Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Touched, in a Good Way

While stationed in North Dakota with the Air Force, I spent a long, cold winter reading massive amounts of poetry by Byron, Keats and Shelley. I'd never been exposed to poetry to any extent and decided that it was high time that I correct the situation. I made it through to the end, but discovered that I'm not much of a poetry person.

That's not to say that I don't occasionally get into some, but it's not a steady diet.

Recently I've been reading Sappho, One Hundred Lyrics. A couple of nearly complete pieces and a handful of fragments are all that are left of her work, and yet, for two and a half millenia she has been considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) poets of all time.

"Sappho who broke off a fragment of her soul
for us to guess at." -- E.E. Browning

The book contains all that remains of her impossibly perfect words, along with a welcome bit of context and history. There were probably nine volumes of her work all told, along with various other types of works.

"Love's priestess, mad with pain and joy of song,
Song's priestess, mad with joy and pain of love." -- H.T. Wharton

I am smitten.

Heart of mine, if all the altars
Of the ages stood before me,
Not one pure enough nor sacred
Could I find to lay this white, white
Rose of love upon.

I would build a fragrant temple
To thee, in the dark green forest,
Of red cedar and fine sandal,
And there love thee with sweet service
All my whole life long. -- Sappho

We used to play a silly game, imagining a time machine and what ifs. Were it to become reality, I know exactly what I would do.


perfidy said...

A bit earlier, kind of on the opposite side, is this:

My ash spear is my barley bread,
My ash spear is my Ismarian wine.
I lean on my spear and drink.

Archilochus was, I think, a contemporary of Sappho. He was a mercenary as well as poet.

My hearth is cold but the day will come
When a rich pot of red bean soup
Is on the table, the kind Alcman loves,
Good peasant cooking, nothing fine.
The first day of autumn, you shall be my guest