Selected Poems from ‘Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets’ translated by Willis Barnstone

Okay y’all, I know I said this already, but if you like poetry then you’ve got to check out Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated by Willis Barnstone. Seriously, the time it took to edit this post down was insane because there were just so many beautiful pieces that I wanted to share with you! Really, with all of the poems I wanted to share here, it’s better to just recommend that you read the book. Otherwise, I’d just be rewriting it! Can you say ‘hello, copyright lawsuit’?

Barnstone’s book included an introduction on each poet, followed by some of their surviving poems and lyrics. Many of the pieces were merely fragments. Each piece was given a title by the author based on the poem’s subject matter.

I’ve arranged some of my favorite poems and poem fragments from the book into a new poem, sort of like a collage. A Franken-poem, if you will. Each poem/poem fragment will be marked with a number where the piece ends. The author and Barnstone’s titles for each piece will be given in the footnotes of this post.

Fragments

My child-Star-you gaze at the stars,
and I wish I were the firmament
that I might watch you with many eyes.1

You gaze at me teasingly through the window:
a virgin face-and below-a woman’s thighs.2

Snow in summer on a dry tongue
is sweet,
and after winter sweet for the sailor
to see the spring stars,
but sweetest when one cloak shelters
two lovers,
and the Kyprian is praised.2

Snow, thunder, hail blaze and blacken the earth,
shake the clouds,
kill me and I will stop
but let me live,
and I shall go on, a slave of love
And Zeus
Aphrodite was also your master
when you stormed as gold rain through a bridal window
to shower down on lovely Danaë.4

Happy groom, the wedding took place
and the woman you prayed for is yours.

Now her charming face is warm with love.

My bride, your body is a joy,
your eyes soft as honey,
and love pours its light
on your perfect features.

Using all her skill Aphrodite
honored you.5

Heavy soul, now you bellow fire,
now you recover your cool breathing.
But why cry? When you harbored Eros,
you knew he would rise against you.

So be resigned to fire and snow;
you sheltered him, and this is your pay.
You must suffer now for being a fool,
as you sizzle in boiling honey.7

The rose blooms for a brief season. It fades,
and when one looks again-the rose is briar.8

Love is really a highway robber:
1) He waits in ambush through the night,
2) He is a desperado,
3) and in the end he strips us naked.9


  1. Plato, Love Poem
  2. Praxilla, Appearance
  3. Asklepiades, Snow in Summer
  4. Praxilla, Appearance
  5. Asklepiades, To Zeus
  6. Sappho, After the Ceremony
  7. Diophanes of Myrina, For a Statue of Eros
  8. Unknown Author, Brevity
  9. Meleagro’s, Love’s Wages
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