Sappho Ur-poet

Sappho’s ‘Fragments’  are showcases of lyric structure. They compactly reveal poetry not as anything in itself but as an enabling intermedium between gods and humanity. Poetry is metaxu: the possibilizing between — see now William Desmond, The Gift of Beauty and the Passion of Being (Cascade 2018).

Sappho’s position on Mt Helicon may be an accident of history —Plato, known for his ambiguity as both friend and foe of poetry, called Sappho, we’re told, the Tenth Muse. Of the ‘nine books’ containing her complete works in Alexandria before fire destroyed the library, only a pitiful few fragments remain. The erotic, aesthetic, and philosophical energies they communicate continue to inspire poets. One of her gifts which translates well was for metaphor, which later commentators would elevate to the first rank of poetic forms.

Here’s Fragment 105a, from one of her many marriage songs. This is from Greek Lyric: An Anthology in Translation by Andrew Miller (Hackett 1996)



Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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