Monday, December 13, 2004

Sappho's Poem #16

Sappho is a very romantic poet, and Poem #16 from If Not, Winter is a powerful illustration of her amorous nature. To Sappho, there is nothing more beautiful than your loved one, which she makes clear in the first stanza of this poem: “Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love.” In writing “what you love,” Sappho says in a subtle manner that this is the person for whom you have feelings. Sappho then describes Helen of Troy, and how she left everything to follow her heart: “For she who overcame everyone in beauty (Helen) left her fine husband behind and went sailing to Troy. Not for her children nor her dear parents had she a thought, no—.” The rest of the poem is fragmented, but while reading this I received the impression that the rest of this piece discusses the one she loves as her motive for leaving everything she had. The last two lines of the poem mention Anaktoria, a woman who was thought to be one of Sappho’s greatest lovers and quite possibly even the subject of this poem: “] reminded me now of Anaktoria who is gone.” Sappho is an incredible romantic, and many of her poems look like #16 of If Not, Winter—they discuss what it is like to be in love.

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