Monday, December 13, 2004

An Analysis of Poem #143

Poem #143 only contains one single line and arouses the question of what poetry truly is. Can you capture poetry with a single word? A single phrase? Sappho was not constrained by the traditional bounds of poetry as it was in the Ancient Greek World. To her, everything could be poetry if you called it that. All you needed to do was place a frame around it and call it your own work. With that in mind, poem #143 in its entirety reads: “and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks.” It is unclear whether this is just a fragment of a poem or the whole poem in its entirety. However, this simple, single line is just as poetic as any of her other work. But much like art, what matters is not so much what the final product looks like as how it was formulated and constructed. Sappho may have spent several days or even months reworking and rewriting this simple line to get it just perfect in her mind. Despite the simple and perhaps even frugal nature of this poem, it is perhaps one of the most difficult to analyze since the reader is left with so little to work with in analyzing her poetry. All that the literary community has, after 2600 years, is this single phrase. The significance of poem #143 is clearly not floating on the surface, just waiting for the reader to pluck it off from the page. Instead, its true significance is more difficult to tease out and perhaps the true intent of this poem will never be captured as Sappho had when she wrote it.
For me, it strikes an association with rolling coastal hills shimmering over dappling, azure blue waters at dusk, all while the sun sets over the Agean Sea and settles into night. I think that many people, when they think of Greece, envision a deep blue coastline and bleached white houses overlooking the ocean on a bluff on the sea. Poem #143 captures this imagery for me and even extrapolates my conventional image of Greece. The “gold chickpeas” brought to mind an image of the sun as a burning ball of light that shimmers like a fireball over the sea. This image is also evocative of the incredible power that the ancient Greek gods had, and the ball of fire over the ocean is like Zeus ruling over all of Ancient Greek divinity and the common people below the heavens. This is imagery that speaks to me as a reader and captures my attention even within the short span of eight simple words.

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