Swithin

Sappho and Her Friends: The Poetry Thread

163 posts in this topic

We begin our tribute to **** with "I have not had one word from her." As we go, I will provide links to analysis of poems and information about her life. As a reminder that her name may not be spoken on this board, I will not interfere with the censor's need to render it in asterisks.

 

"I have not had one word from her,

Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left, she wept

a great deal; she said to me, "This parting must be
endured, ****. I go unwillingly."

I said, "Go, and be happy
but remember (you know 
well) whom you leave shackled by love

"If you forget me, think
of our gifts to Aphrodite
and all the loveliness that we shared

"all the violet tiaras,
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck

"myrrh poured on your head
and on soft mats girls with
all that they most wished for beside them

"while no voices chanted
choruses without ours,
no woodlot bloomed in spring without song..."

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The first line of today's poem by Sappho was later used as a title by J.D. Salinger.

 

 

Raise high the roofbeams, carpenters!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Up with them!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

A bridegroom taller than Ares!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Taller than a tall man!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Superior as the singer of Lesbos—

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

—to poets of other lands.

            Hymenaon!

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A poem for evening, by Sappho:

 

Evening, thou that bringst all that bright morning scattered, thou bringst the sheep,

the goat, and the child back to its mother.

 

Hail, gentle Evening, that bringst back
All things that bright morning hath beguiled.
Thou bringst the lamb, thou bringst the kid,
And to its mother, her drowsy child.

 

 

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Today's poem by Sappho:

 

‘Girls, you be ardent for the fragrant-blossomed’

 

Girls, you be ardent for the fragrant-blossomed

Muses’ lovely gifts, for the clear melodious lyre: 

But now old age has seized my tender body,

Now my hair is white, and no longer dark.

My heart’s heavy, my legs won’t support me, 
That once were fleet as fawns, in the dance. 

I grieve often for my state; what can I do? 
Being human, there’s no way not to grow old. 
 

Rosy-armed Dawn, they say, love-smitten,

Once carried Tithonus off to the world’s end: 

Handsome and young he was then, yet at last

Grey age caught that spouse of an immortal wife.

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Let us see if the opening stanza of Lord Byron's poem, "The Isles of Greece," is defiled by the censor:

 

THE isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning **** loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,---
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

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Sappho's poem for this morning:

 

To Andromeda

That country girl has witched your wishes,
all dressed up in her country clothes
and she hasn't got the sense
to hitch her rags above her ankles.

 

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In addition to writing her own poems, **** inspired poets down the centuries.

 

****

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

 

From “On the Cliffs”

 

LOVE’S priestess, mad with pain and joy of song,

Song’s priestess, mad with joy and pain of love,

Name above all names that are lights above,

We have lov’d, prais’d, pitied, crown’d, and done thee wrong,

O thou past praise and pity; thou the sole

Utterly deathless, perfect only and whole

Immortal, body and soul.

For over all whom time hath overpast

The shadow of sleep inexorable is cast,

The implacable sweet shadow of perfect sleep

That gives not back what life gives death to keep;

Yea, all that liv’d and lov’d and sang and sinn’d

Are all borne down death’s cold, sweet, soundless wind

That blows all night and knows not whom its breath,

Darkling, may touch to death:

But one that wind hath touch’d and changed not,—one

Whose body and soul are parcel of the sun;

One that earth’s fire could burn not, nor the sea

Quench; nor might human doom take hold on thee;

All praise, all pity, all dreams have done thee wrong,

All love, with eyes love-blinded from above;

Song’s priestess, mad with joy and pain of love,

Love’s priestess, mad with pain and joy of song.

 

Hast thou none other answer then for me

Than the air may have of thee,

Or the earth’s warm woodlands girdling with green girth

Thy secret, sleepless, burning life on earth,

Or even the sea that once, being woman crown’d

And girt with fire and glory of anguish round,

Thou wert so fain to seek to, fain to crave

If she would hear thee and save

And give thee comfort of thy great green grave?

Because I have known thee always who thou art,

Thou knowest, have known thee to thy heart’s own heart,

Nor ever have given light ear to storied song

That did thy sweet name sweet unwitting wrong,

Nor ever have call’d thee nor would call for shame,

Thou knowest, but only by thine only name,

****—because I have known thee and lov’d, hast thou

None other answer now?

As brother and sister were we, child and bird,

Since thy first Lesbian word

Flam’d on me, and I knew not whence I knew,

This was the song that struck my whole soul through,

Pierced my keen spirit of sense with edge more keen,

Even when I knew not,—even ere sooth was seen,—

When thou wast but the tawny sweet wing’d thing

Whose cry was but of spring.

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Here is a poem by Sappho, suitable for the first day of summer. In this context, the word "Lesbian" refers to the island of Lesbos, where Sappho was born and lived.

 

SUMMER

Slumber streams from quivering leaves that listless
Bask in heat and stillness of Lesbian summer;
Breathless swoons the air with the apple-blossoms'
Delicate odor;

From the shade of branches that droop and cover
Shallow trenches winding about the orchard,
Restful comes, and cool to the sense, the flowing
Murmur of water.

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Thanks, laffite. I started this thread as a sort of protest to the censorship, but I'm quite enjoying the subject and learning a lot as I go. Maybe someday ****'s name will be allowed in the hallowed pages of the TCM Message Boards!

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This morning's offering:

 

PERSEPHONE

I saw a tender maiden plucking flowers
Once, long ago, in the bright morning hours;
And then from heaven I saw a sudden cloud
Fall swift and dark, and heard her cry aloud.

Again I looked, but from my open door
My anxious eyes espied the maid no more;
The cloud had vanished, bearing her away
To underlands beyond the smiling day.

  • Like 1

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LETO AND NIOBE

 

Leto and Niobe were friends full dear,
The Goddess' heart and woman's heart were one
In that maternal love that men revere,
Love that endures when other loves are done.

But Niobe with all a mother's pride,
Artless and foolish, would not be denied;
And boasted that her children were more fair
Than Leto's lovely children of the air.

The proud Olympians vowed revenge for this,
Irate Apollo, angered Artemis;
They slew her children, heedless of her moan,
And with the last her heart was turned to stone.

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I'm flying to London very early this morning and want to get our **** offering posted before I leave. This poem is particularly relevant to the season, though sadly the name of the poet and her island will be censored:

 

 

APHRODITE'S DOVES

When the drifting gray of the vesper shadow
Dimmed their upward path through the midmost azure,
And the length of night overtook them distant
Far from Olympus;

Far away from splendor and joy of Paphos,
From the voice and smile of their peerless Mistress,
Back to whom their truant wings were in rapture
Speeding belated;

Chilled at heart and grieving they drooped their pinions,
Circled slowly, dipping in flight toward ****,
Down through dusk that darkened on Mitylene's
Columns of marble;

Down through glory wan of the fading sunset,
Veering ever toward the abode of ****,
Toward my home, the fane of the glad devoted
Slave of the Goddess;

Soon they gained the tile of my roof and rested,
Slipped their heads beneath their wings while I watched them
Sink to sleep and dreams, in the warm and drowsy
Night of midsummer.
 

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Today's offering:

 

ANDROMEDA

What bucolic maiden
Now thy heart bewitches,
O my Andromeda
Of the strange amours?
Round her awkward ankles
She has not the faintest
Sense of art to draw her
Long ungraceful tunic.
Yet she surely makes thee,
O my Andromeda,
For thy sweet unlawful
Love a fair requital.
Joy and praise attend thee,
In thy keen perceptive
Taste for beauty, daughter
Of Polyanax!
Of Polyanax!

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A **** poem for Friday, 27 June:

 

DAWN

Just now the golden-sandalled Dawn
Peered through the lattice of my room;
Why must thou fare so soon, my Phaon?

Last night I met thee at the shore,
A thousand hues were in the sky;
The breeze from Cyprus blew, my Phaon!

I drew, to lave thy heated brow,
My kerchief dripping from the sea;
Why hadst thou sailed so far, my Phaon?

Far up the narrow mountain paths
We heard the shepherds fluting home;
Like some white God thou seemed, my Phaon!

And through the olive trees we saw
The twinkle of my vesper lamp;
Wilt kiss me now as then, my Phaon?

Nay, loosen not with gentle force
The clasp of my restraining arms;
I will not let thee go, my Phaon!

See, deftly in my trailing robe
I spring and draw the lattice close;
Is it not night again, my Phaon?
 

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****'s poem for Saturday, 28 June 2014:

 

EUNEICA

Aphrodite's handmaid,
Bright as gold thou earnest,
Tender woven garlands
Round thy tender neck;

Sweet as soft Persuasion,
Lissome as the Graces,
Shy Euneica, lovely
Girl from Salamis.

Slender thou as Syrinx,
As the waving reed-nymph,
Once by Pan, the god of
Summer winds, deflowered.

On thy lips whose quiver
Seems to plead for pity,
Mine shall rest and linger
Like the mouth of Pan

On the mouth of Syrinx,
When his breath that filled her
Blew through all her body
Music of his love.

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****'s poem for Sunday 29 June 2014

 

THE STRICKEN FLOWER

Think not to ever look as once of yore,
Atthis, upon my love; for thou no more
Wilt find intact upon its stem the flower
Thy guile left slain and bleeding in that hour.

So ruthless shepherds crush beneath their feet
The hill flower blooming in the summer heat;
The hyacinth whose purple heart is found
Left bruised and dead, to darken on the ground.

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Today's tribute to Sappho from Lesbos, July 2, 2014:

 

THE SWALLOW

Daughter of Pandion, lovely
Swallow that veers at my window,
Swift on the flood of the sunshine
Darting thy shadow;

What is thy innocent purpose,
Why dost thou hover and haunt me?
Is it a kinship of sorrow
Brings thee anear me?

Must thou forever be tongueless,
Flying in fear of Tereus?
Must he for Itys pursue thee,
Changed to a lapwing?

Tireless of pinion and never
Resting on bush or the branches,
Close to the earth, up the azure,
Over the treetops;

After thy wing in its madness
Follows my glance, as a flitting
Child on the track of its mother
Hastens in silence.

Daughter of Pandion, lovely
Swallow that veers at my window,
Hast thou a message from Cyprus
Telling of Phaon?
 

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THE DISTAFF

Come, ye dainty Graces and lovely Muses,
Rosy-armed and pure and with fairest tresses,
Come from groves on Helicon's hill where murmur
Founts that are holy;

Come with dancing step and with lips harmonic,
Gather near and view my ivory distaff,
Gift from Cos my brother Charaxus brought me,
Sailing from Egypt;

Sailing back to Lesbos from far Naucratis,
From the seven mouths of the Nile and Egypt
Up the blue Ægean, the island-dotted
Ocean of Hellas;

Choicest wool alone will I spin for fabrics,
Winding reel with threads for the cloths as fleecy,
Soft and fine as they bring from far Phocea,
Sidon or Sardis;

While I weave my thought shall engird the giver,
Whether here, or far on the sea, or resting
Couched in shady courts with the lovely garland
Girls of Naucratis.

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A tribute to Sappho by Christina Rosetti:

 

Sappho

by Christina Georgina Rossetti
(1830-1894)

I sigh at day-dawn, and I sigh
When the dull day is passing by,
I sigh at evening, and again
I sigh when night brings sleep to men.
Oh! It were better far to die
Than thus for ever mourn and sigh,
And in death's dreamless sleep to be
Unconscious that none weep for me;
Eased from my weight of heaviness,
Forgetful of forgetfulness,
Resting from pain and care and sorrow
Thro' the long night that knows no morrow;
Living unloved, to die unknown,
Unwept, untended and alone.

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LEDA

Once on a time
They say that Leda found
Beneath the thyme
An egg upon the ground;

And yet the swan
She fondled long ago
Was whiter than
Its shell of peeping snow.

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MUSAGETES

Come with Musagetes, ye Hours and Graces,
Dance around the team of swans that attend him
Up Parnassian heights, to his holy temple
High on the hill-top;

Come, ye Muses, too, from the shades of Pindus,
Let your songs, that echo on winds of rapture,
Wake the lyre he tunes to the sweet inspiring
Sound of your voices.

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