Poetry by Sappho


Aphrodite, divine daughter
***********of Zeus, you wily goddess,
I beg: don’t bring me heartache.

**************Years ago,
********I called your name
from the countryside.
******I cried and
*********you listened
left your father’s golden place
**and hitched the carriage
*******to a gang of sparrows.

They drew your throne
over dark earth, wings
beating the burning air.

You appeared suddenly
**************turned your
************immortal face
***************to me
***********then sighed

—“Yes, Sappho?
What girl torments you
this time?***Who shall I lure here?
Listen to me***If she avoids you
***************She will soon give chase
***************If she ignores your gifts
***************She will next give her own.
***************If she does not want you,
***************She will soon be unable
***************To deny you.”
Ah, Aphrodite—
come here, be with me
soothe my anxiety,
I need your help to win her
yes be my ally!


That man looks like a god
who sits watching you as
you mold your pretty words

your charming laughter, it
makes electric my heart in
my breast;***it’s a desire that

terrifies me, binds me breaks
my tongue in half, *and so
I shiver and wildfire races

beneath my skin, *my sight
darkens, blood drums in
my ears: *look at me I am

drenched in sweat, *I lose
color and I am paler than
pale grass, you know it is

clear,  *death is close
*to me. *Yet I must dare
**. . as one so poor . .


sensitive Adonis is
near to death

what should we do?

strike your breasts

rend your dresses


*****I just want to die.

********As she left me,
******she wept with many tears;
******she said:

**Ah—things have turned out badly.
Sappho, I swear I depart against my will.

*I answered thus
Leave,***rejoice and remember
how we have cherished you.
*If not then please recall
****beautiful as emeralds
****our times together.

Crowns of violets and roses
*you wore beside me.
*Many ritual garlands

coiled around your tender throat
*made of flowers***in full bloom

And with precious oils
costly***daubed on your cheeks
*fit for royalty

*And on a downy bed so soft
*to the touch*****fragile

persistent***you let out your
*and not any*********not any
**hallowed place   no
**we were not there

**not truly
no grove  no chorus


. . Sardis . .

her thoughts brought her here
you know
that you were our goddess
your sweet song
that made her dreamy
but our girl left us, is now famous
in that Lydian clique, *everyone knows
she is brilliant as the rosy-fingered
moon at sunset***it outshines the stars
her light shimmers over deep salt sea
as much as fields, yawning
*with flowers and crystal dews
she illuminates roses and honey
clover just when they bloom
but often**her thoughts come back
to gentle Atthis
it is then desire eats away at her heart
now to go there
come back**please***she
calls out***singing

*. . middle . .



Born between 630 and 612 BCE in Lesbos, Sappho is one of the first poets of the ancient lyric tradition. Little of her biography is available, and of her nine books of lyric and epithalamia, only 650 lines survive, including one complete hymn to Aphrodite, translated here. Her poetry was composed in a remote dialect of Aeolian Greek and publicly burned twice during the early Christian era. What we know of her life and work is gleaned from the fragments and from the praise of classical critics and historians. Much emotional immediacy comes through in what remains, making the near total loss of her output appear one of the supreme tragedies of literary history. Of the nine canonical lyricists, she was thought to be the most adept at capturing the travails of erotic passion. Plato himself named her the tenth Muse.

Christina Farella

Christina Farella is a graduate student in New York City. She has written about translating Heraclitus and literary provincialism at Literary Hub. She has an essay on women, democracy, and the ancient Greek funeral lament forthcoming this winter from Spolia magazine.

English translation copyright (c) Christina Farella, 2016.