The HyperTexts

Sappho: Modern English Translations of Ancient Greek Epigrams, Fragments and Lyric Poems

This page contains modern English translations of the lyric poems, epigrams, fragments and quotations of Sappho of Lesbos. Sappho was perhaps the first and greatest lyric poet of antiquity. She was known especially for her "Sapphics"love poems and songs―some of which are bisexual in nature, or lesbian (a term derived from the name of her island home, Lesbos). The only complete poem left by Sappho is her "Hymn to Aphrodite" (an interesting synchronicity because Sappho is best known as a love poet and Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of Love). But today Sappho is best known for her "fragments" and the efforts of many translators to restore and interpret them.

Sappho, fragment 155
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A short revealing frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!

(Pollux wrote: "Sappho used the word beudos [Βεῦδοσ] for a woman's dress, a kimbericon, a kind of short transparent frock.")

Gleyre Le Coucher de Sappho by Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre (image above)

Included on this page are translations by contemporary poets and tributes by such highly-regarded writers of the past as Anacreon, Menander, Plato, Ovid, Plutarch, Catullus, Sir Phillip Sidney, Ben Jonson, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Felicia Dorothea Hemans Browne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Charles Algernon Swinburne, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, A. E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, Walter Savage Landor, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.

Sappho, fragment 156
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

She keeps her scents
in a dressing-case.
And her sense?
In some undiscoverable place.

(Phrynichus wrote: "Sappho calls a woman's dressing-case, where she keeps her scents and such things, grutê [γρύτη].")

Contemporary translators of Sappho include Mary Barnard, Willis Barnstone, Michael R. Burch, Anne Carson, Cid Corman, J. V. Cunningham, Guy Davenport, Julia Dubnoff, Conor Kelly, A. S. Kline, Aaron Poochigian, Jim Powell, Diane J. Rayor and Kenneth Rexroth. Why are there so many translations of Sappho, despite the fact that most of her poems came down to us in fragments? As we will see, she was regarded by the ancients as the Tenth Muse (a goddess) and literally a wonder of the world! Sappho blew away her audiences, the way Elvis Presley, Little Richard, the Beatles and Tina Turner blew away audiences during the early days of rock 'n' roll. And Sappho was also a musician, as her poems were either chanted or sung to the strummings of the lyre, a harp-like instrument. After all, that's where the term "lyric" originated ...

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Sappho may have described herself best, in her own words, as parthenon aduphonon, "the sweet-voiced girl." According to Plutarch, Sappho's art was like "sweet-voiced songs healing love."

Ἔρος δαὖτ’ ἐτίναξεν ἔμοι φρένας,
ἄνεμος κατ’ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέσων.

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.

One of the best and most famous poets of antiquity was a woman, Sappho, who has been called the Tenth Muse, the Pride of Hellas, the Flower of the Graces, the Companion of Apollo, and The Poetess. She was born on the island of Lesbos, circa 620 BC. Her specialty was lyric poetry, so-called because it was either recited or sung to the accompaniment of the lyre (a harp-like instrument). "She is a mortal marvel" wrote Antipater of Sidon, before proceeding to catalog the seven wonders of the world. Plato numbered her among the wise. Plutarch said that the grace of her poems acted on audiences like an enchantment, so that when he read her poems he set aside his drinking cup in shame. Strabo called her "something wonderful," saying he knew of "no woman who in any, even the least degree, could be compared to her for poetry." Solon so loved one of her songs that he remarked, "I just want to learn it and die." Sappho was so highly regarded that her face graced six different ancient coins. But perhaps the greatest testimony to her talent and enduring fame is the long line of poets who have paid homage to her over the centuries. (Because there is no single agreed-upon numbering system for Sappho's fragments, different poems below may be assigned the same number, if the translators used different systems of enumeration. When the original Greek appears, it appears above the corresponding translations.)

Some thoughtlessly proclaim the Muses nine;
A tenth is Lesbian Sappho, maid divine.
Plato, translated by Lord Neaves

Sapphic inscription on a long-stemmed cup in an Athens museum

Mere air,
my words' fare,
but intoxicating to hear.
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The Sapphic epigram above reminds me of William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet, who said of his poetry: "I made it out of a mouthful of air." The fragment below seems to be one of the most popular with translators ...

If you're squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble.Mary Barnard
If you dont like trouble dont disturb sand.Cid Corman
Don't stir the trash.Guy Davenport
Let sleeping dogshit lie!Michael R. Burch
Stir not the pebbles!―Andrew Alexandre Owie
do not move stones―Anne Carson

Sappho, fragment 3
excerpt from "To Constantia, Singing"
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

My brain is wild, my breath comes quick,—
The blood is listening in my frame,
And thronging shadows, fast and thick,
Fall on my overflowing eyes:
My heart is quivering like a flame;
As morning dew, that in the sunbeam dies,
I am dissolved in these consuming ecstasies.

Felicia Hemans and Percy Bysshe Shelley were born a year apart, looked enough alike to be brother and sister, and were both child prodigies: she was published at age fourteen; he entered Eton College at age twelve and was said to have only attended one lecture, preferring to read sixteen hours per day and perform scientific experiments that earned him the nickname "Mad Shelley." Another thing they had in common was a taste and appreciation for Sappho ...

An Excerpt from "The Last Song of Sappho"
by Felicia Hemans Browne

SOUND on, thou dark unslumbering sea!
     My dirge is in thy moan;
     My spirit finds response in thee,
To its own ceaseless cry–'Alone, alone!'

Ἄγε δὴ χέλυ δῖά μοι φωνάεσσα γένοιο.

Sappho, fragment 118
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sing, my sacred tortoiseshell lyre;
come, let my words
accompany your voice.

As J. B. Hare, one of her translators, said, "Sappho the poet was an innovator. At the time poetry was principally used in ceremonial contexts, and to extoll the deeds of brave soldiers. Sappho had the audacity to use the first person in poetry and to discuss deep human emotions, particularly the erotic, in ways that had never been approached by anyone before her. As for the military angle, in one of the longer fragments (#3) she says: 'Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen, and some say a host of foot soldiers, and others again a fleet of ships, but for me it is my beloved.' In the ancient world she was considered to be on an equal footing with Homer, and was acclaimed as the 'tenth muse.'"

It is because of the homoerotic nature of certain of Sappho's poems that "Lesbian" and "Sapphic" have their current sexual denotations and connotations. Many of her poems are about her female companions, but are not graphically sexual. For instance:

Sappho, fragment 3
by Julia Dubnoff

Now, I shall sing these songs
for my companions.

Most of Sappho's poems have been lost, but some have endured through surviving fragments (a few were found wrapping Egyptian mummies!). Other poets have sought to "fill in the blanks" because of the 189 known fragments of her work, twenty contain just one readable word, thirteen have only two, and fifty-nine have ten or fewer.

ka;t e[mon ıtavlugmon

Sappho, fragment 58
by Mary Barnard

Pain penetrates
Me drop
by drop

Sappho, fragment 58
loose translation by Michael R. Burch


Ἠμιτύβιον σταλάσσον.

Sappho, fragment 58
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I drip
like a wet napkin.

Δαύοις ἀπάλας ἐτάρας
ἐν στήθεσιν …

Sappho, fragment 80
by Willis Barnstone

May you sleep on your tender girlfriend’s breast.

Sappho, fragment 80
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May your head rest
on the breast
of the tenderest guest.

Ἦῤ ἔτι παρθενίασ επιβάλλομαι;

Sappho, fragment 80
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Is my real desire for maidenhood?

Why do so few complete poems by such a great poet remain today? As Hare explains, "Sappho's books were burned by Christians in the year 380 A.D. at the instigation of Pope Gregory Nazianzen. Another book burning in the year 1073 A.D. by Pope Gregory VII may have wiped out any remaining trace of her works. It should be remembered that in antiquity books were copied by hand and comparatively rare. There may have only been a few copies of her complete works. The bonfires of the Church destroyed many things, but among the most tragic of their victims were the poems of Sappho."

Was Sappho the author of the world's first "make love, not war" poem?

Sappho, fragment 16
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Warriors on rearing chargers,
columns of infantry,
fleets of warships:
some say these are the shadowy earth's most glorious visions.
But I say—
the one I desire.

And this is easy to explain
because she who so vastly surpassed
all mortals in beauty, Helen,
abandoned her distinguished husband,
set sail to distant Troy,
thinking nothing of her parents and child,
seduced by Aphrodite, led astray by wild longing ...

Her story reminds me of Anactoria,
who has also departed,
and whose lively dancing and lovely face
I would rather see than all the horsemen and war-chariots of the Lydians,
or all their infantry parading in flashing armor.

Μήτ’ ἔμοι μέλι μήτε μέλισσα.

Sappho, fragment 113
loose translation by Jim Powell

For me
neither the honey
nor the bee.

Sappho, fragment 113
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

No droning bee,
nor even the bearer of honey
for me!

Χαίροισα ηύμφα, χαιρέτω δ᾽ ὀ γάμβροσ.

Sappho, fragment 100
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When the bride comes
let the bridegroom likewise rejoice!

Οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἀτέρα παῖσ, ὦ γάμβρε, τοαύτα

Sappho, fragment 90
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

was there ever a maid
so like a lovely heirloom?

Sappho, fragment 90
Epithalamium ["Happy Bridegroom"]
by A. E. Housman

Happy bridegroom, Hesper brings
All desired and timely things.
All whom morning sends to roam,
Hesper loves to lead them home.
Home return who him behold,
Child to mother, sheep to fold,
Bird to nest from wandering wide:
Happy bridegroom, seek your bride.

Ἄλλ᾽ ὄνμὴ μαγαλύννεο δακτυλίω πέρι. 

Sappho, fragment 36
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Vain woman, foolish thing!
Do you base your worth on a ring?

Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδεσ, μέσαι δὲ
νύκτεσ πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω. 

Sappho, fragment 52
by Diane J. Rayor

The Moon and the Pleiades have set—
half the night is gone.
Time passes.
I sleep alone.

Sappho, fragment 52
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.

Sappho, fragment 52
by A. E. Housman


The weeping Pleiads wester,
  And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
  Far sighs the rainy breeze:
It sighs from a lost country
  To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
  And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester,
  Orion plunges prone;
The stroke of midnight ceases,
  And I lie down alone.
The rainy Pleiads wester
  And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of,
  And ’twill not dream of me.

Sappho, fragment 75
by Edwin Marion Cox

Do thou, O Dica, set garlands upon thy lovely hair,
weaving sprigs of dill with thy delicate hands;
for those who wear fair blossoms may surely stand first,
even in the presence of Goddesses who look without
favour upon those who come ungarlanded.

Sappho, fragment 48
by Charles Algernon Swinburne

I am weary of all your words and soft, strange ways.

Ἕγω δὲ φίλημ᾽ ἀβροσύναν, καὶ μοι τὸ λάμπρον
ἔροσ ἀελίω καὶ τὸ κάλον λέλογχεν.

Sappho, fragment 79
by H. T. Wharton

I love delicacy, and for me Love has the sun's splendour and beauty.

Sappho, fragment 79
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I cherish extravagance
and I am intoxicated by Love's celestial splendor.

Ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων.

Sappho, fragment 39
by H. T. Wharton

Spring's messenger, the sweet-voiced nightingale.

Sappho, fragment 39
by Ben Jonson, "The Sad Shepherd," Act II

The dear good angel of the spring,
The nightingale.

Sappho, fragment 39
by Charles Algernon Swinburne, "Songs of the Springtides"

The tawny sweetwinged thing
Whose cry was but of Spring.

Sappho, fragment 39
by A. S. Kline

Nightingale, herald of spring
With a voice of longing …

Sappho, fragment 39
by Jim Powell

spring’s messenger, the lovelyvoiced nightingale 

Sappho, fragment 104
by T. S. Eliot

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.

Γλύκεια μᾶτερ, οὔτοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον,
πόθῳ δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι’ Ἀφρόδιταν

Sappho, fragment 90
by Walter Savage Landor

Mother, I cannot mind my wheel;
My fingers ache, my lips are dry:
Oh, if you felt the pain I feel!
But oh, whoever felt as I?

Sappho, fragment 90
by Frederick Tennyson

Sweet mother, I can spin no more,
Nor ply the loom as heretofore,
For love of him.

Sappho, fragment 90
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Mother, how can I weave,
so overwhelmed by love?

Δεῦρο δηὖτε Μοῖσαι χρύσιον λίποισαι.

Sappho, fragment 81
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Assemble now, Muses, leaving golden landscapes!

Στᾶθι κἄντα φίλοσ,....
καὶ τὰν ἔπ᾽ ὄσσοισ ἀμπέτασον χάριν. 

Sappho, fragment 27
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Face me, my darling ...
and unleash the grace in your eyes.

Sappho, fragment 3
by Sir Phillip Sidney

My muse, what ails this ardour?
My eyes grow dim, my limbs shake,
My voice is hoarse, my throat scorched,
My tongue to its roof cleaves,
My fancy amazed, my thoughts dull’d,
My head doth ache, my life faints
My soul begins to take leave ...

Sappho, fragment 50
by J. Addington Symonds

Lo, Love once more, the limb-dissolving King,
The bitter-sweet impracticable thing,
Wild-beast-like rends me with fierce quivering.

Sappho, fragment 50
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Love, the limb-shatterer,
rattles me,
an irresistible
boa-like constrictor.

Sappho, fragment 4
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The moon shone, full
as the virgins ringed Love's altar ...

Ὄπταις ἄμμε

Sappho, fragment 11
by Diane J. Rayor

you scorch me 

Sappho, fragment 11
by Conor Kelly

you sear me 

Sappho, fragment 11
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You ignite me!

Sappho, fragment 11
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You ignite and inflame me ...
You melt me.

Sappho, fragment 12
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I am an acolyte
of wile-weaving

Sappho, fragment 14
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

descends from heaven,
discarding his imperial purple mantle.

Sappho, fragment 35
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Although you are very dear to me
you must marry a younger filly:
for I am far too old for you,
and this old mare's not that silly.

Sappho, after Anacreon
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Once more I dive into this fathomless sea,
intoxicated by lust.

Sappho, after Menander
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Some say Sappho was the first ardent maiden
goaded by wild emotion
to fling herself from the white-frothed rocks
into this raging ocean
for love of Phaon ...
but others reject that premise
and say it was Aphrodite, for love of Adonis.

Sappho, fragment 3
by William Carlos Williams

That man is peer of the gods, who
face to face sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely

It is this that rouses a tumult
in my breast. At mere sight of you
my voice falters, my tongue
     is broken.

Straightway, a delicate fire runs in
my limbs; my eyes
are blinded and my ears

Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts
me down. I grow
paler than grass and lack little
     of dying.

Three Letters to Anaktoria
by Robert Lowell

I set that man above the gods and heroes —
all day, he sits before you face to face,
like a cardplayer. Your elbow brushes his elbow —
if you should speak, he hears.

The touched heart madly stirs,
your laughter is water hurrying over pebbles —
every gesture is a proclamation,
every sound is speech ...

Refining fire purifies my flesh!
I hear you: a hollowness in my ears
thunders and stuns me. I cannot speak.
I cannot see.

I shiver. A dead whiteness spreads over
my body, trickling pinpricks of sweat.
I am greener than the greenest green grass —
I die!

Sappho, fragment 3
excerpt from "Fatima"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

O Love, Love, Love! O withering might!
O sun, that from thy noonday height
Shudderest when I strain my sight,
Throbbing thro' all thy heat and light,
Lo, falling from my constant mind,
Lo, parch'd and wither'd, deaf and blind,
I whirl like leaves in roaring wind.

Sappho, fragment 95
by Lord Byron, "Don Juan"

O Hesperus, thou bringest all good things—
        Home to the weary, to the hungry cheer,
To the young bird the parent's brooding wings,
        The welcome stall to the o'erlaboured steer;
Whate'er of peace about our hearthstone clings,
        Whate'er our household gods protect of dear,
Are gathered round us by thy look of rest;
Thou bring'st the child too to its mother's breast.

Sappho, fragments 54, 94 & 16
by F. T. Palgrave

Sappho loves flowers with a personal sympathy.
"Cretan girls," she says, "with their soft feet dancing
lay flat the tender bloom of the grass."
She feels for the hyacinth
"which shepherds on the mountain tread under foot,
and the purple flower is on the ground."
She pities the wood-doves
as their "life grows cold and their wings fall"
before the archer.

Sappho, fragment 146
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Song of the Rose

If Zeus chose us a king of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the Rose and would royally crown it,
For the Rose, ho, the Rose, is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it.

For the Rose, ho, the Rose, is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair—
Is the lightning of beauty that strikes through the bowers
On pale lovers who sit in the glow unaware.

Ho, the Rose breathes of love! Ho, the Rose lifts the cup
To the red lips of Cypris invoked for a guest!
Ho, the Rose, having curled its sweet leaves for the world,
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the wind as it laughs from the west!

αμφὶ δ᾽ ὔδωρ
ψῖχρον ὤνεμοσ κελάδει δἰ ὔσδων
μαλίνων, αἰθυσσομένων δὲ φύλλων
κῶμα κατάρρει.

Sappho, fragments 93 & 94
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough,
A-top on the topmost twig,—which the pluckers forgot, somehow,—
Forgot it not, nay, but got it not, for none could get it till now.

Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found,
Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear and wound,
Until the purple blossom is trodden into the ground.

Sappho, fragments 93
by Stanley Lombardo

Like the sweet apple reddening on the topmost branch,
the topmost apple on the tip of the branch,
      and the pickers forgot it,
well, no, they didn’t forget, they just couldn’t reach it.

Sappho, fragment 93
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like the sweet apple reddening on the highest bough,
on the topmost twig,
which the harvesters missed, or forgot somehow—
oh no, I'm mistaken; they just couldn't reach it!

A Hymn to Venus
Ambrose Philips

O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferred,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
O gentle goddess, hear me now.
Descend, thou bright immortal guest,

In all thy radiant charms confessed.
Thou once didst leave almighty Jove
And all the golden roofs above;
The car thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hovering in air they lightly flew;
As to my bower they winged their way
I saw their quivering pinions play.

The birds dismissed (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again:
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In every heavenly feature smiled,
And asked what new complaints I made,
And why I called you to my aid?

What frenzy in my bosom raged,
And by what cure to be assuaged?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Though now thy offerings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Though now he freeze, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.

Celestial visitant, once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distempered soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.

Sappho, fragment 81
by J. H. Merivale

Wealth without virtue is a dangerous guest;
Who holds them mingled is supremely blest.

Sappho, fragment 137
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Gold does not rust,
yet my son becomes dust?

Sappho, fragment 145
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Prometheus the Fire-Bearer
robbed the Gods of their power, and so
brought mankind and himself to woe ...
must you repeat his error?

Sappho, fragment 159
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May I lead?
Will you follow?
Foolish man!

Ears so hollow,
minds so shallow,
never can!

Sappho, fragments 122 & 123
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Your voice—
a sweeter liar
than the lyre,
more dearly sold
and bought, than gold.

Ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἄβροισ λασίοισ εὖ ϝε πύκασσεν

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

She wrapped herself then in
most delicate linen.

Τίσ δ᾽ ἀγροιῶτίσ τοι θέλγει νόον,
 οὐκ ἐπισταμένα τὰ βράκἐ ἔλκην
      ἐπί τῶν σφύρων; 

Sappho, fragment 70
by Edwin Marion Cox

What rustic girl bewitches thee who knows not how
to draw her dress about her ankles?

Sappho, fragment 70
by Aaron Poochigian

What farm girl, garbed in fashions from the farm
And witless of the way
A hiked hem would display
Her ankles, captivates you with her charm?

Sappho, fragment 70
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

That rustic girl bewitches your heart?
Her most beguiling art's
hiking the hem of her dress
to seduce you with her ankles' nakedness!

Οἴαν τὰν ὐάκινθον ἐν οὔρεσι ποίμενεσ ἄνδρεσ.
πόσσι καταστείβοισι, χαμαι δ᾽ ἐπιπορφύρει ἄνθοσ.

Sappho, fragment 94
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Shepherds trample the hyacinth
whose petals empurple the heath,
foreshadowing shepherds' grief.

Sappho, fragment 100
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The softest pallors grace
her lovely face.

Sappho, fragment 121
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A tender maiden plucking flowers
persuades the knave
to heroically brave
the world's untender hours.

Sappho, fragment 130
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May the gods prolong the night
  —yes, let it last forever!—
as long as you sleep in my sight.

Κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσεαι πότα, κωὐ μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ᾽ οὔτε τότ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ύ᾽στερον. οὐ γὰρ πεδέχεισ βρόδοων
τῶν ἐκ Πιερίασ ἀλλ᾽ ἀφάνησ κἠν᾽ ᾽Αῖδα δόμοισ
φοιτάσεισ πεδ᾽ ἀμαύρων νέκυων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Sappho, fragment 68
by H. T. Wharton

But thou shalt ever lie dead,
nor shall there be any remembrance of thee then or thereafter,
for thou hast not of the roses of Pieria;
but thou shalt wander obscure even in the house of Hades,
flitting among the shadowy dead.

Sappho, fragment 68
by Thomas Hardy

     Dead shalt thou lie; and nought
     Be told of thee or thought,
For thou hast plucked not of the Muses' tree:
     And even in Hades' halls
     Amidst thy fellow-thralls
No friendly shade thy shade shall company!

Sappho, fragment 68
loose translation by Michael R. Burch
soon you'll lie dead, disregarded;
then imagine how quickly your reputation fades ...
you who never gathered the roses of Pieria
must assume your place among the obscure,
uncelebrated shades.

Sappho, fragment 137
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Death is evil;
the Gods all agree;
for, had death been good,
the Gods would be mortal
like me.

Sappho, fragment 43
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come, dear ones,
let us cease our singing:
morning dawns.

Sappho, fragment 14
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

buffeting winds bear
my distress and care

Ἀρτίως μ’ ἀ χρυσοπέδιλλος Αὔως

Sappho, fragment 15
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Just now the golden-sandaled dawn called me ...

Sappho, fragment 15
loose translation by Anne Carson

just now goldsandaled Dawn

Sappho, fragment 69
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Into the soft arms of the girl I once spurned,
I gladly returned.

Οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὄττι θέω, δύο μοι τὰ νοήματα.

Sappho, fragment 37
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I don't know what to do:
My mind is divided, split in two.

Πσαύην δ᾽ οὐ δοκίμοιμ᾽ ὀράνω δύσι πάχεσιν. 

Sappho, fragment 35
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

With my two small arms
I do not seek to encircle the sky.

Sappho, fragment 29
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Since my paps are dry and my barren womb rests,
let me praise lively girls with violet-sweet breasts.

Sappho, fragment 22
by J. M. Edmonds

[Persuasion,] Man-beguiling daughter of Aphrodite.

Sappho, fragment 1
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Beautiful swift sparrows
rising on whirring wings
flee the dark earth for the sun-bright air ...

Sappho, fragment 58
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The girls of the ripening maidenhead wore garlands.

Sappho, fragment 94 & 98
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Listen, my dear;
by the Goddess I swear
that I, too,
(like you)
had to renounce my false frigidity
and surrender my virginity.
My wedding night was not so bad;
you too have nothing to fear, so be glad!
(But then why do I still sometimes think with dread
of my lost maidenhead?)

Sappho, fragment 100
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bridegroom, rest
on the tender breast
of the maiden you love best.

Sappho, fragment 103
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Maidenhead! Maidenhead!
So swiftly departed!
Why have you left us
forever brokenhearted?

Sappho, fragment 2
loose translation by Michael R. Burch, after Sappho and Tennyson

I sip the cup of costly death;
I lose my color; I catch my breath
whenever I contemplate your presence,
or absence.

Sappho, fragment 2
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

How can I compete with that damned man
who fancies himself one of the gods,
impressing you with his "eloquence,"
when just the thought of sitting in your radiant presence,
of hearing your lovely voice and lively laughter,
sets my heart hammering at my breast?
Hell, when I catch just a quick glimpse of you,
I'm left speechless, tongue-tied,
and immediately a blush like a delicate flame reddens my skin.
Then my vision dims with tears,
my ears ring,
I sweat profusely,
and every muscle in my body trembles.
When the blood finally settles,
I grow paler than summer grass,
till in my exhausted madness,
I'm as limp as the dead.
And yet I must risk all, being bereft without you ...

Sappho, fragments 21, 22 and 23
by H. T. Wharton

Me thou forgettest
or lovest another more than me.
Ye are nought to me.

Sappho, fragments 73 & 74
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

They have been very generous with me,
the violet-strewing Muses;
thanks to their gifts
I have become famous.

Sappho, fragment 3
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Stars ringing the lovely moon
pale to insignificance
when she illuminates the earth
with her magnificence.

Sappho, fragment 39
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We are merely mortal women,
it's true;
the Goddesses have no rivals
but you.

Κὰμ μέν τε τύλαν κασπολέω

Sappho, fragment 30
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I will lay
a cushion for you
with plushest pillows ...

Sappho, fragment 49
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You have returned!
You did well to not depart
because I pined for you.
Now you have re-lit the torch
I bear for you in my heart,
this flare of Love.
I bless you and bless you and bless you
because we're no longer apart.

Sappho, fragment 52
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

you came to my house
to sing for me.

I come to you
to return the favor.

Talk to me. Do.
Sweet talk,
I love the flavor!

Please send away your maids
and let us share a private heaven-

Sappho, fragment 31:7
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

At the sight of you,
words fail me ...

Sappho, fragment 5
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We're eclipsed here by your presence—
you outshine all the ladies of Lydia
as the bright-haloed moon outsplendors the stars.

Sappho, fragment 20
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Shot through
with innumerable hues ...

Sappho, fragment 29
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Look me in the face,
reveal your eyes' grace ...

Sappho, fragment 38
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I flutter after you
as a chick
flutters after her mother ...

Μνάσεσθαί τινά φαμι καὶ ὔστερον ἄμμεων

Sappho, fragment 29
by J. V. Cunningham

Someone I tell you will remember us.

Sappho, fragment 29
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I think men will remember me
this side of eternity ...

Sappho, fragment 50
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My body descends
and my comfort depends
on your welcoming cushions!

Sappho, fragment 133
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Of all the stars the fairest,
Lead the maiden straight to the bridegroom's bed,
honoring Hera, the goddess of marriage.

Sappho, fragment 134
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Selene came to Endymion in the cave,
made love to him as he slept,
then crept away before the sun could prove
its light and warmth the more adept.

Sappho, fragment 4
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

"Honestly, I just want to die!"
So she said,
crying heartfelt tears,
inconsolably sad
to leave me.

And she said,
"How deeply we have loved,
we two,
I really don't want to go!"

I answered her thus:
"Go, and be happy,
remembering me,
for you know how much I cared for you.
And if you don't remember,
please let me remind you
of all the lovely emotions we felt
as with many wreathes of violets,
roses and crocuses
you sat beside me
adorning your delicate neck.

Once garlands had been fashioned of many woven flowers,
with much expensive myrrh
we anointed our bodies like royalty
on soft couches,
then your tender caresses
fulfilled your desire ..."

And now, in closing, here are three elegies dedicated by other poets to the Divine Sappho:

O ye who ever twine the three-fold thread,
Ye Fates, why number with the silent dead
That mighty songstress whose unrivalled powers
Weave for the Muse a crown of deathless flowers?
Antipater of Sidon, translated by Francis Hodgson

Some thoughtlessly proclaim the Muses nine;
A tenth is Lesbian Sappho, maid divine.
Plato, translated by Lord Neaves

Had Sappho's self not left her word thus long
          For token,
The sea round Lesbos yet in waves of song
          Had spoken.
Charles Algernon Swinburne

Sappho's Rose
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The rose is—
the ornament of the earth,
the glory of nature,
the archetype of the flowers,
the blush of the meadows,
a lightning flash of beauty.

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

Wulf and Eadwacer
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Tegner's Drapa
Saul Tchernichovsky

The HyperTexts