Defragmenting Sappho : a Foreword Sappho was a poet from the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. She was born in about 630 B.C. She was an accomplished poet, singer and musician. Sadly all of Sappho’s music is lost and what we know about her life is as fragmented as her poetry, of which only one complete poem remains. Scholars in Alexandria it is thought collected nine books of her lyrics. Of these ‘lyrics’ we have the one complete poem and a collection of fragments. These fragments preserved on papyrus rolls are written down in vertical columns without word division, punctuation or lineation. Further fragments exist as quotes in ancient writing. I am indebted to Anne Carson’s brilliant translations of the fragments, ‘If not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho’ which I have used as the basis of my poems. I have used various other translations but only in a minimal way. Carson’s book is a fascinating representation of the obliterated papyrus rolls and includes a useful glossary and scholarly insights into citation by ancient authors. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Gaius Valerius Catullus the Roman poet circa 84‐54BC who was of course inspired and captivated by the poetry of Sappho and wrote many of his poems in her wake and indeed is the source for many of the things that are known or speculated about her life. It was via the Latin poetry of Catullus and in translating him that I became interested in Sappho and special thanks go to Fatma Canpolat for sharing that interest and for encouraging this work and gifting me Anne Carson’s book. The process of writing was intensive and intentionally written as ‘vers libre’. Which seemed to me to be the only way that I could capture the mood and flavour of Sappho’s poetry. I attempted to stay close to themes that I found in the fragments, improvising within a constrained vocabulary (constrained by the fragments being only a portion of Sappho’s obviously larger vocabulary) and constrained by limiting myself too. I worked variously the common themes of relationships, love, jealousy, desire and death in Sappho and attempted to add images which were congruent with the motifs and contemporary with her rather than me. I tried to focus on an ancient world not a modern one and I have avoided the Christianisation of the work which I found in some translations. By this I mean I have mostly avoided language and ideology which has since become associated with the Christian church. In as much as Sappho lived over two and a half thousand years ago I have also tried to avoid being judgemental or reactive against her morality as I don’t see it as being immoral or amoral and prefer to see it as being a pint of view in keeping with its time. Gods are used in Sappho as muses, as metaphor and as representations of human character traits I have tried to stay faithful to that. I have intentionally used as the basis for the poems fragments from the papyri and used cited work to supplement the world view and poetry. Anne Carson’s representation of the papyrus gives the length to each poem and I have placed the fragments in the original supposed order within the new poems, adding my own work in the gaps indicated in the text. I have ignored Sapphic metre and although I was tempted to try the hendecasyllabic structure followed by the five syllable adonean, I decided that I wanted to capture the mood and spirit of Sappho rather than to translate a Greek form into an English representation of that form. Carson’s translations also influenced this decision. The writing process was intuitive rather than structured, I wrote quickly and responded in the directions I believed the fragments drew me. I researched using Carson’s immaculate book as my Bible and used various books and internet resources most notably ‘Catullus: Oxford Readings in Classical Studies’ Ed:Julia Haig Gaisser discovering a lot of fascinating information which I attempted to utilise. During the act of writing I very much tried to ‘feel’ my way to what Sappho may have written. The good thing about that is that we have no way of knowing what Sappho may or
may not have written which left me free to improvise. On the other hand I found that too much freedom was a bad thing and I had to rein myself in and attempt to almost ‘channel’ Sappho. My admiration for this poet grew as I wrote and all I can say is I have tried to be faithful to the best of my meagre ability and not to dishonour the poetry of Sappho. Or to put it another way if you enjoy these they are inspired by her with an honest intent and she will be pleased or if you don’t like them it’s my fault for not getting it right. It was an act of love either way and I’m not sorry I did it. Kevin Cadwallender January 2010
someone will remember us I say even in another time
Sappho 3 For what you are able to give I am grateful Yet of the glorious thought, of the beautiful and good you are a bringer of pain and blame Your tongue so often swollen with poison is a snake allowed to take its fill though my thinking may not wish it so I know all is arranged in nature unaltered by thought or gratitude All night long you sleep and I am aware of great wrongs of evil done in this world exiled from our slumber Other bodies dream unmoved and other minds move in darkness Amongst the blessed ones words and deeds blossom into song Garlands about our heads as crowns
Sappho 4 Absent heart alone and absolutely forgiven I can see how your loss would be for me A chance to shine in answer to your lustrous face is all I ask of you. having been stained and recalling your touch
Sappho 6 So you would be me A singer of the wind between oak trees A daughter of Paon untamed Go to the mountains So you may see the rose of dawn growing on your breast dear woman Of gold arms spread across the land with delicate delightful grace and doom always betrayed forgotten for all time
Sappho 7 Under Doricha’s spell beauty gives orders for not all the rose‐faced maidens can top pride in its blindness Aflame like young men desire burns and buys a beloved at a price too high for consummation
Sappho 8 The many coloured morning The moon rise of evening I record Atthis for you Your soft hands twining anise stems your hair in dawn and dusk aglow
Sappho 9 The season invites celebration, though all may not arrive for the feast nor all bow for Hera or choose sacrifice. My love, as long as you are living all celebrations I hold secretly for you.
Sappho 12 I construct a memory of you from two words, random fragments composed by thought You dance barefoot through leaves in a Greek forest scattering traces of a sensuous mind
Sappho 15 AB My blessed brother who is my flesh and in my care may my prayers reach higher ears and knots tightly bound unravel to loose all wrongs tied before. By Ship’s course chart and good weather By the luck of the harbour his soul must surely find land. In Kypris, may she find you bitter and not proud or boastful of Doricha and how you came a second time with humility to foolish love’s desire.
Sappho 16 part 2 I would rather see her lovely step And the motion of light on her face Than chariots of Lydians or ranks Of foot soldiers in arms Some things can not possibly happen Vain of me to pray for a share Of immortality The sunrise On the flanks Of an army of horses Or an army of men on foot before the beauty of Troy I cannot hope to match Love that is matchless Creating an expectation of Helen Out of the unexpected
Sappho 18 Pan to fashion this be my muse tongue‐tied by mortality to recount tales to womankind and for man a greater understanding in listening
Sappho 19 We have consequences always waiting sunk deep in sacrifices made. Despite having good intentions we turn aside and in leaving stray farther For we know the letter and lore of works bound and unbound, older than love Onward towards resolution and your heart says this as does mine.
Sappho 20 Garlanded With gladness And wreathed in good luck Gaining the harbour of black earth Perilous sailors from blasts of storm Upon dry land waiting for sail Cargo loaded when seas are calm and beckoning Many days have we marvelled at the way dawn works everyday The security of deserts in our parched mouths and bodies longing for water
Sappho 21 If I was to regard her now I would not remember her with pity or remorse But trembling think of the tread left by time her flesh by now old or shrouded by death’s covers My soul flies in pursuit of youth and loveliness kindled in her noble face Once taking my breath away as she said ‘Sing to us’ the song with violets in her lap I recall her mostly with joy and all sense of justice goes astray
Sappho 22 The cold has come as if to work its spell upon my face and make it old What season is this my love if not winter? For other seasons brought no pain as I lay down breathing Sappho I bid you sing. of Gonglya Abanthis taking up your lyre as longing floats around you (and now again) You beautiful creature for her dress when you saw it stirred you and I rejoiced as once you blamed me Kyprogenia Because I prayed the words ʹI wantʹ
Sappho 23 I am a creature of desire limbs formed by Eros arriving When I look at you I see such a Hermione in grace to yellow haired Helen I must compare you Though Ilios fell First amongst mortal women know this You free me from every care From Hades itself you could release me I would lay down my limbs on dew wet river banks pleading with Apollo for day to last the night
Sappho 24 A Atthis You will remember for we in our youth did these things Yes, many and beautiful things The bird in flight and the bird in our palms becoming one
Sappho 24 C Entwined in each other we live like children watching gods opposing the tide Daring others to join us in our sleight of heart and subtle misdirection
Sappho 24 D You will hear me by day leaving gold on the air with my honeybee song or in night’s glade plaintively in a thin voice lost like a reed in deep water
Sappho 25 You must not begin to relinquish your charms though long days have run their course You luxurious woman growing more beautiful an amaranth unfolding under the last light of day
Sappho 26 Ever more frequently I withdraw from company for those I treat well are the ones who most of all are able to harm me This may seem such madness to you When I tell of love that burns and pains this may offend you I want no friend of mine to suffer Lost in myself I am free from harm and being aware of this I keep my distance. Preferring the dim light of self to the blazing torch of life the candle unlit rather than extinguished
Sappho 29 A In the house of Muses Unbecoming The deep sound of lament
Sappho 29 B With what eyes and ears do I perceive you? Woman adorned in the garments of Kalliope
Sappho 29 C Empurpled robes and necklaces of linked violets You were Aphrodite incarnate And I loved you as I have loved many since but yet I am abandoned or you love some man more than me My eyes are sea mists in longing for Gorgo they melt awake and the opened mind berates me
Sappho 29H Cinnamon I taste its memory For Gyrinno Whose gentle head Has lain upon this pillow Oil lamps still burn In the house of Sappho
Sappho 58 Someone will remember us I say even in another time even when our bones are whiter than an egg Even when my song and singing are old all youthfulness running away vitality sapped snake bitten And I on a soft pillow lay down my limbs recalling only songs of you A kiss makes a way with the mouth What beautiful gifts children are Wind chiming song delighting clear sounding lyre Time has turned all my skin to old age too soon Hair turned white after black Frail knees no longer carry trembling like fawns I have lived but what am I to do? It is not possible to become another Dawn with arms of roses bringing life’s light to the ends of the earth We are free yet seized like a husband to a wife like all the bright world imagines and expects nature might bestow But I love delicacy and this to me The brilliance and beauty of the sun – desire has allotted
Sappho 59 Old loves new
Sappho 60 Having encountered Eros and become familiar with his wants I sought to accomplish his plan Yet in the night I call out for you all blood rushing to my heart at once losing all that you wish to win Pointless to dare you to fight for me as I lie by the wanton one persuaded Yet you know well the pull of the arrow the tautness of the bow
Sappho 61 They became unloved for not
Sappho 62 You cowered beneath branches of a laurel tree in full fall Everything sweeter in nature from that fear suffered For them you were a troubled traveller crouched beneath a laurel But I scarcely ever listened to their voices Soul beloved weeping over your terror Now such is the thought of you to meet with kindness is my only desire You arrived beautiful as first autumn and the clothes you wore fell away
Sappho 63 A dream of black and deeper black you come roaming when sleep is beyond me Sweet god wounded terribly by pain you hold strength separate and cradle me tenderly I expect never to share this burden of strength Nothing of the blessed ones’ desires or cruelty I would not be just this a vessel for sport We are toys played with wantonly May this sentient moment return again all senses vital, awake and consumed
Sappho 65 And so it comes to all touching with unmanageable fingers We wait and hold our breathing in but all will end with breathing out To Sappho, the morning’s mistress Even in Kypros the dawn rises and falls at the last To all on whom the blazing eye alights and blesses with joy and glory And you in Acheron’s gloom where all light ends its days
Sappho 67 A We are one my love and this letter written by a ruinous god exalting his love… I swear he did not love me at all but now because I am gone seeks to possess me The reason is neither here nor there nothing much of his I care for… Though it may destroy me.
Sappho 67 B Neither you nor I will remember these golden songs that is certain We move in meaningless circles as life winds around us until all that remains is the memory of desire
Sappho 68 A All gloom for me when she was gone turned out to be a hidden grace a blessing given as from the gods I thought of her as less than sinful Beloved Andromeda Blithe and blessed girl of whom I could hear no wrong Knowing her I could not restrain excess Our manifold indiscretions grew less gracious in my eyes and innocent no longer my gaze returned to sweet Megara
Sappho 68 B I am a lyre still playing Despite your harsh words fresh in my hearing and echoing in the singing of the song
Sappho 69 Honey Is never sinful Your sweet voice
Sappho 70 With hyacinths and violets to you I will go and offer them as to a goddess and if you will accept even for a moment I shall reward you with the peace of Harmonia The beauty of the dance to my clear sounding lyre The moon bowing down to all the daughters of the sun
Sappho 73 A You are tall and reed slender like Aphrodite attending my sweet worded desires I cast my soul to you aware that you hold others You are hyacinth growing where no flower sits I anoint you with morning dew
Sappho 76 Between us two what our souls might accomplish if left to soar Between what I want and what I need to hold on to ʹThings slip awayʹ you said and all was lost at that moment
Sappho 78 Neither peace nor war’s desire can console me Your face all at once makes my eyes blossom with yearning and longing I am happy that you took delight in this
Sappho 80 Virginity if it were mine to give I would gladly so all things might change be different but different only as your hair in the sun and in the rain
Sappho 82 B And if you love me at all let nothing deter you from leaving But for now stay and if you are kind don’t mention the limbs of another more finely shaped
Sappho 83 I feel your fingers in my soul (right here) and there is your mouth’s touch (now again) Should I be punished and blamed for my soul’s blatant memory?
Sappho 84 I would not seek to capture you or hunt you in the sacred wood or snare you in honey So why this reproach? You run delicate as a deer before Artemis who seeks to set you free
Sappho 85 A Though poor we shall still sing Only the prosperous can afford to listen in silence
Sappho 85 B Sunset stoops over the hill Slowly like an old man putting out fire
Sappho 87 A Stand and face me beloved girl and do not let the moment be lost in rumour Your hair woven with saffron and mine crowned at the same time beauty confronting love If men might notice our love we should care less than stars
Sappho 87 B With despair and an anxious heart I lay my lyre on the cold ground Never to play never to sing. How the mind becomes quiet
Sappho 87 C The gold sandaled dawn running Daring me to wake and sing
Sappho 87 D The muses leave gold for me to choose to weave into my song A youth spent in the company of Eros weaving myth and risking the nightingale’s mournful flight I am leaving Mytilene with my heart wrapped in a shroud the simple golden thread undone
Sappho 87 E My darling one Queen of the tenderest graces Slenderest of spring’s saplings You leave and ask me ʹWhy?ʹ
Sappho 87 F I am happiest with sun and flower those delicate girls’ pale white wrists I would open my heart and sing to you of petals falling from linen skies You riding bareback and unbridled your hair flowing through feathered seeds in flight How I sighed at the thought of your passing
Sappho 88 A& B If I were to move in front and toward you and if I could loosen your garments If you would be willing to permit this perceived slight to be forgiven and to be carried Then you would be someone whom I could strive to love more sweetly knowing only truth like you yourself know Have you forgotten how you denied me? When someone would ask ʹIs she the one?ʹ There is hurt on both sides and yes I (before you ask) will love as long as there is a spark of life in me there will be a care You avert your eyes if I say I have been a strong lover thinking of the times when I am not with you How painful for both of us these memories falling bitter as almonds between us We live and know this Know this too, whatever you are I shall acknowledge and I shall love though armies tear me from you That is what I am regardless of weapons wrought between us. A constant in the inconstant
Sappho 88B Eros possess me And do not deny me Into desire I will come And you will be a Gatherer of lambs A melter of limbs And I shall love you Though time stalls And its thread breaks And I cannot work the loom
Sappho 92 The linen of my surrender dressed and robed in brilliant white burning, coloured with saffron Your purple robe safe in my heart’s cloak crown’s silver beautiful as stars spangled sky diamonds empurpled on the cartography of rugs your skin and mine’s liquid symmetry
Sappho 93 Of old age the skin insists on reminding me Yet my mind prefers to dwell on the honeyed mornings I have had and the graceful eyes of girls
Sappho 103CA There are armfuls of cloth to carry to the bride in the House of Archeanassa Where once a groom Drank the deep red wine And her eyes returned A flash in lovely unison
Sappho 103 CB The moon and sun repeat the stories They heard when light stretched over salt sea The song rose like a goddess from a shell And maidens young and fresh as nectar Poured gold into the day’s cup And we drank deeply and slept again
Glossary Abanthis – woman about whom nothing is known except her name. Amaranth – a flowering herb , the ʺone that does not wither,ʺ or the never‐fading (flower). Andromeda ‐ the princess in the Greek legend of Perseus who was chained to a rock to be eaten by the sea monster Cetus. Archeanassa – member of the Archeanactid family of Lesbos. Artemis – goddess of animals, hunting, the wild and female freedom. Atthis – possibly a companion of Sappho. Doricha – possibly a girlfriend of Sappho’s brother. Gonglya – possibly a companion of Sappho. Gorgo – possibly a companion of Sappho. Gyrinna – possibly a companion of Sappho. Harmonia ‐ goddess of harmony and concord. Helen – Wife of Menelaos and lover of Paris of Troy. Hera – Wife of Zeus. Hermione – Daughter of Helen and Menelaos. Ilios ‐ The City of Troy. Kalliope – First of the nine muses. ‘The beautiful Voiced’. Kypris – Name of Aphrodite as worshipped in Kypros (Cyprus). Kyprogenia – epithet of Aphrodite. Lydians – People from Lydia, Kingdom of Western Asia Minor renowned for luxury. Megara – possibly a companion of Sappho. Pan – god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, fertility, hunting and rustic music. Paon – an epithet of Apollo.
EXTRAS NOT INCLUDED IN PRINTED VERSION
HYMN TO APHRODITE
Aphrodite of the star-lit mind Daughter of Zeus, maker of lures I beg you do not break my heart With the cruelty of denial. But come to my call If ever you have heard my song Far below and left your Fatherâ€™s Shining house to hear cupping your hand to your ear. Pulled by ranks of delicate birds Fleet sparrows over the blackened earth Wings unfastening the sky And all the air between us. They have arrived as I yearn for you? Your timeless face smiling Asking , What have I suffered? And , Why do I sing to you? Asking, What my mad heart would desire above all else? And whom would I persuade to your love? Who Sappho has wronged you? For in running away she will pursue In refusal she will find surrender In resisting love she will succumb Even against her will. Come to me now Release me from this longing Fulfil my heartâ€™s mad desire As my truest ally.
After Reading Catullus Sparrow You enter my garden With your tongue versed In the taste of the songs of flowers. I offer you crumbs. You tilt your head to one side Look at me from the crocus bed. Your browner than brown eyes Your tiny frame Your damaged wing. I want to be with you But I do not have the wherewithal. You are too free. You hop to another bed. I walk home in darkness. You light a rolled cigarette. I kiss the hollow of your back. You text me a peck on the cheek. Sharing Darkness I dream of you running Stopping to discard me. Your mouth All golden apple And myself A fallen hero. Passer Deliciae We peck at bread and olives Served in the cold north You wrap yourself in A blanket shawl, Mispronounce the odd word I would be Catullus To your Sappho.
Credo, ut tum gravis acquiescat ardour but only when the shadows can be swept to one side and magic released from her marrow. She is winged persom Balancing on the edge of all things. I will love her until she kills me. Dunnock I cannot catch you Though I catch your berry eye You mistake my shape For a bird of prey. I wish you were her. She nests in my heart Like an egg. You crack me Like lightning cracks sky. I cannot tell you How you stall my heart. Your runed footprints on snow.
Acknowledgements Thank you to the following poets who cast their eyes over the initial work And offered astute criticism, advice and comments. Their assistance was invaluable. Adam Fish, M.R.Peacocke, Colin Will, Juliet Wilson, Colin Donati and Sally Evans. Thanks to Sheila Wakefield,’You’re a star!’ for the freedom to write you gave me. And as always to my children, Robert ,Matt, Shani, Charlie and Ellis