Literature · Poetry Wednesday

Poetry Wednesdays: Fragment 31 of Sappho’s Poetry

After what’s probably the most eventful summer of my life — so eventful I haven’t had the time to blog everything! — I’m back doing work, preparing for the next school year. I’m reading some ancient Greek literature. All this is making me want to travel to Greece.

We begin with mythology, of course, and we’re taking up Oedipus Rex and some epic and lyric poetry as well. Now to teach lyric poems, I go back to the best lyrist/lyricist of the age: Sappho. Yesterday I got myself a copy of If Not, Winter, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho’s poems — or what’s left of them.

I actually found the fragments so haunting that I had that rare physical, almost visceral reaction to poetry while reading them. I was haunted by what is now gone, what is unsaid, what is un-said — I am left filling in the blanks, or realizing that the white space is akin to words unformed because no words are enough to explain an emotion.

Here is an incomplete poem, Fragment 31. The last line especially haunts me: what was it that Sappho “dared” to do?

Fragment 31 (He seems to me equal to gods that man)
Sappho

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughingβ€”oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and deadβ€”or almost
I seem to me.

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

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