Sappho and Beauty


Some men say an army of horses, and
Some men say an army on foot, and
Some men say an army of ships
Is the most beautiful thing on the black earth.
But I say it is
What you love.

A fragment aged 2700 years
Brings Sappho to our shore
Her words ring in our ears
Commanding us with ancient lore
To ponder our hearts once more.

And lovely laughing
Oh it puts the heart in my chest on wings
For when I look at you,
even a moment,
no speaking is left in me.

Sappho’s love is one of passion
Practiced, I am sure
In her epoch’s fashion
Physical love and something more
Awe floods through the door.

Here to me from Crete in this holy temple
where is our graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping

In this place you Aphrodite taking up
in gold cups delicately
nectar mingled with festivities:
pour.

Awake Sappho, and pour
Your beauty on this parched land
Let it splash across the floor
Take the virgins by the hand
Restore our hearts with something grand.

Yet I love the finer things . . . this and passion
for the light of life have granted me brilliance and beauty.
[a Fragment from Sappho’s “Old age poem” believed to be written when she was 60]