Sunday, July 22, 2007


Alone Again

From E.J. Moncada, on Sappho, fragment 168b Voigt:
The poem is often labeled Fragmentum Adespotum as being of unknown authorship, but traditionally it has been ascribed to Sappho and its "secretive" mood serves only to enhance its connection with her. I am unable to read that early English lyric
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
  Christ that my love were in my arms
  And I in my bed again.
with its appeal to sense impression and emotion without recalling Sappho's four-line poem, especially her "climactic" last line, ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.
I can remember only once having read a line similar to that, Idyll XX, 45 where Theocritus writes
μώνη δ᾽ ἀνὰ νύκτα καθεύδοι
but let her sleep the night alone
but the context is quite different from the emotion expressed in Sappho.

At a far remove from the poets mentioned, there is another poem which always brings me back to Sappho and that is A.E. Housman's
The weeping Pleiads wester,
And the moon is under seas,
From bourn to bourn of midnight
Far sighs the rainy breeze.

It sighs for a lost country
To a land I have not known,
The weeping Pleiads wester,
And I lie down alone.

(More Poems. X.)
It has been mentioned that AEH's poem is more of a free translation of Sappho's than it is an original poem. It's certainly difficult to imagine AEH having written the last line without having Sappho in mind....

Those more impatient than others with poetic mountains being made out of romantic four-line molehills might very well suggest that Sappho actually had another and more practical reason for bemoaning her solitary state. We must posit some pre-existing conditions such as the time of year, winter, and her familiarity with the writings of the Hebrew Preacher (Time lines!) who with his practical acumen reminds us that it is folly to sleep alone for "si dormierunt duo, fovebuntur mutuo; unus [or una] quomodo calefiet?" (If two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? Eccles. 4:11)

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