Selected poems from Sappho

As part of an ongoing (if halfhearted) decluttering effort, I’ve recently been posting some more books to PaperBackSwap.com… including a bunch of my old college books. (Goodbye, The Faerie Queen! Goodbye, Aristotle’s Poetics!)

One that I am shipping off tomorrow is a book of Sappho’s extant poetry and fragments, as translated by Mary Barnard in 1958. Leafing through them again, I am still struck by the luminous haiku-like quality achieved by these particular translations. I looked up other renderings of some of them, and they were just dead on the page by comparison. Much κῦδος to Ms. Barnard (1909-2001). (Better scholars than I am can peruse the Greek fragments here.)

I had dogeared a handful of pages in my copy, probably from my freshman humanities class in 1989, for the poems that I particularly enjoyed. So I wanted to record them for posterity before I send the book to its new owner.

3.
Standing by my bed

In gold sandals
Dawn that very
moment awoke me

9.
Although they are

Only breath, words
which I command
are immortal

12
It’s no use

Mother dear, I
can’t finish my
weaving
You may
blame Aphrodite

soft as she is

she has almost
killed me with
love for that boy

24
Awed by her splendor

Stars near the lovely
moon cover their own
bright faces
when she
is roundest and lights
earth with her silver

47
I was so happy

Believe me, I
prayed that that
night might be
doubled for us

48
Now I know why Eros,

of all the progeny of
Heaven and Earth, has
been most dearly loved

61
Pain penetrates

Me drop
by drop

and my overall favorite:

64
Tonight I’ve watched

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone

Then there are a few later in the book that have an absolutely Dorothy Parker feel:

73
Yes, it is pretty

but come, dear, need
you pride yourself
that much on a ring?

84
If you are squeamish

Don’t prod the
beach rubble

Wishing much enjoyment to the next reader!

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