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Best Famous Sappho Poems

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Written by Sappho | Create an image from this poem

To Atthis

My Atthis, although our dear Anaktoria
lives in distant Sardis,
she thinks of us constantly, and

of the life we shared in days when for her
you were a splendid goddess,
and your singing gave her deep joy.
Now she shines among Lydian women as when the red-fingered moon rises after sunset, erasing stars around her, and pouring light equally across the salt sea and over densely flowered fields; and lucent dew spreads on the earth to quicken roses and fragile thyme and the sweet-blooming honey-lotus.
Now while our darling wanders she thinks of lovely Atthis's love, and longing sinks deep in her breast.
She cries loudly for us to come! We hear, for the night's many tongues carry her cry across the sea.

Written by Sappho | Create an image from this poem

On the throne of many hues Immortal Aphrodite

On the throne of many hues Immortal Aphrodite 
child of Zeus weaving wiles--I beg you
not to subdue my spirit Queen 
with pain or sorrow 

but come--if ever before 
having heard my voice from far away
you listened and leaving your father's 
golden home you came 

in your chariot yoked with swift lovely
sparrows bringing you over the dark earth
thick-feathered wings swirling down
from the sky through mid-air 

arriving quickly--you Blessed One 
with a smile on your unaging face
asking again what have I suffered
and why am I calling again 

and in my wild heart what did I most wish
to happen to me: "Again whom must I persuade
back into the harness of your love?
Sappho who wrongs you? 

For if she flees soon she'll pursue 
she doesn't accept gifts but she'll give 
if not now loving soon she'll love
even against her will." 

Come to me now again release me from
this pain everything my spirit longs 
to have fulfilled fulfill and you
be my ally 

--Translated by Diane Rayor 
Written by Sappho | Create an image from this poem

Without Warning

Without warning 
as a whirlwind 
swoops on an oak 
Love shakes my heart
Written by Algernon Charles Swinburne | Create an image from this poem

Mater Triumphalis

 Mother of man's time-travelling generations,
Breath of his nostrils, heartblood of his heart,
God above all Gods worshipped of all nations,
Light above light, law beyond law, thou art.
Thy face is as a sword smiting in sunder Shadows and chains and dreams and iron things; The sea is dumb before thy face, the thunder Silent, the skies are narrower than thy wings.
Angels and Gods, spirit and sense, thou takest In thy right hand as drops of dust or dew; The temples and the towers of time thou breakest, His thoughts and words and works, to make them new.
All we have wandered from thy ways, have hidden Eyes from thy glory and ears from calls they heard; Called of thy trumpets vainly, called and chidden, Scourged of thy speech and wounded of thy word.
We have known thee and have not known thee; stood beside thee, Felt thy lips breathe, set foot where thy feet trod, Loved and renounced and worshipped and denied thee, As though thou wert but as another God, "One hour for sleep," we said, "and yet one other; All day we served her, and who shall serve by night?" Not knowing of thee, thy face not knowing, O mother, O light wherethrough the darkness is as light.
Men that forsook thee hast thou not forsaken, Races of men that knew not hast thou known; Nations that slept thou hast doubted not to waken, Worshippers of strange Gods to make thine own.
All old grey histories hiding thy clear features, O secret spirit and sovereign, all men's tales, Creeds woven of men thy children and thy creatures, They have woven for vestures of thee and for veils.
Thine hands, without election or exemption, Feed all men fainting from false peace or strife, O thou, the resurrection and redemption, The godhead and the manhood and the life.
Thy wings shadow the waters; thine eyes lighten The horror of the hollows of the night; The depths of the earth and the dark places brighten Under thy feet, whiter than fire is white.
Death is subdued to thee, and hell's bands broken; Where thou art only is heaven; who hears not thee, Time shall not hear him; when men's names are spoken, A nameless sign of death shall his name be.
Deathless shall be the death, the name be nameless; Sterile of stars his twilight time of breath; With fire of hell shall shame consume him shameless, And dying, all the night darken his death.
The years are as thy garments, the world's ages As sandals bound and loosed from thy swift feet; Time serves before thee, as one that hath for wages Praise or shame only, bitter words or sweet.
Thou sayest "Well done," and all a century kindles; Again thou sayest "Depart from sight of me," And all the light of face of all men dwindles, And the age is as the broken glass of thee.
The night is as a seal set on men's faces, On faces fallen of men that take no light, Nor give light in the deeps of the dark places, Blind things, incorporate with the body of night.
Their souls are serpents winterbound and frozen, Their shame is as a tame beast, at their feet Couched; their cold lips deride thee and thy chosen, Their lying lips made grey with dust for meat.
Then when their time is full and days run over, The splendour of thy sudden brow made bare Darkens the morning; thy bared hands uncover The veils of light and night and the awful air.
And the world naked as a new-born maiden Stands virginal and splendid as at birth, With all thine heaven of all its light unladen, Of all its love unburdened all thine earth.
For the utter earth and the utter air of heaven And the extreme depth is thine and the extreme height; Shadows of things and veils of ages riven Are as men's kings unkingdomed in thy sight.
Through the iron years, the centuries brazen-gated, By the ages' barred impenetrable doors, From the evening to the morning have we waited, Should thy foot haply sound on the awful floors.
The floors untrodden of the sun's feet glimmer, The star-unstricken pavements of the night; Do the lights burn inside? the lights wax dimmer On festal faces withering out of sight.
The crowned heads lose the light on them; it may be Dawn is at hand to smite the loud feast dumb; To blind the torch-lit centuries till the day be, The feasting kingdoms till thy kingdom come.
Shall it not come? deny they or dissemble, Is it not even as lightning from on high Now? and though many a soul close eyes and tremble, How should they tremble at all who love thee as I? I am thine harp between thine hands, O mother! All my strong chords are strained with love of thee.
We grapple in love and wrestle, as each with other Wrestle the wind and the unreluctant sea.
I am no courtier of thee sober-suited, Who loves a little for a little pay.
Me not thy winds and storms nor thrones disrooted Nor molten crowns nor thine own sins dismay.
Sinned hast thou sometime, therefore art thou sinless; Stained hast thou been, who art therefore without stain; Even as man's soul is kin to thee, but kinless Thou, in whose womb Time sows the all-various grain.
I do not bid thee spare me, O dreadful mother! I pray thee that thou spare not, of thy grace.
How were it with me then, if ever another Should come to stand before thee in this my place? I am the trumpet at thy lips, thy clarion Full of thy cry, sonorous with thy breath; The graves of souls born worms and creeds grown carrion Thy blast of judgment fills with fires of death.
Thou art the player whose organ-keys are thunders, And I beneath thy foot the pedal prest; Thou art the ray whereat the rent night sunders, And I the cloudlet borne upon thy breast.
I shall burn up before thee, pass and perish, As haze in sunrise on the red sea-line; But thou from dawn to sunsetting shalt cherish The thoughts that led and souls that lighted mine.
Reared between night and noon and truth and error, Each twilight-travelling bird that trills and screams Sickens at midday, nor can face for terror The imperious heaven's inevitable extremes.
I have no spirit of skill with equal fingers At sign to sharpen or to slacken strings; I keep no time of song with gold-perched singers And chirp of linnets on the wrists of kings.
I am thy storm-thrush of the days that darken, Thy petrel in the foam that bears thy bark To port through night and tempest; if thou hearken, My voice is in thy heaven before the lark.
My song is in the mist that hides thy morning, My cry is up before the day for thee; I have heard thee and beheld thee and give warning, Before thy wheels divide the sky and sea.
Birds shall wake with thee voiced and feathered fairer, To see in summer what I see in spring; I have eyes and heart to endure thee, O thunder-bearer, And they shall be who shall have tongues to sing.
I have love at least, and have not fear, and part not From thine unnavigable and wingless way; Thou tarriest, and I have not said thou art not, Nor all thy night long have denied thy day.
Darkness to daylight shall lift up thy paean, Hill to hill thunder, vale cry back to vale, With wind-notes as of eagles AEschylean, And Sappho singing in the nightingale.
Sung to by mighty sons of dawn and daughters, Of this night's songs thine ear shall keep but one; That supreme song which shook the channelled waters, And called thee skyward as God calls the sun.
Come, though all heaven again be fire above thee; Though death before thee come to clear thy sky; Let us but see in his thy face who love thee; Yea, though thou slay us, arise and let us die.
Written by Sappho | Create an image from this poem

I have not had one word from her

I have not had one word from her 

Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left she wept 

a great deal; she said to me This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly.  

I said Go, and be happy
but remember (you know 
well) whom you leave shackled by love 

If you forget me think
of our gifts to Aphrodite
and all the loveliness that we shared 

all the violet tiaras,
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck 

myrrh poured on your head
and on soft mats girls with
all that they most wished for beside them 

while no voices chanted
choruses without ours,
no woodlot bloomed in spring without song...  

--Translated by Mary Barnard 

Written by Erica Jong | Create an image from this poem

Dear Colette

 Dear Colette,
I want to write to you
about being a woman
for that is what you write to me.
I want to tell you how your face enduring after thirty, forty, fifty.
hangs above my desk like my own muse.
I want to tell you how your hands reach out from your books & seize my heart.
I want to tell you how your hair electrifies my thoughts like my own halo.
I want to tell you how your eyes penetrate my fear & make it melt.
I want to tell you simply that I love you-- though you are "dead" & I am still "alive.
" Suicides & spinsters-- all our kind! Even decorous Jane Austen never marrying, & Sappho leaping, & Sylvia in the oven, & Anna Wickham, Tsvetaeva, Sara Teasdale, & pale Virginia floating like Ophelia, & Emily alone, alone, alone.
But you endure & marry, go on writing, lose a husband, gain a husband, go on writing, sing & tap dance & you go on writing, have a child & still you go on writing, love a woman, love a man & go on writing.
You endure your writing & your life.
Dear Colette, I only want to thank you: for your eyes ringed with bluest paint like bruises, for your hair gathering sparks like brush fire, for your hands which never willingly let go, for your years, your child, your lovers, all your books.
Dear Colette, you hold me to this life.
Written by George (Lord) Byron | Create an image from this poem

Isles of Greece The

 The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.
The mountains look on Marathon-- And Marathon looks on the sea; And musing there an hour alone, I dreamed that Greece might still be free; For standing on the Persians' grave, I could not deem myself a slave.
A king sat on the rocky brow Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis; And ships, by thousands, lay below, And men in nations--all were his! He counted them at break of day-- And when the sun set, where were they? And where are they? And where art thou? My country? On thy voiceless shore The heroic lay is tuneless now-- The heroic bosom beats no more! And must thy lyre, so long divine, Degenerate into hands like mine? 'Tis something, in the dearth of fame, Though linked among a fettered race, To feel at least a patriot's shame, Even as I sing, suffuse my face; For what is left the poet here? For Greeks a blush--for Greece a tear.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine! Our virgins dance beneath the shade-- I see their glorious black eyes shine; But gazing on each glowing maid, My own the burning teardrop laves, To think such breasts must suckle slaves.
Place me on Sunium's marbled steep, Where nothing, save the waves and I, May hear our mutual murmurs sweep; There, swanlike, let me sing and die: A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine-- Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!
Written by Sappho | Create an image from this poem


Come back to me Gongyla here tonight 
You my rose with your Lydian lyre.
There hovers forever around you delight:
A beauty desired. 

Even your garment plunders my eyes.
I am enchanted: I who once
Complained to the Cyprus-born goddess 
Whom I now beseech 

Never to let this lose me grace
But rather bring you back to me:
Amongst all mortal women the one
I most wish to see. 

--Translated by Paul Roche 
Written by Robert Southey | Create an image from this poem

Sappho - A Monodrama

To leap from the promontory of LEUCADIA was believed by the Greeks to be a remedy for hopeless love, if the self-devoted victim escaped with life.
Artemisia lost her life in the dangerous experiment: and Sappho is said thus to have perished, in attempting to cure her passion for Phaon.
SAPPHO (Scene the promontory of Leucadia.
) This is the spot:--'tis here Tradition says That hopeless Love from this high towering rock Leaps headlong to Oblivion or to Death.
Oh 'tis a giddy height! my dizzy head Swims at the precipice--'tis death to fall! Lie still, thou coward heart! this is no time To shake with thy strong throbs the frame convuls'd.
To die,--to be at rest--oh pleasant thought! Perchance to leap and live; the soul all still, And the wild tempest of the passions husht In one deep calm; the heart, no more diseas'd By the quick ague fits of hope and fear, Quietly cold! Presiding Powers look down! In vain to you I pour'd my earnest prayers, In vain I sung your praises: chiefly thou VENUS! ungrateful Goddess, whom my lyre Hymn'd with such full devotion! Lesbian groves, Witness how often at the languid hour Of summer twilight, to the melting song Ye gave your choral echoes! Grecian Maids Who hear with downcast look and flushing cheek That lay of love bear witness! and ye Youths, Who hang enraptur'd on the empassion'd strain Gazing with eloquent eye, even till the heart Sinks in the deep delirium! and ye too Shall witness, unborn Ages! to that song Of warmest zeal; ah witness ye, how hard, Her fate who hymn'd the votive hymn in vain! Ungrateful Goddess! I have hung my lute In yonder holy pile: my hand no more Shall wake the melodies that fail'd to move The heart of Phaon--yet when Rumour tells How from Leucadia Sappho hurl'd her down A self-devoted victim--he may melt Too late in pity, obstinate to love.
Oh haunt his midnight dreams, black NEMESIS! Whom, self-conceiving in the inmost depths Of CHAOS, blackest NIGHT long-labouring bore, When the stern DESTINIES, her elder brood.
And shapeless DEATH, from that more monstrous birth Leapt shuddering! haunt his slumbers, Nemesis, Scorch with the fires of Phlegethon his heart, Till helpless, hopeless, heaven-abandon'd wretch He too shall seek beneath the unfathom'd deep To hide him from thy fury.
How the sea Far distant glitters as the sun-beams smile, And gayly wanton o'er its heaving breast Phoebus shines forth, nor wears one cloud to mourn His votary's sorrows! God of Day shine on-- By Man despis'd, forsaken by the Gods, I supplicate no more.
How many a day, O pleasant Lesbos! in thy secret streams Delighted have I plung'd, from the hot sun Screen'd by the o'er-arching groves delightful shade, And pillowed on the waters: now the waves Shall chill me to repose.
Tremendous height! Scarce to the brink will these rebellious limbs Support me.
Hark! how the rude deep below Roars round the rugged base, as if it called Its long-reluctant victim! I will come.
One leap, and all is over! The deep rest Of Death, or tranquil Apathy's dead calm Welcome alike to me.
Away vain fears! Phaon is cold, and why should Sappho live? Phaon is cold, or with some fairer one-- Thought worse than death! (She throws herself from the precipice.
Written by John Dryden | Create an image from this poem


 To the Pious Memory of the Accomplished Young Lady, Mrs Anne Killigrew,
Excellent in the Two Sister-arts of Poesy and Painting

Thou youngest Virgin Daughter of the skies,
Made in the last promotion of the blest;
Whose palms, new-plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,
Rich with immortal green, above the rest:
Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star,
Thou roll'st above us in thy wand'ring race,
Or, in procession fixed and regular
Moved with the heavens' majestic pace;
Or, called to more superior bliss,
Thou tread'st with seraphims the vast abyss:
Whatever happy region be thy place,
Cease thy celestial song a little space;
(Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since Heaven's eternal year is thine.
) Hear then a mortal muse thy praise rehearse In no ignoble verse; But such as thy own voice did practise here, When thy first fruits of poesie were given, To make thyself a welcome inmate there; While yet a young probationer And candidate of Heaven.
If by traduction came thy mind, Our wonder is the less to find A soul so charming from a stock so good; Thy father was transfused into thy blood: So wert thou born into the tuneful strain, (An early, rich, and inexhausted vein.
) But if thy pre-existing soul Was formed, at first, with myriads more, It did through all the mighty poets roll Who Greek or Latin laurels wore, And was that Sappho last, which once it was before; If so, then cease thy flight, O Heav'n-born mind! Thou hast no dross to purge from thy rich ore: Nor can thy soul a fairer mansion find Than was the beauteous frame she left behind: Return, to fill or mend the choir of thy celestial kind.
May we presume to say that at thy birth New joy was sprung in Heav'n as well as here on earth? For sure the milder planets did combine On thy auspicious horoscope to shine, And ev'n the most malicious were in trine.
Thy brother-angels at thy birth Strung each his lyre, and tuned it high, That all the people of the sky Might know a poetess was born on earth; And then if ever, mortal ears Had heard the music of the spheres! And if no clust'ring swarm of bees On thy sweet mouth distilled their golden dew, 'Twas that such vulgar miracles Heav'n had not leisure to renew: For all the blest fraternity of love Solemnized there thy birth, and kept thy holyday above.
O gracious God! how far have we Profaned thy Heav'nly gift of poesy! Made prostitute and profligate the Muse, Debased to each obscene and impious use, Whose harmony was first ordained above, For tongues of angels and for hymns of love! Oh wretched we! why were we hurried down This lubrique and adult'rate age (Nay, added fat pollutions of our own) T' increase the steaming ordures of the stage? What can we say t' excuse our second fall? Let this thy vestal, Heav'n, atone for all: Her Arethusian stream remains unsoiled, Unmixed with foreign filth and undefiled; Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.
Art she had none, yet wanted none, For nature did that want supply: So rich in treasures of her own, She might our boasted stores defy: Such noble vigour did her verse adorn, That it seemed borrowed, where 'twas only born.
Her morals too were in her bosom bred By great examples daily fed, What in the best of books, her father's life, she read.
And to be read herself she need not fear; Each test and ev'ry light her muse will bear, Though Epictetus with his lamp were there.
Ev'n love (for love sometimes her muse expressed) Was but a lambent-flame which played about her breast, Light as the vapours of a morning dream; So cold herself, while she such warmth expressed, 'Twas Cupid bathing in Diana's stream.
Born to the spacious empire of the Nine, One would have thought she should have been content To manage well that mighty government; But what can young ambitious souls confine? To the next realm she stretched her sway, For painture near adjoining lay, A plenteous province, and alluring prey.
A chamber of dependences was framed, (As conquerers will never want pretence, When armed, to justify th' offence), And the whole fief, in right of poetry, she claimed.
The country open lay without defence; For poets frequent inroads there had made, And perfectly could represent The shape, the face, with ev'ry lineament; And all the large domains which the dumb-sister swayed, All bowed beneath her government, Received in triumph wheresoe'er she went.
Her pencil drew whate'er her soul designed, And oft the happy draught surpassed the image in her mind.
The sylvan scenes of herds and flocks, And fruitful plains and barren rocks; Of shallow brooks that flowed so clear, The bottom did the top appear; Of deeper too and ampler floods Which as in mirrors showed the woods; Of lofty trees, with sacred shades, And perspectives of pleasant glades, Where nymphs of brightest form appear, And shaggy satyrs standing near, Which them at once admire and fear.
The ruins too of some majestic piece, Boasting the pow'r of ancient Rome or Greece, Whose statues, friezes, columns, broken lie, And, though defaced, the wonder of the eye; What nature, art, bold fiction, e'er durst frame, Her forming hand gave feature to the name.
So strange a concourse ne'er was seen before, But when the peopled ark the whole creation bore.
The scene then changed; with bold erected look Our martial king the sight with rev'rence strook: For, not content t' express his outward part, Her hand called out the image of his heart, His warlike mind, his soul devoid of fear, His high-designing thoughts were figured there, As when, by magic, ghosts are made appear.
Our phoenix Queen was portrayed too so bright, Beauty alone could beauty take so right: Her dress, her shape, her matchless grace, Were all observed, as well as heavenly face.
With such a peerless majesty she stands, As in that day she took the crown from sacred hands: Before a train of heroines was seen, In beauty foremost, as in rank, the Queen! Thus nothing to her genius was denied, But like a ball of fire, the farther thrown, Still with a greater blaze she shone, And her bright soul broke out on ev'ry side.
What next she had designed, Heaven only knows: To such immod'rate growth her conquest rose, That Fate alone its progress could oppose.
Now all those charms, that blooming grace, That well-proportioned shape, and beauteous face, Shall never more be seen by mortal eyes; In earth the much-lamented virgin lies! Not wit nor piety could Fate prevent; Nor was the cruel destiny content To finish all the murder at a blow, To sweep at once her life and beauty too; But, like a hardened felon, took a pride To work more mischievously slow, And plundered first, and then destroyed.
O double sacrilege on things divine, To rob the relic, and deface the shrine! But thus Orinda died: Heaven, by the same disease, did both translate; As equal were their souls, so equal was their fate.
Meantime, her warlike brother on the seas His waving streamers to the winds displays, And vows for his return, with vain devotion, pays.
Ah, gen'rous youth! that wish forbear, The winds too soon will waft thee here! Slack all thy sails, and fear to come, Alas, thou know'st not, thou art wrecked at home! No more shalt thou behold thy sister's face, Thou hast already had her last embrace.
But look aloft, and if thou kenn'st from far Among the Pleiads a new-kindled star, If any sparkles than the rest more bright, 'Tis she that shines in that propitious light.
When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound, To raise the nations underground; When in the valley of Jehosaphat The judging God shall close the book of Fate; And there the last assizes keep For those who wake and those who sleep; When rattling bones together fly From the four corners of the sky, When sinews o'er the skeletons are spread, Those clothed with flesh, and life inspires the dead; The sacred poets first shall hear the sound, And foremost from the tomb shall bound: For they are covered with the lightest ground; And straight with in-born vigour, on the wing, Like mounting larks, to the New Morning sing.
There thou, sweet saint, before the choir shall go, As harbinger of Heav'n, the way to show, The way which thou so well hast learned below.