Blue Aerogrammes – Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman (1924 – 2004) was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of the magazine Origin. He was a seminal figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century. Cid Corman was born to Ukrainian parents in Boston where he grew up and was educated. From an early age he was an avid reader and showed an aptitude for drawing and calligraphy. He was excused from service in World War II for medical reasons and graduated from university in Boston in 1945. He studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood poetry award.  After a brief stint at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he spent some time travelling around the United States, returning to Boston in 1948.

Cid Corman ran poetry events in public libraries and started the country’s first poetry radio program. In 1952, he wrote: “I initiated my weekly broadcasts, known as This Is Poetry, from WMEX in Boston. The program has been usually a fifteen-minute reading of modern verse on Saturday evenings at seven thirty; however, I have taken some liberties and have read from Moby Dick and from stories by Dylan Thomas, Robert Creeley, and Joyce.” This program featured readings by Robert Creeley, Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke and many other Boston-based and visiting poets. He also spent some time at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. It was about this time that Corman changed his name from Sydney Corman to the simpler “Cid.”

In 1951, Corman began Origin in response to the failure of a magazine that Robert Creeley had planned. The magazine typically featured one writer per issue and ran, with breaks, until the mid-1980s. The magazine also led to the establishment of Origin Press, which published books by a wide range of poets as well as by Corman himself and which remains currently active. In 1954, Corman won a Fulbright Fellowship grant and moved to France, where he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He then moved to Italy to teach English in a small town called Matera. By this time, he had published a number of small books, but his Italian experiences were to provide the materials for his first major work, Sun Rock Man (1962). At this time he produced the first English translations of Paul Celan, even though he didn’t have the poet’s approval.

In 1958, Corman got a teaching job in Kyoto in Japan where he continued to write and to run Origin magazine. There he married Konishi Shizumi, a Japanese TV news editor and began to translate Japanese poetry, particularly work by Bashō and Kusano Shimpei. In Kyoto they established CC’s Coffee Shop, “offering poetry and western-style patisserie.” He was a prolific poet until his final illness, publishing more than 100 books and pamphlets. In 1990, he published the first two volumes of his selected poems, OF, running to some 1500 poems. Volume 3, with a further 750 poems appeared in 1998 and further volumes are planned. Several collections of wide-ranging essays have been published. His translations (or co-translations) include Bashō’s Back Roads to Far TownsThings by Francis Ponge, poems by Paul Celan and collections of haiku.

Cid Corman did not speak, read or write Japanese, even though his co-translation with Susumu Kamaike of Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi is considered to be one of the most accurate in tone in the English language.

He died in KyotoJapan on March 12, 2004 after being hospitalized for a cardiac condition since January 2004.

 

 

BLUE AEROGRAMMES, POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS

I am old enough to remember aerogrammes, those thin sheets of  blue paper which, when folded neatly, could be used to send fairly lengthy letters to international destinations. They preceded the rise of the internet and the development of email. Cid Corman used them regularly and with great ingenuity. Billy Mills, in an article in the Guardian, describes  “the role Cid played as the hub of a global virtual community of writers and artists, one that far pre-dated the advent of the internet and email. He orchestrated this community through the good old postal system by following a very simple rule he set for himself: every letter he received was either answered within 24 hours of arrival or not at all. He typed his answers on blue Japanese aerogrammes and every square inch of space was used, down to the poems specially written for the occasion and placed on the front of the envelope, next to your name and address.” Bob Arnold has selected  and edited some of these poems and printed them, with an introduction, in  The Famous Blue Aerogrammes. Longhouse, 2004. Some are reprinted below.

Cid Corman described his own poems as direct. In conversation with Philip Rowland he had this to say,  I write what I call direct poetry: if you have to ask somebody to explain the poem then I’ve failed. As mentioned above, he was very prolific. His literary executor, Bob Arnold, (whose own poetry features in  Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold) has done much to keep his reputation alive. Not only has he published The Famous Blue Aerogrammes (Longhouse 2016) but he has also published  a selection of poems and translation in The Next One Thousand Years (Longhouse, 2008). He is due to publish the final volumes of OF (Longhouse) containing 1,500 poems over 850 pages.

 

Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Some Haiku

If these words
dont remember you—
forget them.

***

The leaf at last gets
the drift of wind and so
settles for the ground.

***

Azaleas gone and
hydrangea trying to make
a show of it yet.

***

HELLO!
How do you do? How
do you? How-do-you-do-you?
You’re asking too much.

***

I wear the mask of
myself and very nearly
get away with it.

***

In the shadow of
the mountain the shadow of
any bird is lost.

***

There is no end and
never was a beginning – so
here we are – amidst.

***

Your shadow
on the page
the poem.

***

Rain-drops. Each
makes a point
of silence.

 

Some Poems

Poetry becomes
that conversation we could
not otherwise have.

***

Assistant

As long as you are here –
Would you turn the page?

***

The Call

Life is poetry
and poetry is life — O
awaken — people!

***

There’s only
one poem:
this is it.

***

What were you
expecting?

What more is
there than this?

***

We are all
part of what’s

going on
to have gone.

***

THE COUNSEL

Live with the living
Die with the dying
And there you are: here.

***

What have I
to do with

you beyond
being with?

***

A COUPLE

She keeps coming home
to me – of all things – and I
remain home for her.

***

It isnt for want
of something to say—
something to tell you—

something you should know—
but to detain you–
keep you from going—

feeling myself here
as long as you are—
as long as you are.

***

 

from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes

Has it ever
occurred to you
you’re what is oc-
curring to you?

***

You are here – just as
I had imagined –
imagining me.

***

Nothing ends with you —
every leaf on the ground
remembers the root.

***

We wear out
but the sky

looks as new
as ever

***

Everything is
coming to a head — meaning
blossoms yet to fall.

***

WOMAN

She waters
the plants downstairs
from upstairs —
so does the rain.

***

The cry
of all cry –
silence

***

So that

when

was

now

will be

***

FIREFLY

I wonder. Is it
mere curiosity or
just a quiet glow?

***

The sun is
my shadow

I shall not
want — it

leadeth me

***

OMENKIND

The weight of

a falling

leaf upon

your shoulder.

***

So many black flies
getting into the house and
making us killers,

***

When am I going
to lose my leaves and find I
am the poetry?

 

Translations from Sappho

You make me think
of a sweet
girl seen once
picking flowers

***

Spring dusk

Full moon
Girls seem

to be

circling
around

a shrine

***

Come and I’ll
have fresh pillows
for your rest
***

Overjoyed
yes, praying
for such a
night again

***

Am I to
remind you,
dear

that complaint
aint right where
poetry

lives?

***

Further translations of Sappho by Cid Corman, together with the original Greek, are available on the Sappho (fragments) page.

 

Translations from the Japanese of Sengai (1750-1837)

Crown or grid iron —
there’s nothing to think about —
only all to use.

***

Over Everest
the same old moon shares its light
as clear as ever
but only for eyes ready
to see the darkness clearer.

***

Moon empty
sky shine
water deepened
darkness

***

Yes or no —
good or bad —
you have come

to this house.
Here is your
tear — your cake.

 

Translations from the French of Philippe Denis

I was present this morning when a
blossoming tree sweetly escaped.

For what refusal or acquiescence
was the head of the tree nodding
over my page?

***

The word snow used wildly.
I feel the difficulty of it.

Those mornings when we toss about
on one wing!

***

To be enchantingly alone. But does
that make any sense?

What we are, we are, most of the time,
thanks to what hasnt completely occurred.

 

LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Cid Corman with an extensive bibliography.

The Wikipedia page on Cid Corman.

Some haiku by Cid Corman on the TAO site.

A selection from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes.

Original Cid, an article in the Guardian by Billy Mills.

An obituary by Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part One

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part Two

Gregory Dunne on Cid Corman and translation.

A selection of Cid Corman books from the Longhouse Press.

 

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Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch  (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor  of  The HyperTexts www.thehypertexts.com a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.

Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.

 

 

PEARLS – BRIEF POEMS BY MICHAEL R.BURCH

Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site  he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site  for such honesty.

He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.”  He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of  Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).

 

Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

―for the children of Gaza

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

***

Piercing the Shell

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.

***

Autumn Conundrum

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.

***

Love

Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.

***

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

***

Nun Fun Undone

Abbesses’
recesses
are not for excesses!

***

Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)

***

The Whole of Wit

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.

***

Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.

***

A snake in the grass
lies, hissing
“Trespass!”

***

Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks

***

Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SAPPHO

fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.

***

fragment 42

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

***

fragment 52

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

***

fragment 58

Pain
drains
me
to
the
last
drop
.

***

 fragment 155

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

***

More of his translations of Sappho are available on the Sappho page on this briefpoems blog and on the Sappho page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ATHENIAN EPITAPHS

after Plato

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.

***

after Glaucus

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.

***

after Simonides

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.

***

after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.

***

after Diotimus

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”

***

More of his translations of these ancient Greek epitaphs  are available on the Athenian Epitaphs page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ONO NO KOMACHI

As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.

***

Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?

***

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.

***

Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.

***

Sad,
the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.

***

More of his translations of these tanka are available on the Ono no Komachi page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF MATSUO BASHO

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid

***

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water

***

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low

***

The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw

***

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)

***

The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.

***

High-altitude rose petals
falling
falling
falling:
the melody of a waterfall.

***

More of his translations of Matsuo Basho are available on the Basho page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SELECTED HAIKU

after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed

***

After the French of Patrick Blanche

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter

***

After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain

***

After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?

***

After the Japanese of Yosa Buson

White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn

(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)

***

After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling …

***

After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.

***

More of his translations of haiku are available on the Haiku:Best of the Masters page of The Hypertexts.

All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

LINKS

The HyperTexts site curated by Michael R. Burch.

An interview with Judy Jones and selected poems.

A recent (January 2017) interview with Michael R. Burch

An interview on Poet’s Corner.

18 poems by Michael R. Burch on the PoemHunter site.

A larger selection of poems on the Michael R. Burch site.

http://www.michaelrburch.com

 

 

Windfalls – Fragments of Sappho

imageSappho was born on the island of Lesbos, near Asia Minor, around 650 BC. I have provided a brief comment on her life in an earlier post devoted to her most famous poem, The Moon and the Pleiades, a fragment that some argue is not her own. That confusion haunts her memory. It is uncertain where on Lesbos she was born.  It could have been Eressos; it could have been Mytilini. It is uncertain what she looked like. Plato thought her “Beautiful”, a later author called her “very ugly, being short and swarthy….like a nightingale with misshapen wings enfolding a tiny body.” It is uncertain whether she was married, perhaps to a rich merchant named Kerikles from Andros , or whether she was a prostitute. (Kerikles is the Greek for “prick” and Andros for “man”,   so that claim may be nothing other than a bawdy, scholarly joke.)  It is uncertain whether she was an oversexed predator of men whose passion for one, a good-looking mariner called Phaon, drove her to commit suicide by jumping from a cliff. That was Ovid’s belief. Or was she the lesbian literary icon she has become? In their Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Dictionary, by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig (1979) they devote a page to Sappho. It remains blank. She writes of her daughter Kleïs, but some scholars suggest this might be a reference to her slave. It is uncertain whether or not she was the headmistress of her own school or whether or not she was a political activist who was exiled to Sicily. How she died, suicide or old age, remains, like much of her life, an intriguing mystery.

 

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SAPPHO’S POETRY

Sappho probably wrote around 10,000 lines of poetry; today, most of that is lost. Only about 650 lines survive. A couple of complete poems and about two hundred fragments are all that remain of the nine substantial books, in diverse genres and meters, that she produced. Her poems could be consulted, complete, in the ancient libraries, including the famous one at Egyptian Alexandria. But they did not survive the millennium between the triumph of Christianity and the frantic export to the West of Greek manuscripts from Constantinople before it fell in 1453. While most of her poems have been lost, some have endured through surviving fragments (a few were found wrapping Egyptian mummies!). 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.

Why do so few complete poems by such a great poet remain today? As J. B. 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.

 

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TRANSLATING SAPPHO

Michael R. Burch wonders, Why are there so many translations of Sappho, despite the fact that most of her poems came down to us in fragments? 

Kenneth Rexroth may provide one answer: Translations of Sappho, until recent years, have been fantastically inappropriate. . . . Today a sufficient number of literal translations by modern poets may enable the reader of English to envelop Sappho and measure her as we do distant stars by triangulation from more mundane objects. It then becomes apparent that we are not deluding ourselves. There has been no other poet like this. Wherever enough words remain to form a coherent context, they give one another a unique luster, an effulgence found nowhere else. Presentational immediacy of the image, overwhelming urgency of personal involvement — in no other poet are these two prime factors of lyric poetry raised to so great a power.

While it is true that earlier versions may have been “fantastically inappropriate”, some of them, as evidenced below, still retain a charm even if they are far from what Sappho may have expressed. The metrical forms used in Sappho’s poetry are difficult to reproduce in English, as Ancient Greek meters were based on syllable length, while English meters are based on stress patterns and rhyming schemes. Early translators often dealt with this problem by translating Sappho’s works into English metrical forms. Walter Petersen’s versions entitled Sappho in English Rhyming Verse shouldn’t work, but they have a certain old world charm.

Some translators have attempted to use Sapphics in their modern-language versions of Sappho’s own poems, for example Richmond Lattimore in his Greek Lyrics (1955).  Others aim for a more stark approach. In the 1960s, Mary Barnard introduced a new approach to the translation of Sappho that eschewed the use of rhyming stanzas and traditional forms. As Dudley Fitts puts it, in his introduction to her translations, Like the Greek, it is stripped and hard, awkward with the awkwardness of truth. I have a fondness for these translations and for those of Michael R. Burch on the Sappho page of his resourceful HyperTexts site. He calls them “loose translations”,  but almost all translations of Sappho are, by the nature of the process, loose. Anne Carson has achieved renown for her translations, collected in If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2003). But I find them too austere for my liking

Willis Barnstone, who first introduced me to Sappho’s poems in translation, has recently  revised his work on the fragments, while still keeping his use of titles,  to convey Sappho’s conversational idiom. Other translations offer other options. Guy Davenport can inject humour into his versions and Stanley Lombardo in  Sappho: Poems and Fragments (2002),  harnesses authentic American speech rhythms to Sappho’s powerful imagery, utilising a modern verse idiom. Aaron Poochigian’s versions, Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments (2009), offers free versions geared toward rhythm and sound effects. Like Petersen, he uses rhyme but, allied to half-rhymes, assonance and alliteration, in a more subtle manner.

Having given my opinions of the translations, some of which are available below, I look forward to your response in the comment box which follows this post.

 

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Fragments of Sappho

Ἀρτίως μ’ ἀ χρυσοπέδιλλος Αὔως

Me just now the golden-sandalled Dawn …

H. T. Wharton

***

Me but now Aurora the golden-sandalled.

J. A. Symonds

***

Then

In gold sandals
dawn like a thief
fell upon me.

Willis Barnstone

***

Standing by my bed

In gold sandals
Dawn that very
moment awoke me

Mary Barnard

***

Just now Dawn in her golden sandals

Jim Powell

***

Just now the golden-sandaled dawn called me …

Michael R. Burch

***

going to see
Lady Dawn
arms golden

Stanley Lombardo

***

Mistress Dawn

Jim Powell

***

Just then golden-sandalled Dawn called…

Peter Russell

***

just now goldsandaled Dawn

Anne Carson

 

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

Through appled boughs. Softly the leaves are dancing.
Down streams a slumber on the drowsy flow,
My soul entrancing.

T. F. Higham

***

From the sound of cool waters heard through
the green boughs
Of the fruit-bearing trees,
And the rustling breeze,
Deep sleep, as a trance, down over me flows.

Frederick Tennyson

***

Through orchard-plots with fragrance crowned
The clear cold fountain murmuring flows;
And forest leaves with rustling sound
Invite to soft repose.

John H. Merivale

***

All around through branches of apple-orchards
Cool streams call, while down from the leaves a-tremble
Slumber distilleth.

J. Addington Symonds

***

By the cool water the breeze murmurs, rustling
Through apple branches, while from quivering leaves
Streams down deep slumber.

Edwin M. Cox

***

. . . about the cool water
the wind sounds through sprays
of apple, and from the quivering leaves
slumber pours down. . . .

Kenneth Rexroth

***

cold water ripples through apple
branches, the whole place shadowed
in roses, from the murmuring leaves
deep sleep descends

Diane Rayor

***

Caller rain frae abune
reeshles among the epple-trees:
the leaves are soughan wi the breeze,
and sleep faas drappan doun

Douglas Young

***

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.

Anne Carson

 

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ka;t e[mon ıtavlugmon

Because of my pain

Willis Barnstone

***

Pain penetrates
Me drop
by drop

Mary Barnard

***

pain drips
through me

Josephine Balmer

***

Pain
drains
me
to
the
last
drop
.

Michael R. Burch

 

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Ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων.

The dear good angel of the spring,
The nightingale.

Ben Johnson,

***

The tawny sweetwinged thing
Whose cry was but of Spring.

Algernon Charles Swinburne,

***

The Nightingale

Spring’s messenger, the sweet-voiced nightingale.

Edward Storer

***

The Herald

Nightingale, with your
lovely voice, you are
the herald of Spring.

Willis Barnstone

***

Nightingale, herald of spring
With a voice of longing…

A. S. Kline

***

The nightingale’s
The soft-spoken
announcer of
Spring’s presence

Mary Barnard

***

spring’s messenger, the lovelyvoiced nightingale

Jim Powell

 

 

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Μὴ κίνη χέραδασ

Stir not the pebbles.

E. M. Cox

***

THE RUBBLE-STONE

The rubble-stone
Leave thou alone.

Walter Petersen

***

Stir not the shingle.

H. T. Wharton

***

Let Sleeping Dog Lie

Don’t stir up the small
heaps of beach jetsam.

Willis Barnstone

***

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

***

Stir not the pebbles!

Andrew Alexandre Owie

***

do not move stones

Anne Carson

 

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Ἠμιτύβιον σταλάσσον

A napkin dripping.

H. T. Wharton

***

cloth dripping

Anne Carson

***

A handkerchief
Dripping with…

Aaron Poochigian

 

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Ὄπταις ἄμμε

Thou burnest us.

H. T. Wharton

***

To Eros

You burn me.

Willis Barnstone

***

…You burn me…

A. S. Kline

***

You set me on fire.

Julia Dubnoff

***

you scorch me

Diane J. Rayor

***

You burn me

Josephine Balmer

***

You make me hot.

Guy Davenport

***

You ignite me.

Michael R. Burch

***

you burn me

Anne Carson

***

you sear me

Conor Kelly

 

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

Now Eros shakes my soul, a wind on the mountain falling on the oaks.

H. T. Wharton

***

Love shook me like the mountain breeze
Rushing down on the forest trees.

Frederick Tennyson.

***

Lo, Love once more my soul within me rends,
Like wind that on the mountain oak descends.

J. A. Symonds, 1883.

***

LOVE’S TEMPEST

Like the tempest which falls on the mountain oaks,
So Love stirs our hearts with violent strokes.

Walter Petersen

***

Love shakes my soul.
So do the oak-trees on the mountain
Shake in the wind.

Edward Storer

***

Love shook my heart
Like the mountain wind
Falls upon tress of oak ….

D. W. Myatt

***

The Blast of Love

Like a mountain whirlwind
punishing the oak trees’
love shattered my heart.

Willis  Barnstone

***

Desire has shaken my mind
As wind in the mountain forests
Roars through trees.

Guy Davenport

***

Now Eros stirs my soul, a mountain wind overwhelming the oak trees.

Peter Russell

***

Like wind hawking at oaks on a hill Eros has shaken our souls.

Andrew Alexandre Owie

***

Love shook my heart
like the wind on a mountain
rushing over oak trees

Josephine Balmer

***

Then love shook my heart like the wind that falls on oaks in the mountains.

Jim Powell

***

Eros has shaken my mind
wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks

Stanley Lombardo

***

Without warning
as a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart

Mary Barnard

***

As a gust
shakes oak does
love my heart

Cid Corman

***

love shook my senses
like wind crashing on mountain oaks

Diane J. Rayor

***

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

Michael R. Burch

***

Like a gale smiting an oak
On mountainous terrain,
Eros, with a stroke,
Shattered my brain.

Aaron Poochigian

***

Eros shook my mind
like a mountain wind falling on oak trees

Anne Carson

 

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Ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων

Spring’s messenger, the sweet-voiced nightingale.

H. T. Wharton

***

The dear good angel of the spring,
The nightingale.

Ben Johnson,
(The Sad Shepherd, Act ii)

***

The tawny sweetwinged thing
Whose cry was but of Spring.

A. C. Swinburne

***

THE NIGHTINGALE

Spring’s messenger, the sweet-voiced nightingale.

Edward Storer

***

The Herald

Nightingale, with your
lovely voice, you are
the herald of Spring.

Willis Barnstone

***

Nightingale, herald of spring
With a voice of longing…

A. S. Kline

***

The messenger of spring, the sweet-toned nightingale.

Peter Russell

***

messenger of spring
nightingale with a voice of longing

Anne Carson

 

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

Sweet Mother, I cannot weave my web, broken as I am by longing for a boy, at soft Aphrodite’s will.

H. T. Wharton

***

‘Oh, my sweet mother, ’tis in vain,
I cannot weave as once I wove,
So wildered is my heart and brain
With thinking of that youth I love.’

Thomas Moore

***

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 ?

W. S. Landor

***

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

Frederick Tennyson

***

Sweet mother, I the web
Can weave no more;
Keen yearning for my love
Subdues me sore,
And tender Aphrodite
Thrills my heart’s core.

M. J. Walhouse

***

My sweet mother! Fair Aphrodite’s spell
Has from me sense and reason all bereft,
And, yearning for that dear beloved youth,
No longer can I see the warp or weft.

E. M. Cox

***

Paralysis

Mother darling, I cannot work the loom
for sweet Kypris has almost crushed me,
broken me with love for a slender boy,

Willis Barnstone

***

Dear mother, I cannot work the loom
Filled, by Aphrodite, with love for a slender boy…

A. S. Kline

***

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

Michael R. Burch

***

“Sweet mother, I can’t weave my web
overcome with longing for a boy
because of slender Aphrodite.”

Jim Powell

***

sweet mother I cannot work the loom
I am broken with longing for a boy by slender Aphrodite

Anne Carson

 

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Δαύοις ἀπάλας ἐτάρας
ἐν στήθεσιν …

Sleep thou in the bosom of thy tender girlfriend.

H. T. Wharton

***

Sleep thou, in the bosom of thy sweetheart.

E. M. Cox

***

Sleep in the bosom of
Your tender friend.

Edward Storer

***

TO AN UNKNOWN FRIEND

Gently, gently mayest thou rest
On thy dear companion’s breast.

Walter Petersen

***

May you sleep on your tender girlfriend’s breast.

Willis Barnstone

***

May you sleep on the breasts
Of your tender companion ….

D. W. Myatt

***

May you sleep upon your gentle companion’s breast.

Jim Powell

***

May you bed down,
Head to breast, upon
The flesh
Of a plush
Companion.

Aaron Poochigian

***

may you sleep on the breast of your delicate friend

Anne Carson

 

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Μνάσεσθαί τινά φαμι καὶ ὔστερον ἄμμεων

Men I think will remember us even hereafter.

H. T. Wharton

***

HER HOPE OF IMMORTALITY

In future ages, I am sure,
Our memory will still endure.

Walter Petersen

***

Someone, I Tell You

Someone, I tell you
will remember us.

We are oppressed by
fears of oblivion

yet are always saved
by judgement of good men.

Willis Barnstone

***

I tell you
someone will remember us
in the future.

Julia Dubnoff

***

Someone I tell you will remember us.

J V Cunningham

***

I think that someone will remember us in another time.

Jim Powell

***

I believe men will remember us in the future.

Peter Russell

***

Let me tell you this:
someone in some future time
will think of us

Mary Barnard

***

Believe me, in the future someone
Will remember us …..

D. W. Myatt

***

someone will remember us
I say
even in another time

Anne Carson

***

I declare
That later on,
Even in an age unlike our own,
Someone will remember who we are.

Aaron Poochigian

 

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Οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρῳ ἐπ’ ὔσδῳ
ἄκρον ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτῳ· λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπηες,
οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ’, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐδύναντ’ ἐπίκεσθαι.

As the sweet-apple blushes on the end of the bough, the very end of the bough, which the gatherers overlooked, nay overlooked not but could not reach.

H. T. Wharton

–O fair–O sweet!
As the sweet apple blooms high on the bough,
High as the highest, forgot of the gatherers:
So thou:–
Yet not so: nor forgot of the gatherers;
High o’er their reach in the golden air,
–O sweet–O fair!

F. T. Palgrave

***

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.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

***

Like – – – the honeyapple turning red on the high branch,
High on the highest, but the apple pickers missed it.
Oh no, they did not miss it, they could not reach it.

William Harris

***

As the apple ripening on the bough, the furthermost
Bough of all the tree, is never noticed by the gatherers,
Or, being out of reach, is never plucked at all.

Edward Storer

**

Like the sweet apple turning red on the branch top, on the
top of the topmost branch, and the gatherers did not notice it,
rather, they did notice, but could not reach up to take it.

Richard Lattimore

***

Like the sweet-apple reddening high on the branch,
High on the highest, the apple-pickers forgot,
Or not forgotten, but one they couldn’t reach…

A. S. Kline

***

Like a sweet-apple
turning red
high
on the tip
of the topmost branch.
Forgotten by pickers.

Not forgotten—
they couldn’t reach it.

Julia Dubnoff

***

Like a tasty little apple you are getting ripe on a branch
Missed by the gardeners, no, not missed …
There’s many a slip … .

Andrew Alexandre Owie

***

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.

Stanley Lombardo

***

As a sweet apple reddens
on a high branch

at the tip of the topmost bough:
The apple-pickers missed it.

No, they didn’t miss it:
They couldn’t reach it.

Jim Powell

***

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!

Michael R. Burch

***

as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch
high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot—
no, not forgot: were unable to reach

Anne Carson

 

 

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Μήτ’ ἔμοι μέλι μήτε μέλισσα.

Neither honey nor bee for me.

H. T. Wharton

***

Having Refused to Accept the Bitter with the Sweet

I will never find again
honey or the honey bees.

Willis Barstone

***

Neither for me the honey
Nor the honeybee…

A. S. Kline

***

It is clear now:
Neither honey nor
the honey bee is
to be mine again.

Mary Barnard

***

I have neither the honey nor the bee.

Guy Davenport

***

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

Michael R. Burch

***

For me
neither the honey
nor the bee.

Jim Powell

 

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LINKS

The Divine Sappho contains original fragments and some translations.

The Sappho page with numerous translations on the HyperTexts site.

Channeling Sappho: on Mary Bernard’s  translations.

The Poems of Sappho (Greek and English) by Edwin Marion Cox. (1925)

The Poetry of Sappho: Translated by Edwin Marion Cox.

The Translations of Sappho by Walter Petersen.

Sappho: Selected Poems and Fragments by A. S. Kline

Poems of Sappho translated by Julia Dubnoff.

Greek originals, translations and some commentary.

The Poems of Sappho: An Interpretative Interpretation into English by John Myers O’Hara.

Sappho translated by Edward Storer.

Josephine Balmer on translating fragments of Sappho.

The Poetry of Sappho – Translation and Notes by Jim Powell.

Sappho: Poems and Fragments – Translated by Stanley Lombardo.

If Not Winter, Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s interesting article in The New Yorker.

 

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Sappho’s Moon and Pleiades

imageSappho was born on the island of Lesbos, near Asia Minor, around 650 BC. She was a contemporary of the poet Alcaeus. Little is known with certainty about her life. It seems she was born to an aristocratic family of wealth and that she had a brother named Larichus who, it seems, poured wine in a ceremonial manner in the town hall. It seems that she had a child named Cleis whom, it seems, she took with her into exile in Sicily during a period of political unrest. The appearance of so many “seems” in this paragraph attests to the uncertainty that continues to surround her reputation. What is certain, however, is that she was thought of as “The Tenth Muse” by Plato in one of his epigrams

Some say the Muses are nine: how careless!
Look, there’s Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth

and that she was so well known in Greek civilization that the city of Mytilene put her likeness on its coins.

The Library of Alexandria collected Sappho’s poetry into nine books, mostly based on their metres. But these were lost in the great fire. Now, only two complete poems survive, quoted by two literary writers; Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Longinus. The rest of her work survives in a number of forms:

  • in brief quotes by ancient writers
  • on lists of words or lines in ancient dictionaries and glossaries
  • on pieces of pottery
  • on papyrus fragments found in the late 19th early 20th centuries in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt
  • on pieces of 6th or 7th century parchment

About the fragment on the moon and the Pleiades

It seems (that word again) that this poem was written by Sappho, but there are those who dispute that. This fragment, which is given a different fragment number in different editions of her poetry, was included without attribution in an ancient metrical handbook, then judged to be Sappho in the 15th century. Modern editors don’t include it with Sappho, though obviously modern translators follow tradition and do.

About translations of the poem

The greatest difficulty in translating Sappho is the metrics.  Sappho’s poetry, written in quantitative verse, is difficult to reproduce in English which uses stress-based metres and rhyme compared to Ancient Greek’s solely length-based metres. According to Paul Roche, “In Greek you have schemes of quantitative rhythm which cut across the natural accents or stress values of words. In English you have schemes of stress rhythm which cut across the natural accents or stress values of the words. The difference is that in English the stress values of the syllables is not constant, whereas in Greek the quantitative value of the syllable (within certain limits) is.” It is relatively easy to provide a prose translation as in that of H. T.Wharton (below). But making poetry out of the fragment is another matter and one that leads to varying approaches. One of my favourite versions of this fragment is by A. E. Houseman who offers two poems that considerably lengthen the fragment but also do it a poetic justice. They are not translations. They are not even what Robert Lowell calls “Imitations”. Let’s call them derivations which are too long to tweet but short enough to post. Here is one:

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.

And here is another:

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.

If Houseman’s version is a typical Houseman poem, it goes to show that the translation of this fragment often reflects the style of the age or of the poet. Symonds and Higginson offer versions appropriate to the 19th century. The Irish novelist and ship’s doctor Henry De Vere Stacpoole turns it into a melancholy sea shanty.

In the 1960s, Mary Barnard adopted a new approach to translation, one that eschewed the use of rhyming stanzas and traditional forms. Subsequent translators have tended to work in a similar manner. But many still maintain more of their own styles. Rexroth sounds like Rexroth and Carson sounds like Carson. Diane Rayor explains her approach to translating Sappho as an attempt  “to re-create the vivid and direct effect of the Greek. I retain all specific details and imagery, while compensating for formal aspects, such as lyric meters that sound awkward in English.” How that compensation works is another matter. My own favourite version is that of Tom Scott in a Scottish dialect.

You might fill  in the comment box below this post and share your favourite version of this remarkable poem.

 

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English Translations

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

***

Prose version by H T Wharton: “The moon has set, and the Pleiades; it is midnight, the time is going by, and I sleep alone.”

***

The Moon has left the sky,
Lost is the Pleiads’ light;
It is midnight,
And time slips by,
But on my couch alone I lie.

J  Addington  Symonds

***

The moon has set beyond the seas,
And vanished are the Pleiades;
Half the long weary night has gone,
Time passes—yet I lie alone.

Henry De Vere Stacpoole

***

The moon is down;
And I’ve watched the dying
Of the Pleiades;
‘T is the middle night,
The hour glides by,
And alone I’m sighing.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

***

The moon is set; the Pleiades are gone;
‘T is the mid-noon of-night; the hour is by,
And yet I watch alone.

James Gate Percival

***

The moon has left the heavens;
“The Pleiades have set;
And at the hour of midnight
In solitude I fret.

Walter Petersen

***

The silver moon is set;
The Pleiades are gone;
Half the long night is spent, and yet
I lie alone.

John H. Merivale

***

The sinking moon has left the sky,
The Pleiades have also gone.
Midnight comes–and goes, the hours fly
And solitary still, I lie.

Edwin Marion Cox

 

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Well, the moon has set
And the Pleiades. It is the middle
Of the night. And the hour passes by,
But I sleep alone …….

Terry Walsh

***

The moon has set,
and along with it the Pleiades; it is midnight,
so time has passed me by,
and I lie down to sleep alone.

Richard Vallance

***

The moon has set and the Pleiades; it is midnight, the night-watch goes by, and I sleep alone.

Constantine A. Trypanis

***

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

Diane Rayor

***

Tonight, I’ve watched the Pleiades and the moon
And now…I’m in bed alone;
The night is half-gone.

Jean Elizabeth Ward

***

The moon is set. And the Pleiades.
It’s the middle of the night.
Time [hôrâ] passes.
But I sleep alone.

Julia Dubnoff

 

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The moon has set and the Pleiades
Have gone.
It is midnight; the hours pass; and I
Sleep alone.

Edward Storer

***

The moon has set,
And the Pleiades.
Midnight.
The hour has gone by.
I sleep alone.

Stanley Lombardo

***

The moon has set,
And the Pleiades. It is
Midnight. Time passes.
I sleep alone.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

The Pleiades disappear,
the pale moon goes down.

After midnight, time blurs:
sleepless, I lie alone.

Sam Hamill

***

The moon has set, and the Pleiades.
It is the middle of the night,
Hour follows hour. I lie alone.

Guy Davenport

***

Now the moon is gone, the Pleiads
Gone, the dead of night is going;
Slips the hour, and on my bed

I lie alone.

Bliss Carman

***

The moon and Pleiades
are set. Midnight,
and time spins away.
I lie in bed, alone.

Willis Barnstone

**

Tonight I’ve watched

the moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone

Mary Barnard

 

image

 

The moon has set
and the stars have faded,
midnight has gone,
long hours pass by, pass by;
I sleep alone

Josephine Balmer

***

Doun gaes the muin herself, an aa
The Pleiades forbye.
Nicht is nearin her mirkist hoor
And yet alane I lie.

Tom Scott

***

Selanna (the moon) has dipped and the Pleiades too
Ahh midnight darkens
& I sleep alone….

Edward Sanders

***

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

Michael R. Burch

***

The moon has set, and the Pleiades; it is midnight, and time is passing; and I lie alone.

A. M. Miller

***

The Moon is down,
The Pleiades. Midnight,
The hours flow on,
I lie, alone.

A. S. Kline

***

The moon has set,
and the Pleiades as well;
in the deep middle of the night
the time is passing,
and I lie alone.

Susy Q. Groden

 

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The moon has gone
The Pleiades gone
In dead of night
Time passes on
I lie alone

Paul Roche

***

Dwynit is the mune awa
And the Pleiades, the nicht
Is at her mid, the hours flee, and I
-My lane I ligg.

Sydney Goodsir Smith

***

Moonset already,
the Pleiades, too: midnight,
the hour passes
and I lie down, a lonely woman.

Jim Powell

***

Moon and the Pleiades go down.
Midnight and tryst pass by.
I, though, lie
Alone.

Aaron Poochigian

***

Dropping out of sight go the moon
and Pleiades. Midnight slides
by me, then hour on hour.
I lie here awake and alone.

Frank Beck

***

Moon has set
and Pleiades: middle
night, the hour goes by,
alone I lie.

Anne Carson

***

the moon’s disappeared above me
the Pleiades, too, have vanished
midnight, and the hours pass by
and still do I sleep alone

Ted Gellar-Goad

***

The moon has set
and so the Pleiades; in the middle
of the night, the hours pass by
and I, alone, I lie.

Magda Kapa

***

CINQUAIN

Midnight.
The moon and the
Pleiades both vanished.
Time ticks by. Here is the sofa.
Here me.

George Szirtes

Ten Cinquains: Variations after Sappho by George Szirtes

***

 

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LINKS

A detailed analysis of the poem in its original Greek version.

A comic book version of the poem.

An astronomical view of the poem on the Clive Thomson blog.

 

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