From The Poems of Anyte of Tegea, Translated by Richard Aldington; Poems and Fragments of Sappho, translated by Edward Storer; from The Poet’s Translation Series, Second Set, No. 2; London: The Egoist LTD, 1919; pp. 11-22.
POEMS & FRAGMENTS OF
TRANSLATED BY EDWARD STORER
SAPPHO was born in the island of Lesbos about 612 B.C. Her name in her own language is “Psappha.” She was a contemporary of Alkaios and Stesichorus. At some period of her life she was exiled from Lesbos. An inscription in the Parian Chronicle says: “When Aristokles reigned over the Athenians Sappho fled from Mitylene and sailed to Sicily.”
But it is through her own poems that we see most clearly into the beauty and tragedy of her life. She is there revealed to us as a woman of ardent nature, noble, delicate-minded, and fond of pleasure. That her poems were chiefly love-poems, and love-poems written to women, is clear even from the mutilated fragments which remain. Any other explanation destroys at once their art and reality. Yet sedulous hypocrites are to be found to-day who will wilfully mistranslate and misconstrue in order to envelope the manners of antiquity in a retrospective and most absurd respectability.
The grammarians of the old world say there were nine books of Sappho’s poems. In addition to the fragments given here there are extant about another hundred very short fragments, sometimes of one or two words only, and the “Song of the Nereids.” The bibliography of the subject is vast. In English Dr. Wharton’s Sappho is the best modern work. There are also excellent modern versions and exegeses in French, German, and Italian.13
THE ODE TO APHRODITE
RICHLY-THRONED goddess, O deathless Aphrodite,
Daughter of Zeus, subtle and sacred one,
Bear not my spirit down with too much suffering,
But rather come to me as sometimes you have come,
When my far prayer has reached your divine presence,
And you have left for me your father’s golden house,
Drawn in your chariot shimmering like the dawn;
Your fair fleet sparrows to herald you, whose wings,
Luminous still with the glory of heaven, have flashed
Radiance over earth. Then you have asked me,
How fared my eager heart and all its strong hopes:
“What would you do with love or have love do with you?
Sappho, who treats you cruelly? She who avoids you
Soon with desire shall burn, your gifts requiting
Many times, yours to be whether she will or not.”
Goddess, come once again, free me from longing.
Crown me with victory. O be my own ally.
Atthis has not come back to me: truly I long to die.
Many tears she wept at our parting, saying:
“Sappho, how sad is our fate. I leave you unwillingly.”
To her I answered: “Go on your way happily and
Do not forget me, for you know how I love you.
14 But if you should forget, then I will remind you
How fair and good were the things we shared together,
How by my side you wove many garlands of violets and
Sweet-smelling roses, and made of all kinds of flowers
Delicate necklaces, how many a flask of the finest myrrh
Such as a king might use you poured on your body,
How then reclining you sipped the sweet drinks of your choice.”
ATTHIS AT SARDIS
Atthis, whom we both love, Mnasidika, dwells
Far away in Sardis, but she often turns
Hither her thoughts to us and to that beautiful life
We lived together when she looked on you
As on some far-famed goddess and
Delighted in your songs especially.
But now among the Lydian women she
Shines as sometimes the rosy-fingered moon
Shines after dark above the stars and pours
Over salt sea and myriad-flowered earth her light,
While the fair dew is shed upon the roses
And delicate anthrisks and the blossoming melilote.
How many restless thoughts recall to me
The sterile Atthis and I long for the slender one.
Sadness devours my soul. From far there comes to us
The sound of her sharp cry, and it is not
Unheard, for night the many-eared carries it
To us across the sea that flows between.
The moon has set and the Pleiades
It is midnight; the hours pass; and I
THE CUPS OF GOLD
Come, O Kyprian goddess, come with
Delicate rare fingers, mix the
Radiant nectar in the cups of
(According to tradition)
He seems like a god to me the man who is near you.
Listening to your sweet voice and exquisite laughter
That makes my heart so wildly beat in my breast.
If I but see you for a moment, then all my words
Leave me, my tongue is broken and a sudden fire
Creeps through my blood. No longer can I see.
My ears are full of noise. In all my body I
Shudder and sweat. I am pale as the sun-scorched
Grass. In my fury I seem like a dead woman,
But I would dare. . .
THE MARSH LILY
“Sappho, if you are content to remain there no more will I
Love you. O rise and shine out upon us. Set free
Your glorious strength from your bed, and then, casting off
Your Chian robe, wash yourself like the marsh lily by
The bank of the river. And Kleis will hand to you
From your press a saffron robe and a peplum of purple.”
So you hate me now, Atthis, and
Turn towards Andromeda.
I know that never again will
Look upon the sunlight
So wise a maid as you.
Who is this country girl with
Clumsy ankles and rough dresses that
Draws you towards her?
Never was prouder
Maid than Erinna.
Love shakes my soul.
So do the oak-trees on the mountain
Shake in the wind.
Unless it be you love
Another than me.
O my youth, my youth, who has you now?
I shall never know you again.
IN SICILY (?)
I loved you once, Atthis, long ago.
Lato and Niobe were the tenderest friends.
If you would stay with us, then choose a younger love.
A youth like yours is not for the old.
Sleep in the bosom of
Your tender friend.
I am full of longing and desire.
OTHER POEMS AND FRAGMENTS
Here is the dust of Timias, who never saw
Her wedding morning. Unto Persephone’s
Dim couch was Timias borne. All her companions
Cut with new-sharpened knives
Their hair for Timias’ sake.
BY THE SEASHORE
By Pelagon’s tomb Miniskos, his father, laid
His oars and net to show us how he died.
Death is evil because
If it were good, the gods
Also would die.
As the shepherd’s naked feet trample the hyacinths
Upon the mountain-side until they stain the earth.
Through apple boughs the sighing winds go softly and
From the tremulous leaves sleep seems to drip.
Sweeter then the paktis, more
Golden than gold.
THE KRETAN DANCERS
The Kretan women dancing with delicate feet before
The altar scatter the exquisite bloom of the grass.
He who is beautiful is good and soon
He who is good will be beautiful.
I have a lovely child, like a flower of gold, Kleis,
Whom I would not sell for the wealth of all Lydia.
As the apple ripening on the bough, the furthermost
Bough of all the tree, is never noticed by the gatherers,
Or, being out of reach, is never plucked at all.
THE STARS OF NIGHT
The stars of night gathered round the moon will veil their bright
Faces when she grows full and lights everything with silver.
O Kytherea, delicate Adonis dies.
O what to do now that Adonis dies.
Beat your breasts, you maids,
And rend your garments.
THE VISION OF HERMES
. . .said Gongyla:
“What will you tell your slaves?” “Foremost,” I answered,
“That Hermes appeared to me. Looking upon him,
‘Master,’ I said, ‘I am broken and by the
Goddess no longer take any delight in
My riches. I long to die. Gladly I’d take my place
In the dewy field where once long ago you
Brought Agamemnon, the son of Atreus.’ ” ...
Night, you who gather in your lovely lap
The things the shining dawn flung far and wide,
The ewe-lamb you brink back, the straying goat,
The child you lead unto its mother’s side.
They say that long ago Leda
Found near the irises
A hidden egg.
TO A POETESS
O Dika, dress your soft hair and weave garlands of fennel for
your throat. For the Muses love her who gives grace to her
beauty, and turn from the careless maid.
Spring’s messenger, the sweet-voiced nightingale.22
Fairest of all the stars.
Gold pulse flowing on the banks.
I lay my limbs upon a delicate couch.
I am well dowered by the violet-weaving Muses.