Could Neruda be the contemporary descendant of Sappho?
Drunk with pines and long kisses, / like summer I steer the fast sail of the roses, / bent towards the death of the thin day, / stuck into my solid marine madness.
Pale and lashed to my ravenous water, / I cruise in the sour smell of the naked climate, / still dressed in gray and bitter sounds / and a sad crest of abandoned spray.
Hardened by passions, I go mounted on my one wave, / lunar, solar, burning and cold, all at once, / becalmed in the throat of the fortunate isles / that are white and sweet as cool hips.
In the moist night my garment of kisses trembles / charged to insanity with electric currents, / heroically divided into dreams / and intoxicating roses practicing on me.
Upstream, in the midst of the outer waves, / your parallel body yields to my arms / like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul, / quick and slow, in the energy under the sky.
In this poem, Sappho invites the Goddess of Love to partake in the celebration.
There a bowl of ambrosia
was mixed, and Hermis
took the jug and poured wine for the gods
and then they all
held out cups and poured
libations and prayed for all blessings
for the groom.
When I was young I wove garlands
to the Groom:
What are you like, lovely bridegroom? / You are most like a slender sapling.
for the Bride:
O bridegroom, there is no other woman now / like her
It is common these days to speak of your “partner” or your “significant other.” Very practical. I wonder, though, if we haven’t traded bliss for the quotidian, and lost much in the exchange.
Isn’t the essence of love to melt and merge, to reach bliss, even an enduring and seasoned bliss, where “other” is lost? To be sure, balance requires the distinction of two, while endurance demands the solidity of one. It is love, pure and simple, that soaring arrow, aimed high, which arches gracefully toward the apex.
When did we let go of a “love affair?” How have we lost use of that glorious phrase? Let us travel that path now, and let Sappho be our guide. Over the next few blogs, we will listen to her songs, beginning here with “Song to the Groom and Bride.”
your marriage you prayed for
You have the virgin bride
of your prayer.
You the bride
are a form of grace,
your eyes honey.
Desire rains on your exquisite face.
Afroditi has honored you exceedingly.
Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
we are learning to make fire
This excerpt, from one of Dante’s lesser known works, captures the essence of meeting your beloved for the first time:
In that book which is
On the first page
That is the chapter when
I first met you
Appear the words…
Here begins a new life.
Recently, while reading this to little E, she asked me, “Daddy, will you be the Turkey?” Why, yes, indeed, and this classic surely belongs in our summer’s reading list of love.
Sappho’s is the sun-drenched voice of the first female poet in the Western corpus. She lived on Lesbos, an island in the Aegean Sea, a place of grains, grapes, olive groves and orchards.
Her lyric poems, written during the 7th century BCE, largely exist in fragments yet her voice rings bold with passion and candor, an ecstasy of the senses. In this telling of a wedding feast you can feel the excitement, envision the coming together of family and friends, hear the heavenly songs of love.
The translation is by Willis Barnstone.