Of the nine books of lyrics the ancient Greek poet Sappho is said to have composed, only one poem has survived complete. The rest are fragments. In this miraculous new translation, acclaimed poet and classicist Anne Carson presents all of Sappho’s fragments, in Greek and in English, as if on the ragged scraps of papyrus that preserve them, inviting a thrill of discovery and conjecture that can be described only as electric—or, to use Sappho’s words, as “thin fire . . . racing under skin.”
"Sappho's verse has been elevated to new heights in [this] gorgeous translation." --The New York Times
"Carson is in many ways [Sappho's] ideal translator....Her command of language is hones to a perfect edge and her approach to the text, respectful yet imaginative, results in verse that lets Sappho shine forth." --Los Angeles Times
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Read an Excerpt
if not, winter
]I bid you sing of Gongyla, Abanthis, taking up your lyre as (now again) longing floats around you.
you beauty. For her dress when you saw it stirred you. And I rejoice.
In fact she herself once blamed me
because I prayed this word:
Eros shook my mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees
I would not think to touch the sky with two arms
not one girl I think who looks on the light of the sun will ever have wisdom like this
someone will remember us
I say even in another time
with what eyes?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There is something about the partial, the fragmented artwork, that gets me every time. Walking around the National Gallery in London, it was often the sketches, the preperatory and halfway chalked-in pieces that grabbed me, with their bare suggestiveness and uneven illusion. The places where the smooth edge gives way to the rough, where the immaculately shaded line gives way to the hasty implication of form, draws my eye without fail. I love works of art that require the viewer's own mind or imagination to bring them to "completion," to fill out the shapes and fill in the blanks. So it's not surprising that what is possibly my favorite book of poetry is also fragmentary: Anne Carson's translations of Sappho, entitled If Not, Winter.I think my love for this book is due in equal measure to the stunningly beautiful translation of the parts of the poems that remain, and the spaces of silence where the papyrus has failed. In longer poems, those spaces function as beats of pure rhythm that our minds can fill with meaning or, if they choose, experience solely as pools of quiet. My favorite long poem is an awesome example of this:I simply want to be dead.Weeping she left mewith many tears and said this:Oh how badly things have turned out for us.Sappho, I swear, against my will I leave you.And I answered her:Rejoice, go andremember me. For you know how we cherished you.But if not, I wantto remind you. ]and beautiful times we had.For many crowns of violetsand roses ]at my side you put onand many woven garlandsmade of flowersaround your soft throat.And with sweet oilcostlyyou anointed yourselfand on a soft beddelicateyou would let loose your longingand neither any [ ] nor anyholy place norwas there from which we were absentno grove [ ] no dance ]no sound [To me, this poem would not be nearly so heart-wrenchingly beautiful if it weren't for the spaces of quiet that the poem travels into toward its end. It mirrors so wonderfully the process of comforting a weeping person, which at first is full of talking and crying, much movement of hands and words, and then gradually settles into a quieter, less verbal state. The repetition in the last, fragmentary stanza ("no grove / no dance / no sound"), with the spaces of quiet rhythm between the phrases, is like the touch of a soft hand stroking the back of a person whose weeping has trailed off into silence - or maybe a few brave hiccups. And its effectiveness gains even more from the implication that this isn't the end of the poem: that last bracket implies a continuation of the remembering, of the comforting, but it has been rendered without words by time. It seems to me that most acts of comforting share this quality: the slow meandering into quiet and physical, rather than verbal, communication, and the lack of a stark end-point. That last bracket, where the act of comforting continues, seems to me to mark an indefinite continuation, the analog of sitting quietly with someone for a space of time before one of you suggests taking a walk, or getting a cup of tea, or looks at your watch and says gently that you really should be going.The shorter fragments have their own special beauty. The fact that they are fragments somehow lends a freedom to them, or me as I read them, so that they can exist as gorgeous pin-points of language, without any expectation of a more "complete" message. Paradoxically, this sometimes allows an image or message to come across with a clarity that probably would have been impossible if I'd been reading a non-fragentary text.And I on a soft pillow will lay down my limbs.Or this one: ]of desire ] ]for when I look at you ]such a Hermione]and to yellowhaired Helen I liken you]]among mortal women, know this]from every care]you could release me ] ]dewy riverbanks ]to last all night long ] [Racy! I love the singular image, alone on a page:"gathering flowers so very delicate
Never has a book of poetry made me so sad. The beauty of the few fragments of Sappho's work that remain make the absense of all the rest seem that much greater a loss. I know I will open this book often and lose myself in all those empty spaces.
This is a beautiful translation, where even the little bits of a long lost voice turn into new and beautiful poems of their own right. I got a copy from the library as required reading for school and loved it so much I bought a copy. It also has relevant extra information on Sapphos life and people mentioned in the poems.