Sappho and the Vigil of Venus/Sappho
To the Queen of Love.
Rainbow-throned immortal one, Aphrodite,
Child of Zeus, spell-weaver, I bow before thee—
Harrow not my spirit with anguish, mighty
Queen, I implore thee!
Nay, come hither, even as once thou, bending
Down from far to hearken my cry, didst hear me,
From thy Father's palace of gold descending
Drewest anear me
Chariot-wafted: far over midnight-sleeping
Earth, thy fair fleet sparrows, through cloudland riven
Wide by multitudinous wings, came sweeping
Down from thine heaven,
Swiftly came: thou, smiling with those undying
Lips and star-eyes, Blessèd One, smiling me-ward,
Said'st, "What ails thee?—wherefore uprose thy crying
Calling me thee-ward?
Say for what boon most with a frenzied longing
Yearns thy soul—say whom shall my glamour chaining
Hale thy love's thrall, Sappho?—and who is wronging
Thee with disdaining?
Who avoids thee soon shall be thy pursuer:
Ay, the gift-rejecter the giver shall now be:
Ay, the loveless now shall become the wooer,
Scornful shalt thou be!"
Once again come! Come, and my chains dissever,
Chains of heart-ache! Passionate longings rend me—
Oh fulfil them! Thou in the strife be ever
Near, to defend me!
To a Beloved One.
Of this ode only the first four stanzas and the first line of the fifth survive: the remainder has been constructed by combining fragments 15, 25, 17, 9, and 13, with connections supplied by the translator.
Blest as Gods immortal is he, meseemeth,
Who, when thou dost witchingly speak, may hear thee,
Darling, while his gaze upon thine eyes dreameth,
Sitting anear thee,
Hear thy laugh love-thrilling! In thy net tangled
Then my breast's bird wildly his wings must flutter!
One, one furtive glance—and my breath is strangled;
Nought can I utter:
Palsied fails my tongue, and a wildfire subtle
'Neath my skin is suddenly coursing, searing
These mine eyes blind: throbbeth my pulses' shuttle,
Stunning mine hearing.
Drops of anguish slip from my forehead: quivers
Every limb: parched grass by the sickle laid is
Not so pale: my frame in a death-swoon shivers
Close unto Hades.
Yet I blench not!—ev'n to the beggar gleaming
Treasure shines in dreams, that his sleep is golden:
So my love hopes ever: in happy dreaming
Still am I holden.
Yet my dream is troubled, as yearning, straining,
Empty arms I stretch, and I wake with weeping.
Let the dawn-wind scatter my heart-sick paining
Aphrodite, crownèd with gold, O give me
Love for my lot, even my heart's dream-treasure!
This, whereof my rival would fain bereave me,
Grant of thy pleasure!
The Moon and Stars.
The stars that round the Queen of Night
Like maids attend her
Hide as in veils of mist their light
When she, in full-orbed glory bright,
O'er all the earth shines from her height,
A silver splendour.
I've a garden, a garden of dreams,
Where the cool breeze whispering sways
Softly the apple-sprays,
And from leaves that shimmer and quiver
Down on mine eyelids streams
Invocation to Aphrodite.
(Fragments 5, 6, 7 and 8 combined.)
Come, Queen of Cyprus, come to me!
Float hither from thy Paphian home;
From the all-welcoming haven come
To me, to my maid-friends and thine!
Be golden chalices by thee
Brimmed up with heaven's nectar-wine
With banquet-joys blent daintily.
So for thank-offering shall be led
A white kid to thy fane, to stand
Before thine altar, and mine hand
Libation-drops thereon shall shed.
To her maiden-friends, or, as some critics hold, to the Muses.
(Fragments 11, 10, 12 and 14 combined.)
To you, companions mine, will I
Sing my most sweet heart-gladdening song,
To you, whose love, whose praise on high
Throned me above earth's poet-throng;—
While some, whose lives by me were crowned
With blessing, I most thankless found;—
But you, O you mine whole life long
Shall prove my constancy.
A Vision of Aphrodite.
(Fragments 18, 20, 19 and 16 combined.)
The golden-sandalled Dawn, meseemed,
Let down from heaven a splendour-stair;
And I saw floating earthward there
My Queen, Love's Queen.
All round her a cloud-halo gleamed
With shimmering lights shot through and through
Of many a hue.
From her fair Lydian sandals streamed
Doves, circling round in mazy rings
Of rapture, this way, that way glanced:—
But even as I gazed entranced,
A bitter wind, methought, 'gan blow.
Their hearts turned cold, they drooped their wings,
And faded all that glorious show.
I woke—I had but dreamed!
To one false in love.
(Fragments 21, 22, 23 and 24 combined.)
O false as fair!
I am forgotten, then, by thee!
Or haply on another shine
The eyes that once looked into mine
Pretence of love—all faithlessly!
Out! nought I care
For such as can true love betray!
Love on, forsworn, your little day:
Ye are nought to me!
To the Muse of Lyric Song.
O Queen of Song, who art throned on gold,
Upraise the strain which the singer of old,
Even he of Teos,—the goodly town
Whose daughters wear beauty's royal crown,—
From ravishment-breathing lips outrolled,
A chant of undying renown.
Self-restraint when angered.
When wrath's wild-surging tide hath broken
The floodgates of thy breast, refrain
Thy tongue, lest words in passion spoken
Be mad and vain.
Quoted by Aristotle (Rhetoric, 1, 9) as a dialogue between Alcaeus and Sappho.
Alcaeus.O violet-wreathed, O pure as snow
Sappho, whose voice is honey-sweet,
Something I fain would say—but O,
Shame on my tongue hath set her feet.
Sappho. If thy desire had been for aught
Noble or honourable, not
For vileness which a vile heart taught
Thy tongue, thine eyes had drooped not so
With shame: thy tongue had voiced a thought
So honest, all the world might know.
A last word at parting.
Stand face to face with me a space,
Friend of my heart,
For one long gaze on thine eyes' grace
Before we part.
Leto and Niobe.
It is recorded by Hesiod that Zeus wedded Leto before Hera his sister became his queen. It is here assumed that the Niobe referred to is not that one whose arrogant boast against Leto drew on her the vengeance of Apollo and Artemis in the slaughter of all her children, but the Niobe of an older legend, who became by Zeus the mother of Argus and Pelasgus.
(Fragments 31, 30, 49, 51, 65, 60, 73, 46, 54, 53, 57, 43, 39, 64 combined.)
In the childhood of time, in the infancy
Of Heaven and Earth and Ocean's tide,
Dear friends were Leto and Niobe;
And these twain paced together beside
A river whose banks were bright with the sheen
Of flame-like flowers whose cups of gold
Dew-brimmed flashed out of the shimmering green.
And there unto Niobe Leto told
The tale of a bridal of long agone
Ere Hera was throned, when as yet was none
Crowned Heaven's Queen.
She told how Zeus had led her, his bride,
To a palace Olympian of stately pride,
Told of the spousal feast divine
Whereat the bowl of ambrosia-wine
Was mingled, and Hermes' self brimmed up
For God and Goddess the blessing-cup;
And hands celestial upheld on high
Each golden chalice, and pealed the cry
From celestial lips—"May happiness
Bridegroom and bride with all good bless!"
And they summoned to meet in the dancing-ring
The feet that flash and the lips that sing—
"Come, Graces roseate-armed, draw near!
O daughters of Zeus, at his bridal appear,
Ye bright-haired Muses, acclaim him here!"
Then garlands of soft-petalled flowers did they twine,
Those Graces, with lovely hands divine.
So with pleachèd wreaths they softly bound
The Muses' necks, and their own heads crowned.
And she told how the glorious dance-array
Would in wildering circles swing and sway,
Even as when in the latter day
Around fair altars the daughters of Crete
Float in the mystic measure, with feet
Scarce seeming to touch the velvet grass
Whereover the white robes rippling pass.
So danced the Muses, so danced the Graces
Till the low sun flushed the bridal feast
All rosy, and golden uprose in the east
The moon. Then silent, with reverent faces
Those wedded divine ones did they enring
Like unto worshippers compassing
The altar whereunto their gifts they bring.
And Niobe listened as one spell-bound;
And her ears were thrilled with the tale as with sound
Of harpings unearthly; and sigh upon sigh
Brake from her lips, she knew not why.
But when in the darkness she lay on her bed,
Sleep dusky-eyed, the child of Night,
Who on all eyes presses with fingers light,
Upon Niobe's eyes no sleep-dews shed;
But through hush of the darkness ever she heard
Ravishing-sweet the voice of a bird,
Of the nightingale, messenger-herald of Spring;
And to her through the notes did a message ring
Sweet, sweet—yet she could not interpret the thing.
But she waited in trance of expectancy,
Till lo, the star-sown canopy
Of the heavens was cloven, and Eros came
From the brightness beyond; a crimson flame
Was the mantle that vestured him. Came at his side
Zeus in his glory of beauty, to claim
By the right of his love an earthly bride.
And Niobe envied her friend no more.
Yea, now did she know, taught by love's lore—
Now, when her heart was satisfied—
For what cause she had sighed.
To Atthis the inconstant, who had forsaken her for Andromeda.
(Fragments 33, 57A, 44, 41, 70, 58 combined.)
I loved thee, Atthis,—even thee!—
Ah, long ago!
As Aphrodite's handmaid bright
As gold wert thou then in my sight.
A very queen of love to me
Then didst thou show.
Fair gifts I sent thee—broidery
Of golden thread whose shimmering light
Flashed mid the purple on thy knee,
A gleam and glow.
Then I knew not thine heart aright:
But now I know!
Thou incarnate false inconstancy—
To whom I grow
A thing to hate!—thou takest flight
On wings of love to—who is she?
A rustic wench whose garments flow
About her heels ungracefully!
O yea, let thy false love requite
Andromeda's worship! Take delight
In her—thou who from my love's height
Hast sunk so low!
The torments of love.
(Fragments 84, 45, 82, 36, 38, 37, 40, 80, 50, 55, 42 combined)
O Queens of Song, descend from your home,
From the golden halls of Olympus on high!
O shell divine, now, now become
Voiceful, to utter mine heart's wild cry!
O Calliope, vouchsafe thine aid
Unto one whom the Muse of Love hath betrayed!
Ah me, I know not what to do
Who am wildered all, in a strait betwixt two!
I cry from a homeless heart storm-tossed
As a child for her mother, a young child lost.
Yet not after all-unattainable things
Do I strain, nor I hope on passion's wings
To soar to the heavens' empyreal blue.
But oh, I yearn, how I yearn to slake
My thirst where Love's feet brush the dew!
For he who the strength of the mighty can break,
He whose bitter sweetness no tongue may tell,
The dragon whose onslaught none may quell,
Love—mine whole being doth Love's breath shake.
Ah, sleep I cannot: soft-cushioned bed
Wooes never my wearied frame to sleep;
No pillow brings rest to my throbbing head.
From my couch, as one in a nightmare, I leap.
Ever Eros is tossing to and fro
My spirit, as when great storm-winds blow
O'er a tempest-tormented mountain-steep,
And down on its groaning oak-woods sweep;
So groaneth my spirit, love-scourged so.
Sappho to her Girl-friends. She playfully satirizes the foibles of some of them.
(Fragments 34, 77, 76, 61, 71, 48, 86, 83, 47, 129, 32 combined.)
This is my song of maidens dear to me.
Eranna, a slight girl I counted thee,
When first I looked upon thy form and face,
Slim as a reed, and all devoid of grace.
But stately stature, grace and beauty came
Unto thee with the years—O, dost not shame
For this, Eranna, that thy pride hath grown
Therewith? Alas for thee! I have not known
One beauty ever of more scornful mien,
As though thou wert of all earth's daughters queen!
Mnasidica is comelier, perchance,
Than my Gyrinna—ah, but sweetly rings
Gyrinna's matchless voice! In rapture-trance
I listen, listen, while Gyrinna sings.
Hero of Gyara is fleet of foot
As fawns, and as light-footed in the dance,
The dance taught by the measures of my lute.
Ever-impassioned Gorgo!—is it strange
That I grow weary of the change on change
Of thine adored ones?—of thy rhapsodies
O'er each new girl-friend, while the old love dies?
Joy to thee, daughter of a princely race,
For thy last dear one! Lie in her embrace—
Till shines a new star on thy raptured eyes!
Fonder of maids thou art, I trow, than she,
The ghost who nightly steal young girls, to be
In Hades of her woeful company.
This is my fair girl-garden: sweet they grow—
Rose, violet, asphodel and lily's snow;
And which the sweetest is, I do not know;
For rosy arms and starry eyes are there,
Honey-sweet voices and cheeks passing fair.
And these shall men, I ween, remember long;
For these shall bloom for ever in my song.
A Lament for Adonis.
(Fragments 62, 63, 59, 74, 66, 108 combined.)
Cytherea, thy dainty Adonis is dying!
Ah, what shall we do?
O Nymphs, let it echo, the voice of your crying,
The greenwood through!
O Forest-maidens, smite on the breast,
Rend ye the delicate-woven vest!
Let the wail ring wild and high:
"Ah for Adonis!" cry.
O Sappho, how canst thou chant the bliss
Of Kypris—after such day as this?
"Oh Adonis, thou leavest me—woe for my lot!
And Eros, my servant, availeth me not!"
So wails Cytherea, grief-distraught.
"Who shall console me for thee? There is none—
Not Ares my god-lover, passionate one
Who sware in his jealousy forth to hale
Hephaestus my spouse from his palace, if he
Dared but to lift his eyes unto me.
Not he can console me, Adonis, for thee!"
Wail for Adonis, wail!
Sonnet to Dica, the fair and wise.
(Fragments 79, 69, 78 combined.)
Dica, I love all dainty grace; and more
Than all I love the dainty grace of thee.
Love has the splendour of the sun for me,
The beauty that the sun's rays earthward pour.
I love not thy grace only: I adore
Wisdom, a thing divine; and there will be
Never a maid that shall the sun's light see
Who more than thou is dowered with wisdom's lore.
Then in thy wisdom, Dica, do thou twine,
With fingers soft, in wreaths of anise-spray
All fairest flowers to deck thy lovely hair.
To suppliants flower-crowned the Gods incline
A gracious ear, but turn in scorn away
From the ungarlanded, and spurn their prayer.
"He Cometh not," she said.
The moon has dipt into the sea:
The Pleiads' westering flight is flown:
Deep midnight's pall hangs heavily:
The time fleets by: and I—ah me!—
Lie on my couch alone, alone!
To a Rich Vulgarian.
(Fragments 35, 67, 81, 72, 68 combined.)
Thou fool—that thou shouldst plume thyself
On rich attire, on jewel-hoard,
On dross of thine ill-gotten pelf,
On carcanet and flashing ring,
On meats and wines that load thy board!
Ay, cup on cup past numbering
Thou drainest with the drunken! Fool,
Who hast not learnt in wisdom's school
That wealth is an accursèd thing
Dislinked from goodness! Only when
These twain are wedded, happiness
True and abiding comes to bless
The fleeting life of dying men.
Fool!—yet not as in wrath I speak:
Not I on thee would vengeance wreak.
A quiet spirit dwells in me
That scorns to bruise such worms as thee.
Nay, but the inevitable Fate
Even now decrees thine after-state:—
When thou art dead, so shalt thou lie
Ever: thy very name shall die,
Thy sordid story not outlast
Thy burial; for no part thou hast
In Song-land's roses, whose perfume
Breathes life immortal, o'er the tomb
Triumphant. Unregarded all
Shalt thou stray lost in Hades' hall
Amidst the fameless dead forlorn,
A vile, ignoble thing of scorn!
Leda and the Swan's Egg.
(Fragments 56 and 112 combined.)
Leda, 'tis told in ancient song,
Did one day light
On a strange treasure which among
Thick-clustering hyacinths was long
Hidden from sight—
An egg, but of no mortal birth,
Far whiter than all eggs of earth.
And none save Zeus and she, I wis,
Could tell what swan had fathered this,
This egg so white.
To a youth who wooed a woman older than himself.
Friend, woo me not so earnestly.
Vain is thy prayer.
Nay, if in truth thou lovest me,
My wearied ears a suit denied.
Go, choose for thee a younger bride.
Not I will brook to live with thee,
An old wife to a young man tied,
Doomed as the years fleet by to see
A spouse who gazes hungry-eyed
On such as she can never be,
The young and fair,
And waits to enshroud her clay with glee,
And graveward bear.
"I canna min' my wheel, mither."
(Fragments 90, 88, 89, 87 combined.)
Oh my mother, sweetest mother, I can weave my web no more,
For my soul for my belovèd is with passion flooded o'er!
Aphrodite wills it so.
Hush thee, swallow, cease thy plaining of the ancient sin and wrong,
O thou daughter of Pandion; for the sorrow in thy song
Makes my tears the faster flow.
In a dream I saw the Love-queen with a cloud-veil floating round her;
And I cried to her to help me, but unpitying I found her:
She but smiled to see my woe!
To a Girl in a Garden.
(Fragments 121, 123, 122, 126 combined.)
O soft and dainty maiden, from afar
I watch you, as amidst the flowers you move,
And pluck them, singing.
More golden than all gold your tresses are:
Never was harp-note like your voice, my love,
Your voice sweet-ringing.
The Death of Adonis.
(Fragments 108, 110, 115, 117, 116, 111, 114, 113 combined.)
This is the lamentation-song
For Adonis—woe for Adonis, woe!
Thus wailed Aphrodite in anguish-throe,
As she strove to hold him back from death:
"Let thine heart not faint, O love! Be strong!
O me, it burns me, thy failing breath!
It kindles through all my being a fire!
My heart is aflame with despairing desire!"
She calls to her Eros of golden wing,
She bids him steep in the ice-cold spring
Fine linen, and lay on Adonis' brow:—
"O love, let its coolness revive thee now! . . .
Vain, vain!—his eyes see me no more;
They are fixed in a gaze upon Hades' door!
They close—he sleeps—not the sleep of the dead!
Hush, stir not a pebble with heedless tread!
No, no! this is death! Now remaineth to me
No sweetness on earth—nor honey nor bee!"
A daughter have I: she is fair, is fair!
Graceful and tall does my darling stand
As a sunflower gleaming with golden hair!
O, all the treasures of Morning-land
Were but as dust in the balance laid,
Beside her, my Cleïs, my little maid!
(Fragments 91, 92, 99, 106, 104, 103, 100, 105, 101, 102, 96, 109, 93, 94, 97, 95, 133 combined.)
Raise high the beams of the raftered hall,
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Ye builders, of the bridal-dwelling!
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Lo, the bridegroom comes, as the War-god tall—
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
Now nay—yet our tallest in stature excelling;
(Sing the Hymen-refrain!)
For stately he towers above all the throng
As the Lesbian singer towers among
All alien poets, a prince of song.
O happy bridegroom! it cometh to-day,
The bridal thine heart hath longed for aye!
At last shall she be thine own, the maid
For whom thou hast sighed, for whom thou hast prayed.
For none other maiden beneath the skies,
O bridegroom, was like unto her in thine eyes.
Whereunto may I liken thee, bridegroom dear?
To a green vine-shoot in the spring of the year.
Now, now let the bridegroom rejoice, for the bride
Into the hall cometh joyful-eyed.
Ethereal-pale is her lovely face.
Hail, bridegroom! Hail, bride, queenly in grace!
How goodly to see thy lord stands there!
And his goodness will keep him for thee ever fair.
Ah, doth she, ah doth she regretfully brood?—
Does her heart still yearn after maidenhood?
Nay, not in this hour she cries:
"Maidenhood, maidenhood, whither away
While maidenhood replies:
"Not again unto thee shall I come for aye,
Not again unto thee!"
No more, no more doth she chant
Proud young virginity's vaunt:
"As the sweet-apple flames on the tip of a spray against the sky,
At its uttermost point, which the gleaners forgat, and passed it by—
O nay, they forgat it not, but they could not attain so high."
But she thinks of the fate, an evil thing,
That the years fast-fleeting to fair maids bring,
When the roses are faded, the gold turns grey,
And the smoothness is furrowed, as singeth the lay—
"As the hyacinth-flower on the mountain-side that the shepherds tread
Underfoot, and low on the earth its bloom dark-splendid is shed."
Lo, her hand into thine hath her father given,
And thou leadest her home 'neath the Star of Even;
To thy portal the bridal-train draws near,
And the Chant Processional rings out clear:
"Hail, Hesper, who bringest home all
That radiant Dawn scattered wide,
Bringest back unto fold and stall
The sheep and the goat, and thy call
Brings the child to the mother's side.
Let the rose-ringed Star of the Evenfall
Usher thee on, love's willing thrall,
Bride, garden of loves like roses blowing,
Bride, loveliest image of Paphos' Queen!
So pass to the bride-bower, pass within
To the nuptial couch, for the sweet bestowing
On the bridegroom, whose measure is overflowing,
Of the bliss, wherein honoured is Hera: 'tis owned
Of the Marriage-goddess, the silver-throned."
On one consecrated to holy service, who died young.
I am voiceless, yet speaketh my sepulchre for me with voice undying.
If one ask of me, maidens, I lay at your feet what story is mine:—
Aristo to Artemis vowed me in infancy, sanctifying
Her babe—she, Hermoclides' daughter, of old Saonaïades' line.
O Queen of all women, thy servant was she: to her prayers replying
Graciously, deign thou to honour our house with favour benign.
On a girl who died on the eve of her marriage.
Lo the dust of young Timas. Ere dawned her day of espousals upon her,
Death claimed her: her bridal-bower was Persephone's mansion of gloom.
When she perished, her fair companions all with the steel in her honour
Shore from their heads the lovely tresses, and laid on her tomb.
On one whose days were labour and sorrow.
O'er the fisherman Pelagon here by Meniskus his father are planted
His oar and his weel, for memorials of days ever travail-haunted.
Satiric skit on a gigantic hall-porter.
What a door-keeper! O fit theme for song!
A very Titan—feet seven fathoms long!
To make his sandals five bulls' hides were brought,
And cobblers seven the mighty fabric wrought.
who has forsaken a once-loved girl-friend of Sappho.
Rushing war-hosts, horsemen or foot or galleys—
These doth one call, those doth another, fairest
Sights on earth: I say that my love of all is
Sweetest and rarest.
Hear the proof, which lightly, I wot, convinces:—
'Mid the comely, Helen would fain discover
One without peer, and of the goodly princes
Chose for her lover
Him who brought the glory of Troy to ruin!
Reckless all of parent and child, she lavished
On the alien love for her own undoing;
Troyward was ravished.
Anactoria—she who contemns the blessing
Near at hand, is like to a reed wind-shaken.
Such are you!—love held in secure possessing
You have forsaken,
Her whose footfall's music myself had rather
Hear, and see her face in its beauty beaming,
Than to gaze where horsemen and footmen gather
What is best is set above man's attaining;
Yet, if Fortune smiled on us once, 'tis better
To recall with prayer and with upward-straining
Than to forget her.
- She checks herself; for extravagant praise brought ill-luck to its subject.