Book: Songs of Sappho
Author: Sappho, various translators
Publisher: Peter Pauper Press, published 1966
Format Read: Hardback
“The stars around the fair moon fade
Against the night,
When gazing full she fills the glade
And spreads the seas with silvery light.”
– Sappho, Moonlight, translated by H. De Vere Stackpoole (page 10)
Personally, I enjoy ancient and classical literature, and I have been on the lookout for a translation of Sappho’s works for some time. Sappho, who was born around 630 B.C. on the Greek island of Lesbos, was a lyric poet – and perhaps the best known. Most of her poetry has survived only in fragments.
It was with a great deal of surprise that I discovered the Peter Pauper Press translation of Sappho’s work at a local bookstore – and the book was published in 1966. It’s a little volume, with 124 fragments put together by various translators. The fragments are beautiful, lyrical, and often sensuous – and they deal with a variety of themes, from odes to Aphrodite to wedding songs. Some of them are full of light and cheers, others are tinged with sadness, and still others have in their words enchanting imagery.
Since these pieces are fragments, most of these poems are tantalizingly short and incomplete. It makes you wonder what they were like before they were lost, since the fragments themselves are musical. The translations are sometimes a little archaic, but they’re still poetically lovely and very readable.
Also in this book are full page illustrations on every other page reminiscent of an ancient style. “Songs of Sappho” is beautifully compiled, and I consider myself lucky to have found this volume unexpectedly.
“Cool waters tumble, singing as they go
Through appled boughs. Softly the leaves are
Down streams a slumber on the drowsy flow,
My soul entrancing.”
– Sappho, Orchard Song, translated by T.F. Higham (page 11)