from their grazing.

And from the deep-shadowed angles
Comes the soft murmur of lovers, 10 Then through the quiet of dusk
Bright sudden laughter.

From the hushed street, through the portal, Where soon my lover will enter,
Comes the pure strain of a flute 15 Tender with passion.


Once you lay upon my bosom,
While the long blue-silver moonlight Walked the plain, with that pure passion All your own.

Now the moon is gone, the Pleiads 5 Gone, the dead of night is going;
Slips the hour, and on my bed
I lie alone.


I loved thee, Atthis, in the long ago, When the great oleanders were in flower
In the broad herded meadows full of sun. And we would often at the fall of dusk
Wander together by the silver stream, 5 When the soft grass-heads were all wet with dew, And purple-misted in the fading light.
And joy I knew and sorrow at thy voice, And the superb magnificence of love,–
The loneliness that saddens solitude, 10 And the sweet speech that makes it durable,– The bitter longing and the keen desire,
The sweet companionship through quiet days In the slow ample beauty of the world,
And the unutterable glad release 15 Within the temple of the holy night.
O Atthis, how I loved thee long ago In that fair perished summer by the sea!


I shall be ever maiden,
If thou be not my lover,
And no man shall possess me
Henceforth and forever.

But thou alone shalt gather 5 This fragile flower of beauty,–
To crush and keep the fragrance
Like a holy incense.

Thou only shalt remember
This love of mine, or hallow 10 The coming years with gladness,
Calm and pride and passion.


It was summer when I found you
In the meadow long ago,–
And the golden vetch was growing
By the shore.

Did we falter when love took us 5 With a gust of great desire?
Does the barley bid the wind wait
In his course?


I recall thy white gown, cinctured
With a linen belt, whereon
Violets were wrought, and scented
With strange perfumes out of Egypt.

And I know thy foot was covered 5 With fair Lydian broidered straps;
And the petals from a rose-tree
Fell within the marble basin.


Lover, art thou of a surety
Not a learner of the wood-god?
Has the madness of his music
Never touched thee?

Ah, thou dear and godlike mortal, 5 If Pan takes thee for his pupil,
Make me but another Syrinx
For that piping.


With your head thrown backward
In my arm’s safe hollow,
And your face all rosy
With the mounting fervour;

While the grave eyes greaten 5 With the wise new wonder,
Swimming in a love-mist
Like the haze of Autumn;

From that throat, the throbbing
Nightingale’s for pleading, 10 Wayward, soft, and welling
Inarticulate love-notes,

Come the words that bubble
Up through broken laughter,
Sweeter than spring-water, 15 “Gods, I am so happy!”


Ah, what am I but a torrent,
Headstrong, impetuous, broken,
Like the spent clamour of waters
In the blue canyon?

Ah, what art thou but a fern-frond, 5 Wet with blown spray from the river,
Diffident, lovely, sequestered,
Frail on the rock-ledge?

Yet, are we not for one brief day,
While the sun sleeps on the mountain, 10 Wild-hearted lover and loved one,
Safe in Pan’s keeping?


Love shakes my soul, like a mountain wind Falling upon the trees,
When they are swayed and whitened and bowed As the great gusts will.

I know why Daphne sped through the grove 5 When the bright god came by,
And shut herself in the laurel’s heart For her silent doom.

Love fills my heart, like my lover’s breath Filling the hollow flute, 10 Till the magic wood awakes and cries
With remembrance and joy.

Ah, timid Syrinx, do I not know
Thy tremor of sweet fear?
For a beautiful and imperious player 15 Is the lord of life.


Love, let the wind cry
On the dark mountain,
Bending the ash-trees
And the tall hemlocks,
With the great voice of 5 Thunderous legions,
How I adore thee.

Let the hoarse torrent
In the blue canyon,
Murmuring mightily 10 Out of the grey mist
Of primal chaos,
Cease not proclaiming
How I adore thee.

Let the long rhythm 15 Of crunching rollers,
Breaking and bellowing
On the white seaboard,
Titan and tireless,
Tell, while the world stands, 20 How I adore thee.

Love, let the clear call
Of the tree-cricket,
Frailest of creatures,
Green as the young grass, 25 Mark with his trilling
Resonant bell-note,
How I adore thee.

Let the glad lark-song
Over the meadow, 30 That melting lyric
Of molten silver,
Be for a signal
To listening mortals,
How I adore thee. 35

But more than all sounds,
Surer, serener,
Fuller with passion
And exultation,
Let the hushed whisper 40 In thine own heart say,
How I adore thee.


Heart of mine, if all the altars
Of the ages stood before me,
Not one pure enough nor sacred
Could I find to lay this white, white Rose of love upon. 5

I who am not great enough to
Love thee with this mortal body
So impassionate with ardour,
But oh, not too small to worship
While the sun shall shine,– 10

I would build a fragrant temple
To thee, in the dark green forest,
Of red cedar and fine sandal,
And there love thee with sweet service All my whole life long. 15

I would freshen it with flowers,
And the piney hill-wind through it
Should be sweetened with soft fervours Of small prayers in gentle language
Thou wouldst smile to hear. 20

And a tinkling Eastern wind-bell,
With its fluttering inscription,
From the rafters with bronze music
Should retard the quiet fleeting
Of uncounted hours. 25

And my hero, while so human,
Should be even as the gods are,
In that shrine of utter gladness,
With the tranquil stars above it
And the sea below. 30


Never yet, love, in earth’s lifetime, Hath any cunningest minstrel
Told the one seventh of wisdom,
Ravishment, ecstasy, transport,
Hid in the hue of the hyacinth’s 5 Purple in springtime.

Not in the lyre of Orpheus,
Not in the songs of Musaeus,
Lurked the unfathomed bewitchment
Wrought by the wind in the grasses, 10 Held by the rote of the sea-surf,
In early summer.

Only to exquisite lovers,
Fashioned for beauty’s fulfilment,
Mated as rhythm to reed-stop 15 Whence the wild music is moulded,
Ever appears the full measure
Of the world’s wonder.


“Who was Atthis?” men shall ask,
When the world is old, and time
Has accomplished without haste
The strange destiny of men.

Haply in that far-off age 5 One shall find these silver songs,
With their human freight, and guess What a lover Sappho was.


When the great pink mallow
Blossoms in the marshland,
Full of lazy summer
And soft hours,

Then I hear the summons 5 Not a mortal lover
Ever yet resisted,
Strange and far.

In the faint blue foothills,
Making magic music, 10 Pan is at his love-work
On the reeds.

I can guess the heart-stop,
Fall and lull and sequence,
Full of grief for Syrinx 15 Long ago.

Then the crowding madness,
Wild and keen and tender,
Trembles with the burden
Of great joy. 20

Nay, but well I follow,
All unskilled, that fluting.
Never yet was reed-nymph
Like to thee.


When I pass thy door at night
I a benediction breathe:
“Ye who have the sleeping world
In your care,

“Guard the linen sweet and cool, 5 Where a lovely golden head
With its dreams of mortal bliss
Slumbers now!”


Well I found you in the twilit garden, Laid a lover’s hand upon your shoulder,
And we both were made aware of loving Past the reach of reason to unravel,
Or the much desiring heart to follow. 5

There we heard the breath among the grasses And the gurgle of soft-running water,
Well contented with the spacious starlight, The cool wind’s touch and the deep blue distance, Till the dawn came in with golden sandals. 10


Will not men remember us
In the days to come hereafter,–
Thy warm-coloured loving beauty
And my love for thee?

Thou, the hyacinth that grows 5 By a quiet-running river;
I, the watery reflection
And the broken gleam.


I grow weary of the foreign cities,
The sea travel and the stranger peoples. Even the clear voice of hardy fortune
Dares me not as once on brave adventure.

For the heart of man must seek and wander, 5 Ask and question and discover knowledge; Yet above all goodly things is wisdom,
And love greater than all understanding.

So, a mariner, I long for land-fall,– When a darker purple on the sea-rim, 10 O’er the prow uplifted, shall be Lesbos
And the gleaming towers of Mitylene.


Ah, what detains thee, Phaon,
So long from Mitylene,
Where now thy restless lover
Wearies for thy coming?

A fever burns me, Phaon; 5 My knees quake on the threshold,
And all my strength is loosened,
Slack with disappointment.

But thou wilt come, my Phaon,
Back from the sea like morning, 10 To quench in golden gladness
The ache of parted lovers.


Phaon, O my lover,
What should so detain thee,

Now the wind comes walking
Through the leafy twilight?

All the plum-leaves quiver 5 With the coolth and darkness,

After their long patience
In consuming ardour.

And the moving grasses
Have relief; the dew-drench 10

Comes to quell the parching
Ache of noon they suffered.

I alone of all things
Fret with unsluiced fire.

And there is no quenching 15 In the night for Sappho,

Since her lover Phaon
Leaves her unrequited.


O heart of insatiable longing,
What spell, what enchantment allures thee Over the rim of the world
With the sails of the sea-going ships?

And when the rose-petals are scattered 5 At dead of still noon on the grass-plot, What means this passionate grief,–
This infinite ache of regret?


Surely somehow, in some measure,
There will be joy and fulfilment,– Cease from this throb of desire,–
Even for Sappho!

Surely some fortunate hour 5 Phaon will come, and his beauty
Be spent like water to plenish
Need of that beauty!

Where is the breath of Poseidon,
Cool from the sea-floor with evening? 10 Why are Selene’s white horses
So long arriving?


O but my delicate lover,
Is she not fair as the moonlight?
Is she not supple and strong
For hurried passion?

Has not the god of the green world, 5 In his large tolerant wisdom,
Filled with the ardours of earth
Her twenty summers?

Well did he make her for loving;
Well did he mould her for beauty; 10 Gave her the wish that is brave
With understanding.

“O Pan, avert from this maiden
Sorrow, misfortune, bereavement,
Harm, and unhappy regret,” 15 Prays one fond mortal.


Softer than the hill-fog to the forest Are the loving hands of my dear lover,
When she sleeps beside me in the starlight And her beauty drenches me with rest.

As the quiet mist enfolds the beech-trees, 5 Even as she dreams her arms enfold me,
Half awaking with a hundred kisses
On the scarlet lily of her mouth.


I seek and desire,
Even as the wind
That travels the plain
And stirs in the bloom
Of the apple-tree. 5

I wander through life,
With the searching mind
That is never at rest,
Till I reach the shade
Of my lover’s door. 10


Like torn sea-kelp in the drift
Of the great tides of the sea,
Carried past the harbour-mouth
To the deep beyond return,

I am buoyed and borne away 5 On the loveliness of earth,
Little caring, save for thee,
Past the portals of the night.


Fine woven purple linen
I bring thee from Phocaea,
That, beauty upon beauty,
A precious gift may cover
The lap where I have lain. 5

And a gold comb, and girdle,
And trinkets of white silver,
And gems are in my sea-chest,
Lest poor and empty-handed
Thy lover should return. 10

And I have brought from Tyre
A Pan-flute stained vermilion,
Wherein the gods have hidden
Love and desire and longing,
Which I shall loose for thee. 15


When I am home from travel,
My eager foot will stay not
Until I reach the threshold
Where I went forth from thee.

And there, as darkness gathers 5 In the rose-scented garden,
The god who prospers music
Shall give me skill to play.

And thou shalt hear, all startled,
A flute blown in the twilight, 10 With the soft pleading magic
The green wood heard of old.

Then, lamp in hand, thy beauty
In the rose-marble entry!
And unreluctant Hermes 15 Shall give me words to say.


When I behold the pharos shine
And lay a path along the sea,
How gladly I shall feel the spray,
Standing upon the swinging prow;

And question of my pilot old, 5 How many watery leagues to sail
Ere we shall round the harbour reef And anchor off the wharves of home!


Is the day long,
O Lesbian maiden,
And the night endless
In thy lone chamber
In Mitylene? 5

All the bright day,
Until welcome evening
When the stars kindle
Over the harbour,
What tasks employ thee? 10

Passing the fountain
At golden sundown,
One of the home-going
Traffickers, hast thou
Thought of thy lover? 15

Nay, but how far
Too brief will the night be,
When I returning
To the dear portal
Hear my own heart beat! 20


Lo, on the distance a dark blue ravine, A fold in the mountainous forests of fir, Cleft from the sky-line sheer down to the shore!

Above are the clouds and the white, pealing gulls, At its foot is the rough broken foam of the sea, 5 With ever anon the long deep muffled roar,– A sigh from the fitful great heart of the world.

Then inland just where the small meadow begins, Well bulwarked with boulders that jut in the tide, Lies safe beyond storm-beat the harbour in sun. 10

See where the black fishing-boats, each at its buoy, Ride up on the swell with their dare-danger prows, To sight o’er the sea-rim what venture may come!

And look, where the narrow white streets of the town Leap up from the blue water’s edge to the wood, 15 Scant room for man’s range between mountain and sea, And the market where woodsmen from over the hill May traffic, and sailors from far foreign ports With treasure brought in from the ends of the earth.

And see the third house on the left, with that gleam 20 Of red burnished copper–the hinge of the door Whereat I shall enter, expected so oft
(Let love be your sea-star!), to voyage no more.


Art thou the top-most apple
The gatherers could not reach,
Reddening on the bough?
Shall not I take thee?

Art thou a hyacinth blossom 5 The shepherds upon the hills
Have trodden into the ground?
Shall not I lift thee?

Free is the young god Eros,
Paying no tribute to power, 10 Seeing no evil in beauty,
Full of compassion.

Once having found the beloved,
However sorry or woeful,
However scornful of loving, 15 Little it matters.


How soon will all my lovely days be over, And I no more be found beneath the sun,– Neither beside the many-murmuring sea,
Nor where the plain-winds whisper to the reeds, Nor in the tall beech-woods among the hills 5 Where roam the bright-lipped Oreads, nor along The pasture-sides where berry-pickers stray And harmless shepherds pipe their sheep to fold!

For I am eager, and the flame of life Burns quickly in the fragile lamp of clay. 10 Passion and love and longing and hot tears Consume this mortal Sappho, and too soon A great wind from the dark will blow upon me, And I be no more found in the fair world, For all the search of the revolving moon 15 And patient shine of everlasting stars.


Soul of sorrow, why this weeping?
What immortal grief hath touched thee With the poignancy of sadness,–
Testament of tears?

Have the high gods deigned to show thee 5 Destiny, and disillusion
Fills thy heart at all things human, Fleeting and desired?

Nay, the gods themselves are fettered By one law which links together 10 Truth and nobleness and beauty,
Man and stars and sea.

And they only shall find freedom
Who with courage rise and follow
Where love leads beyond all peril, 15 Wise beyond all words.


It never can be mine
To sit in the door in the sun
And watch the world go by,
A pageant and a dream;

For I was born for love, 5 And fashioned for desire,
Beauty, passion, and joy,
And sorrow and unrest;

And with all things of earth
Eternally must go, 10 Daring the perilous bourn
Of joyance and of death,

A strain of song by night,
A shadow on the hill,
A hint of odorous grass, 15 A murmur of the sea.


Others shall behold the sun
Through the long uncounted years,– Not a maid in after time
Wise as thou!

For the gods have given thee
Their best gift, an equal mind 5 That can only love, be glad,
And fear not.


Let thy strong spirit never fear,
Nor in thy virgin soul be thou afraid. The gods themselves and the almightier fates Cannot avail to harm

With outward and misfortunate chance 5 The radiant unshaken mind of him
Who at his being’s centre will abide, Secure from doubt and fear.

His wise and patient heart shall share The strong sweet loveliness of all things made, 10 And the serenity of inward joy
Beyond the storm of tears.


Will none say of Sappho,
Speaking of her lovers,
And the love they gave her,–
Joy and days and beauty,
Flute-playing and roses, 5 Song and wine and laughter,–

Will none, musing, murmur,
“Yet, for all the roses,
All the flutes and lovers,
Doubt not she was lonely 10 As the sea, whose cadence
Haunts the world for ever.”


When I have departed,
Say but this behind me,
“Love was all her wisdom,
All her care.

“Well she kept love’s secret,– 5 Dared and never faltered,–
Laughed and never doubted
Love would win.

“Let the world’s rough triumph
Trample by above her, 10 She is safe forever
From all harm.

“In a land that knows not
Bitterness nor sorrow,
She has found out all 15 Of truth at last.”


There is no more to say now thou art still, There is no more to do now thou art dead, There is no more to know now thy clear mind Is back returned unto the gods who gave it.

Now thou art gone the use of life is past, 5 The meaning and the glory and the pride, There is no joyous friend to share the day, And on the threshold no awaited shadow.


Play up, play up thy silver flute;
The crickets all are brave;
Glad is the red autumnal earth
And the blue sea.

Play up thy flawless silver flute; 5 Dead ripe are fruit and grain.
When love puts on his scarlet coat, Put off thy care.


A beautiful child is mine,
Formed like a golden flower,
Cleis the loved one.
And above her I value
Not all the Lydian land, 5 Nor lovely Hellas.


Ah, but now henceforth
Only one meaning
Has life for me.

Only one purport,
Measure and beauty, 5 Has the bright world.

What mean the wood-winds,
Colour and morning,
Bird, stream, and hill?

And the brave city 10 With its enchantment?
Thee, only thee!


Softly the wind moves through the radiant morning, And the warm sunlight sinks into the valley, Filling the green earth with a quiet joyance, Strength, and fulfilment.

Even so, gentle, strong and wise and happy, 5 Through the soul and substance of my being, Comes the breath of thy great love to me-ward, O thou dear mortal.


What the west wind whispers
At the end of summer,
When the barley harvest
Ripens to the sickle,
Who can tell? 5

What means the fine music
Of the dry cicada,
Through the long noon hours
Of the autumn stillness,
Who can say? 10

How the grape ungathered
With its bloom of blueness
Greatens on the trellis
Of the brick-walled garden,
Who can know? 15

Yet I, too, am greatened,
Keep the note of gladness,
Travel by the wind’s road,
Through this autumn leisure,–
By thy love. 20


Indoors the fire is kindled;
Beechwood is piled on the hearthstone; Cold are the chattering oak-leaves;
And the ponds frost-bitten.

Softer than rainfall at twilight, 5 Bringing the fields benediction
And the hills quiet and greyness,
Are my long thoughts of thee.

How should thy friend fear the seasons? They only perish of winter 10 Whom Love, audacious and tender,
Never hath visited.


You ask how love can keep the mortal soul Strong to the pitch of joy throughout the years.

Ask how your brave cicada on the bough Keeps the long sweet insistence of his cry;

Ask how the Pleiads steer across the night 5 In their serene unswerving mighty course;

Ask how the wood-flowers waken to the sun, Unsummoned save by some mysterious word;

Ask how the wandering swallows find your eaves Upon the rain-wind with returning spring; 10

Ask who commands the ever-punctual tide To keep the pendulous rhythm of the sea;

And you shall know what leads the heart of man To the far haven of his hopes and fears.


Like a tall forest were their spears, Their banners like a silken sea,
When the great host in splendour passed Across the crimson sinking sun.

And then the bray of brazen horns 5 Arose above their clanking march,
As the long waving column filed
Into the odorous purple dusk.

O lover, in this radiant world
Whence is the race of mortal men, 10 So frail, so mighty, and so fond,
That fleets into the vast unknown?


My lover smiled, “O friend, ask not
The journey’s end, nor whence we are. That whistling boy who minds his goats
So idly in the grey ravine,

“The brown-backed rower drenched with spray, 5 The lemon-seller in the street,
And the young girl who keeps her first Wild love-tryst at the rising moon,–

“Lo, these are wiser than the wise.
And not for all our questioning 10 Shall we discover more than joy,
Nor find a better thing than love!

“Let pass the banners and the spears, The hate, the battle, and the greed;
For greater than all gifts is peace, 15 And strength is in the tranquil mind.”


Ye who have the stable world
In the keeping of your hands.
Flocks and men, the lasting hills,
And the ever-wheeling stars;

Ye who freight with wondrous things 5