Sappho of Lesbos


THE sun on the tide, the peach on the bough,
The blue smoke over the hill,
And the shadows trailing the valley-side,
Make up the autumn day.

Ah, no, not half! Thou art not here
Under the bronze beech-leaves,
And thy lover’s soul like a lonely child
Roams through an empty room.

Sappho’s poems are extant almost entirely in fragments—but those fragments are eloquent in what they convey of an extraordinary woman, of whom Elizabeth Barrett Browning said that she ‘broke off a fragment of her soul to be guessed at.’

The Canadian poet Bliss Carman published in 1921 a volume called Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics. Charles Roberts, in the introduction, says,

‘Perhaps the most perilous and the most alluring venture in the whole field of poetry is that which Mr Carman has undertaken in attempting to give us in English verse those lost poems of Sappho of which fragments have survived. The task is obviously not one of translation or of paraphrasing, but of imaginative and, at the same time, interpretive construction. It is as if a sculptor of today were to set himself…to restore some statues of Polyclitus or Praxiteles of which he had but a broken arm, a foot, a knee, a finger upon which to build. Mr Carman’s method, apparently, has been to imagine each lost lyric as discovered, and then to translate it…’