Poetry Friday: Sappho

h1 August 29th, 2008 by eisha

I’ve been rereading Salinger this week, which means I’ve been reading a lot of references to Sappho. I know, she’s a weird choice for Poetry Friday, because we only really have one complete poem from her, and then a bunch of tantalizing fragments that are kind of hard to quote effectively. But whatever. Read the one we have, and weep for what has been lost:

Sappho by Charles Mengin“The Hymn to Aphrodite” (Fragment 1; literal translation by Henry Thornton Wharton)

Immortal Aphrodite of the broidered throne, daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I pray thee break not my spirit with anguish and distress, O Queen. But come hither, if ever before thou didst hear my voice afar, and listen, and leaving thy father’s golden house camest with chariot yoked, and fair fleet sparrows drew thee, flapping fast their wings around the dark earth, from heaven through mid sky. Quickly arrived they; and thou, blessed one, smiling with immortal countenance, didst ask What now is befallen me, and Why now I call, and What I in my mad heart most desire to see. ‘What Beauty now wouldst thou draw to love thee? Who wrongs thee, Sappho? For even if she flies she shall soon follow, and if she rejects gifts shall yet give, and if she loves not shall soon love, however loth.’ Come, I pray thee, now too, and release me from cruel cares; and all that my heart desires to accomplish, accomplish thou, and be thyself my ally.

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Click here for this translation, as well as several attempts to translate it into verse. I like the straight-up version best, though.

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Charlotte’s got this week’s Poetry Friday round-up over at her Library. Check it out. (Sorry, bad pun.)

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14 comments to “Poetry Friday: Sappho”

  1. I agree that reading this as a prose poem is better, somehow. It’s difficult to impose line breaks on someone else’s work, but people inevitably try it – still, I admire translators. It’s such a tough job, and not one I could do.


  2. “Weep for what has been lost” indeed.


  3. Wow — those are some DIFFERENT translations!

    When you’re watching a foreign film with the English subtitles on, it’s always interesting seeing how gnarly the translations of song lyrics seem to be: you know the original probably rhymes, or at least scans, but the subtitles sort of spray across the bottom of the screen like they’re being read aloud by somebody with hiccups.

    Love the painting you chose to illustrate, too. (I urge anyone who wishes it were bigger to check the full version on Wikipedia, here.)


  4. That’s brilliant, but even more brilliant, arguably, is the idea of re-reading Salinger. I’ve always wondered how I’d respond to my-beloved-in-high-school Franny and Zooey as an adult/non-teen.


  5. Dana, agreed. Some of the verse translations are quite lovely, but they obviously require the translator to contribute so much more that the end result is kind of diluted.

    *sniffle* Kelly, I know.

    JES, what’s really fun is to watch a foreign film on DVD that has options for both English dubbing AND subtitles, and watch the discrepancies fly. And yeah, isn’t the painting great? If they had goths in ancient Greece, that’s pretty much what they’d look like. I bet she’s about to pluck out a few Cure covers on that lyre.

    Jules, it’s good stuff. It’s hazardous, though, because it makes me want to italicize syllables, and say “Goddamn” and “crazy” and “madman” a lot.


  6. Eisha, but that’s totally grand.


  7. Phony.


  8. Hee. I have no retort. Sorry.


  9. I can’t believe you actually just wrote this sentence, dude:

    “I bet she’s about to pluck out a few Cure covers on that lyre.”

    Best. image. ever.


  10. It was a surprise to see Sappho’s work on your blog–and I loved it!

    I love all the artwork you two always feature, too, the great illustrators, and the great book discussions.

    So I’ve nominated your blog for the Brilliante Weblog Premio Award. (I hope you don’t mind–it’s one of those blog awards.) You can visit my blog for more info if you feel like it.


  11. Aw, shucks, Cheryl. Thanks!


  12. You’re welcome. You know I love your blog. :)


  13. I second the big THANKS, Cheryl!


  14. [...] a couple of weeks ago I featured the poem by Sappho, and linked to a page that showed a bunch of different translations of it? It got me kind of [...]


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