Two Poems by Sappho

Sappho was born somewhere around 630 bc on the Greek island Lesbos.  She wrote many volumes of poetry that were admired throughout the ancient Greek world.  Plato once suggested that she should be added to the list of muses said to inspire artists.  Her home island even minted a coin with her likeness in her lifetime.

Her poetry usually concerned love, often referring to the goddess of love, Aphrodite.  She had both male and female lovers, and it is her island which gave its name to the love between women.  Because her poetry only survived in fragments, modern translators have the difficult task of reconstructing her poetry on the basis of bits and pieces.

Below are two such poems.  The first is Sappho remembering a lost love;  the second is an ode to her daughter, Cleis.

Sleep, darling
I have a small
daughter called
Cleis, who is

like a golden
I wouldn't
take all Croesus'
kingdom with love
thrown in, for her
Don't ask me what to wear
I have no embroidered
headband from Sardis to
give you, Cleis, such as
I wore
and my mother
always said that in her
day a purple ribbon
looped in the hair was thought
to be high style indeed

but we were dark:
a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers


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..."