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Top 100 or so Poems -- "Sappho 31" by Sappho

Much has been written about the famous Greek lyrical Poet, Sappho -- whose life spanned (roughly) the period of around 630 - 570 BC.  She has captivated scolars for milleniums -- but much of her life, and her work itself, remains a mystery and is full of conjecture and interpretation, but little fact.  She was born on the Greek Island of Lesbos -- Sappho's poetry centers on passion and love for various people and both genders. The word lesbian derives from the name of the island of her birth, Lesbos, while her name is also the origin of the word sapphic; neither word was applied to female homosexuality until the nineteenth century.

Living in turbulent political times, and having been exiled herself for a period of time from Lesbos, Sapphos poetry contains very little reference to the political upheaval of the time.  In fact,  Sappho focused primarily on the portrayal of beauty through love.

Her word flowed smoothly together -- romantic in rhythm and pace effecting a sense of subtle calm and nurturing. 

Through time, her poetry has been mostly lost and forgotten, now consisting mostly of fragments and snippets. Her work is widely interpreted from the original Greek, by many including some famous writers such as the interpretation of one of her more famous passages, Fragment 31 below, offered by William Carlos Williams.  Her style is filled with deep ancient love and her life a mystery - so her poems of deep love are enveloped by an ancient meaning which will be forever shrouded in mystery, just like her life.

Here, for your enjoyment is Sappho 31, also known as "Poem of Jealousy".

Here is William Carlos Williams Version:

Sappho 31
That man is peer of the gods, who
face to face sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely
It is this that rouses a tumult
in my breast. At mere sight of you
my voice falters, my tongue
     is broken.
Straightway, a delicate fire runs in
my limbs; my eyes
are blinded and my ears
Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts
me down. I grow
paler than grass and lack little
     of dying.

Here's a well known literal version by Gregory Nagy:

Sappho 31
 He appears to me, that one, equal to the gods,
the man who, facing you,
is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours
he listens to
And how you laugh your charming laugh. Why it
makes my heart flutter within my breast,
because the moment I look at you, right then, for me,
to make any sound at all won’t work any more.
My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate
— all of a sudden — fire rushes under my skin.
With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar
that my ears make.
Sweat pours down me and a trembling
seizes all of me; paler than grass
am I, and a little short of death
do I appear to me.


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