Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Moon by Sappho

The above is a fragment of a poem by the Greek poetess Sappho. (Click on it to see it better!) You'll love what happens when several poets try their hand at translating this lovely piece:

THE stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space
Edwin Arnold

The stars around the lovely moon
Their radiant visage hide as soon
As she, full-orbed, appears to sight,
Flooding the earth with her silvery light.

Planets, that around the beauteous moon
Attendant wait, cast into shade
Their ineffectual lustre, soon
As she, in full-orbed majesty arrayed,
Her silver radiance pours
Upon this world of ours.
John Hermann Merivale

The stars about the fair moon in their turn hide their bright face when she at about her full lights up all earth with silver.
H.T. Wharton

Stars that shine around the refulgent full moon
Pale, and hide their glory of lesser lustre
When she pours her silvery plenilunar
Light on the orbed earth.
J. A. Symonds

Awed by her brightness
Stars near the beautiful moon
Cover their own shining faces
When she lights earth
With her silver brilliance
Of love ....
D.W. Myatt

The moon rose full,
and as around an altar, stood the women.
J.B. Hare

Now rose the moon, full and argentine,
While round stood the maidens, as at a shrine.
Edward Marion Cox

Awed by her splendor
stars near the lovely
moon cover their own
bright faces
when she
is roundest and lights
earth with her silver
Mary Barnard

Sappho of Lesbos

Sappho, a poet of ancient Greece, is known through her work: ten books of verse published by the third and second centuries B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. Today what we know of the poetry of Sappho is only through quotations in the writings of others. Only one poem from Sappho survives in complete form, and the longest fragment of Sappho poetry is only 16 lines long.

The poems of Sappho are more personal and emotional than political or civic or religious, especially compared to her contemporary, the poet Alcaeus.

Sappho lived in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where women often congregated and, among other social activities, shared poetry they'd written. Sappho's poems usually focus on the relationships among women.

Follow this link for some wonderful images from the Sappho Art Museum.

1 comment:

Bored in Vernal said...

I like the Merivale translation the best.

It's pretty obvious that the moon and stars are symbolic--but translating the word "asteres" as "maidens" or "women" completely ruins the symbol!