Selected Poems and Fragments

The Greek Poet Sappho and the Girl from Mytilene

‘The Greek Poet Sappho and the Girl from Mytilene’
Nicolai Abildgaard (Danish, 1743 - 1809) - The Statens Museum for Kunst

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved

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‘Glittering-Minded deathless Aphrodite’

Glittering-Minded deathless Aphrodite,

I beg you, Zeus’s daughter, weaver of snares,

Don’t shatter my heart with fierce

Pain, goddess,

But come now, if ever before

You heard my voice, far off, and listened,

And left your father’s golden house,

And came,

Yoking your chariot. Lovely the swift

Sparrows that brought you over black earth

A whirring of wings through mid-air

Down the sky.

They came. And you, sacred one,

Smiling with deathless face, asking

What now, while I suffer: why now

I cry out to you, again:

What now I desire above all in my

Mad heart. ’Whom now, shall I persuade

To admit you again to her love,

Sappho, who wrongs you now?

If she runs now she’ll follow later,

If she refuses gifts she’ll give them.

If she loves not, now, she’ll soon

Love against her will.’

Come to me now, then, free me

From aching care, and win me

All my heart longs to win. You,

Be my friend.

‘Be here, by me’

Be here, by me,

Lady Hera, I pray

Who answered the Atreides,

Glorious kings.

They gained great things

There, and at sea,

And came towards Lesbos,

Their home path barred

Till they called to you, to Zeus

Of suppliants, to Dionysus, Thyone’s

Lovely child: be kind now,

Help me, as you helped them…

‘Come to me here from Crete’

Come to me here from Crete,

To this holy temple, where

Your lovely apple grove stands,

And your altars that flicker

With incense.

And below the apple branches, cold

Clear water sounds, everything shadowed

By roses, and sleep that falls from

Bright shaking leaves.

And a pasture for horses blossoms

With the flowers of spring, and breezes

Are flowing here like honey:

Come to me here,

Here, Cyprian, delicately taking

Nectar in golden cups

Mixed with a festive joy,

And pour.

‘The stars around the beautiful moon’

The stars around the beautiful moon

Hiding their glittering forms

Whenever she shines full on earth…


‘He is dying, Cytherea, your tender Adonis,’

He is dying, Cytherea, your tender Adonis,

What should we do?

Beat your breasts, girls, tear your tunics…

‘Some say horsemen, some say warriors’

Some say horsemen, some say warriors,

Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest

Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s

What you love.

It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,

Since Helen, she who outshone

All others in beauty, left

A fine husband,

And headed for Troy

Without a thought for

Her daughter, her dear parents…

Led astray…

And I recall Anaktoria, whose sweet step

Or that flicker of light on her face,

I’d rather see than Lydian chariots

Or the armed ranks of the hoplites.

‘Stand up and look at me, face to face’

Stand up and look at me, face to face

My friend,

Unloose the beauty of your eyes……

‘Love shook my heart’

Love shook my heart,

Like the wind on the mountain

Troubling the oak-trees.

‘He’s equal with the Gods, that man’

He’s equal with the Gods, that man

Who sits across from you,

Face to face, close enough, to sip

Your voice’s sweetness,

And what excites my mind,

Your laughter, glittering. So,

When I see you, for a moment,

My voice goes,

My tongue freezes. Fire,

Delicate fire, in the flesh.

Blind, stunned, the sound

Of thunder, in my ears.

Shivering with sweat, cold

Tremors over the skin,

I turn the colour of dead grass,

And I’m an inch from dying.

‘But you, O Dika, wreathe lovely garlands in your hair,’

But you, O Dika, wreathe lovely garlands in your hair,

Weave shoots of dill together, with slender hands,

For the Graces prefer those who are wearing flowers,

And turn away from those who go uncrowned.

Fragments, on Love and Desire


…You burn me…


Remembering those things

We did in our youth…

…Many, beautiful things…


…Again and again…because those

I care for best, do me

Most harm…


You came, and I was mad for you

And you cooled my mind that burned with longing…


Once long ago I loved you, Atthis,

A little graceless child you seemed to me


Nightingale, herald of spring

With a voice of longing…


Eros, again now, the loosener of limbs troubles me,

Bittersweet, sly, uncontrollable creature…


………but you have forgotten me…


You and my servant Eros…


Like the sweet-apple reddening high on the branch,

High on the highest, the apple-pickers forgot,

Or not forgotten, but one they couldn’t reach…


Neither for me the honey

Nor the honeybee…


Come from heaven, wrapped in a purple cloak…


Of all the stars, the loveliest…


I spoke to you, Aphrodite, in a dream…


Yet I am not one who takes joy in wounding,

Mine is a quiet mind…


Like the mountain hyacinth, the purple flower

That shepherds trample to the ground…


Dear mother, I cannot work the loom

Filled, by Aphrodite, with love for a slender boy…

Fragments, on the Muses


And when you are gone there will be no memory

Of you and no regret. For you do not share

The Pierian roses, but unseen in the house of Hades

You will stray, breathed out, among the ghostly dead.


The Muses have filled my life

With delight.

And when I die I shall not be forgotten.


And I say to you someone will remember us

In time to come…


Here now the delicate Graces

And the Muses with beautiful hair…


It’s not right, lament in the Muses’ house…

…that for us is not fitting…


Here now, again, Muses, leaving the golden…


Surpassing, like the singer of Lesbos, those elsewhere…

‘I have a daughter, golden’

I have a daughter, golden,

Beautiful, like a flower -

Kleis, my love -

And I would not exchange her for

All the riches of Lydia……

‘Hesperus, you bring back again’

Hesperus, you bring back again

What the dawn light scatters,

Bringing the sheep: bringing the kid:

Bringing the little child back to its mother.

‘Girls, you be ardent for the fragrant-blossomed’

Girls, you be ardent for the fragrant-blossomed

Muses’ lovely gifts, for the clear melodious lyre:

But now old age has seized my tender body,

Now my hair is white, and no longer dark.

My heart’s heavy, my legs won’t support me,

That once were fleet as fawns, in the dance.

I grieve often for my state; what can I do?

Being human, there’s no way not to grow old.

Rosy-armed Dawn, they say, love-smitten,

Once carried Tithonus off to the world’s end:

Handsome and young he was then, yet at last

Grey age caught that spouse of an immortal wife.

‘The Moon is down’

The Moon is down,

The Pleiades. Midnight,

The hours flow on,

I lie, alone.