Tendresses

Poetry from the European Languages

Sappho (630 BC–570 BC)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Little is known of Sappho’s life, and her work survives only in fragments. She lived on the Greek island of Lesbos off the coast of Asia Minor, probably in its main city Mytilene. She had a brother, and a daughter Kleis. Famous for her love of women (hence ‘Lesbian’, ‘Sapphic’) she is the first, great, individual lyric voice of Europe, recognised as such in ancient times. At the beginning of the European poetic tradition, a woman speaks for herself, and with an experience subtly different from the male experience.


Sappho (630 BC–570 BC)

I

The Muses have filled my life

with delight.

And when I die I shall not be forgotten.

II

Stand up and look at me, face to face

friend to friend,

unloose the beauty of your eyes.....

III

And then Love shook my heart,

like the wind on the mountain,

troubling the oak-trees.

IV

He’s up there with the Gods,

that one, that sits across from you,

face to face, close enough,

to sip your voice’s sweetness,

and, what excites my mind,

your laughter, glittering.

When I see you, just for a moment,

my voice goes, my tongue freezes.

Fires, refining fires, in the flesh.

Blind, stunned, the sound

of thunder, in the ears.

Shivering with sweat, cold,

tremors over the skin,

I turn the colours of dead grass,

and I’m an inch from dying.

V

I have a daughter, golden,

beautiful, like a flower -

Kleis, my love -

and I would not exchange her for

all the richness of Lydia......

VI

Hesperus, you bring back to us

what the daylight scatters,

the sheep to the fold, the kid to the flock

and the child home to its mother.

VII

The Moon is down: the Pleiades are gone:

Midnight is done: these hours, alone.