by James A. Tweedie

My interest in Sapphic verse arose from a discussion thread on an SCP post some months ago. I researched the subject and decided to try my hand at it. Recently, I submitted my poem to SCP and had it returned along with a suggestion that I append a short note of explanation before resubmitting it. So, here it is and here we go!

The term “Sapphic Verse” is derived from the name of the Greek poet, Sappho of Lesbos (630 BC-570 BC). Little of her poetry has survived but her metrical forms were admired, adopted, and adapted by other Greek poets who came after her. The form was revived by the Roman poet Catullus and then “mainstreamed” into Latin verse by Horace, who wrote 25 of his 103 odes in Sapphic meter.

Sapphic verse resurfaced once again in 17th and 18th century England when mastery of the classical languages of Greek and Latin was required for students attending universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. The mandatory study of the poetry of Horace and the requirement to compose poetry in both ancient languages exposed students to this previously-neglected form. When Coleridge, for example, won the Cambridge “Greek Ode” prize, he won it with a poem written in Sapphic meter.

Sapphic is notoriously challenging to write in English, so of course, many poets took it upon themselves to make the attempt. Poets such as Swineburne, Tennyson, Watts, Hardy, and Kipling wrote (or attempted to write) Sapphic verse in English, as have many others, both before and since.

An article concerning Tennyson’s interest in Greek poetic form points out how common Sapphic verse had become back in his day:

“The grandest of all measures,” Tennyson called the classical alcaic meter; but could it be brought over grandly into English? Other Greek and Latin lyric meters had been Englished with some success. The sapphic, for instance: dozens of English sapphics from the sixteenth century onward attest to its virtual naturalization into the English tradition. (emphasis mine) (Project Muse)

Here, for example, is an excerpt from a poem by Swineburne entitled, appropriately enough, “Sapphics”:

So the goddess fled from her place, with awful
Sound of feet and thunder of wings around her;
While behind a clamour of singing women
Severed the twilight.

And one from Isaac Watts, entitled, “The Day of Judgment—An Ode Attempted in English Sapphic”:

Such shall the noise be and the wild disorder,
(If things eternal may be like these earthly)
Such the dire terror, when the great Archangel
Shakes the creation,

Tears the strong pillars of the vault of heaven,
Breaks up old marble, the repose of princes;
See the graves open, and the bones arising,
Flames all around ’em!

If you are like most people, the rhythmic structure of the poetry will probably cause you no end of confusion. If you are a poet well-versed in the language and idiom of poetic forms then the following two-paragraph description taken from poets.org may be helpful.

The original sapphic form was determined by quantitative meter, based on the nature of the ancient Greek language in which syllables were either long or short, depending on vowel length and ending sound. However, modern sapphics are rendered in accentual meter determined instead by the stress and intensity of a syllable. The accentual meter of the sapphic approximates the original form by equating long syllables with stressed ones, and short syllables with unstressed ones.

The main building blocks of the sapphic are trochees and dactyls. The trochee is a metrical foot with one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, while the dactyl contains a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. The first three lines of the sapphic contain two trochees, a dactyl, and then two more trochees. The shorter fourth, and final, line of the stanza is called an “Adonic” and is composed of one dactyl followed by a trochee. However, there is some flexibility with the form as when two stressed syllables replace both the second and last foot of each line.

If you are like me, however, this explanation will make as much sense as reading Sappho in the original Greek. So, here’s my version of Sapphics for Dummies:

The most common and accepted form of Sapphic verse in English consists of a variable number of strophes consisting of four lines each. The first three lines of each strophe are written in an identical and unvarying pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The fourth line is shorter and follows a pattern unique to itself. The pattern is as follows (with strong syllables represented by “D” and unstressed syllables represented by “d” with (a) being a syllable that can be either stressed or unstressed (but best done consistently):

D d D (a) D d d D d D D
D d D (a) D d d D d D D
D d D (a) D d d D d D D
D d d D d

Now let’s take a second look at the poem by Swineburne as I highlight the stressed syllables in bold.

So the god-dess fled from her place, with aw-ful
Sound of feet and thun-der of wings a round her;
While be hind a clam-our of sing-ing wom-en
Sev-ered the twi-light.

Note how this poem flows best when the fifth syllable in each of the first three lines is held for an extra beat before continuing and, in the final line, adding a similar extra beat to the first syllable.

Note also that this formula does not work with the Watts poem because Watts has taken that optional vowel in the middle of each line and made it a stressed syllable rather than an unstressed one as we found in Swineburne’s poem. With Watts, a smooth metrical effect is best achieved by adding the extra beat to the first syllable of all four lines.

Here, then, is my own attempt at Sapphic verse. The Christmas theme came about when I was pounding out the Sapphic rhythm in my head and the Latin phrase, Et in ter-ra pax bon-ae vo-lun-ta-tis popped into my head as a serendipitous identical match with the irregular beat of Sapphic. The rest unfolded from there.

 

 

Tidings of Great Joy

A Poem in Sapphic Meter

By James A. Tweedie

Shepherds keeping watch o’er their flocks at midnight
With the town of Bethlehem in the distance
Suddenly an angel appeared, proclaiming
Tidings of great joy:

“Unto you is born in the town of David
Jesus Christ the Lord in a humble stable.
Leave your sheep and seek him, you must not tarry.
He is the Savior.”

Hear them singing: “Gloria in excelsis
Deo.” Shepherds quake at the sight in wonder.
Et in terra pax, bonae voluntatis.
Come, let us find him!

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a manger sleeping,
Lay the baby who they had come to worship.
God in human flesh, with us now abiding.
Born of a virgin.

With the shepherds, come, let us seek and find him,
Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, our Savior,
May we be his faithful and true disciples,
Loving as he loved.

Prince of Peace, Immanuel, Son of Mary;
Lamb of God, who died on the cross to save us;
Lead us, risen Lord, by your grace and mercy,
Into your kingdom.

 

Note that my choice of syllabic emphasis follows that of Swineburne rather than Watts. Other poets, including some of those noted above, have opted to vary the form in other ways to suit their particular needs.

Note also how the meaning of one line is allowed to wrap around into the following line, and, of course, do not fail to notice that Sapphic verse is invariably blank verse. If you would like to try it as both rhythmic and rhyming, then good luck to you!

Although I wrote my poem for my own pleasure and for the sheer challenge it presented, I also wrote it in the hopes that its publication would further the SCPs mission of advancing classical poetry and by inspiring others to revive a wider variety of classical poetic forms beyond that of the sonnet.

In closing I want to add the following two Sapphic satires for your amusement and bemusement. They have been taken from the Wikipedia article on Sapphic Verse.

Australian Classicist and poet John Lee wrote a Sapphic stanza about the impossibility of writing Sapphic stanzas in English:

Making Sapphics isn’t that easy, shackling
Our reluctant language with trochees. Since you
First begot them, songstress of Lesbos, keep them.
I’ll never write them.

(the poem exists also in a Latin version).

The Australian poet John Tranter has also written a poem (“Writing in the Manner of Sappho”) in two Sapphic stanzas about the difficulty of writing Sapphics in English:

Writing Sapphics well is a tricky business.
Lines begin and end with a pair of trochees;
in between them dozes a dactyl, rhythm
rising and falling,

like a drunk asleep at a party. Ancient
Greek — the language seemed to be made for Sapphics,
not a worry; anyone used to English
finds it a bastard.

The fact that Sapphic verse is so widely reputed to be difficult is exactly why I took up the challenge.

I know that some of you have already done the same.

But what about the rest of you?

Do you dare?

 

Post your Sapphic verse in the comments section below.

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29 Responses

  1. J. Simon Harris

    I really enjoyed reading this essay on Sapphics. I haven’t written any myself, but I have considered it. Your Sapphic poem was very well done. The meter is flawless and the subject divine. Thanks for all of this!

    Reply
  2. Charles Southerland

    Your scansion of the Swinburne stanza is incorrect. The last syllable of the hendecasyllabic lines can either be long or short but are usually short or unstressed. The Adonic line usually ends with a short syllable. The anceps are important throughout the stanzas which leaves room for the lines to breathe.

    In the Swinburne stanza, all of the anceps are unstressed instead of stressed.

    It is a mischaracterization for sapphic stanzas to be adapted to stress-based form for English language’s sake. I have made this mistake many times. I am now trying to learn sapphics as long sound-short sound based lines which is much preferred but way more difficult to accomplish. True sapphics forces one to rethink English and the poet’s approach to writing them. It is a daunting task. I can’t think of anyone who is attempting to achieve this. If someone knows someone, I would like to know who.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Charles, You are correct that Greek sapphic verse is based on “long-short” sounds rather than stress-based. I would argue, however, that it is not a mis-characterization to say that the overwhelming approach to this form in English is stress-based–although the difference is a subtle one, indeed–and our English language does not lend itself to the same nuance as Greek, which is why Western poets have substituted, or “accommodated” the form in various ways. (The excerpt from “Project Muse” embedded in my article makes this clear–so I assume you do not agree with their assessment, either).

      As to the Swineburne ancep, I confess that I mistakenly bolded the final syllable in the cited example which, as you point out, ought to have been marked as unstressed. Oddly enough I also agree with you that the final syllable of each line (at least in the few examples of reputable English sapphics that I could find–20 perhaps) are, or ought to be, unstressed. I found, however, in reading articles by authors I assumed were more knowledgeable than myself, that the final syllable was nearly always presented as being stressed. In writing the article, I reluctantly submitted to that consensus but am in no way bound by it–as can be seen in the unstressed (although intentionally “androgynous”) final syllables of my own poem.

      I commend you for your attempt to (re)create “long-short” sapphic poetry in English. I hope you will submit one along with a note of explanation to the SCP when you are ready to share it.

      By the way, this is, exactly the sort of conversation I hoped to generate. Perhaps there are others who can add additional insight. For me, this is the SCP at its best!

      Reply
  3. Aedile Cwerbus

    1. Mr. Tweedie is correct to suggest Coleridge, Swinburne, Tennyson, Hardy, and Kipling attempted to write sapphics; but Tennyson was wrong to think sapphics have been naturalized into the English tradition.

    2. Look at the example Mr. Tweedie proffers from Swinburne.

    Só the góddess fléd from her pláce, with áwful
    Soúnd of feét and thúnder of wíngs aroúnd her;
    Whíle behínd a clámour of sínging wómen
    Sévered the twílight.

    3. I don’t like Swinburne’s stanza for many reasons; and Mr. Southerland suggests the main one; accents do not indicate length of the vowel sound. Notice the short vowel sounds of clamour, women, and severed. How can I take Swinburne’s metric seriously, when there is no differentiation of vowel length, and those short sounds are considered long by him.

    4. Now take Mr. Tweedie’s first stanza.

    Shepherds keeping watch o’er their flocks at midnight
    With the town of Bethlehem in the distance
    Suddenly an angel appeared, proclaiming
    Tidings of great joy.

    5. First off the accents are all over the place; and that’s okay. But again there is no differentiation of long and short vowel sounds, nor any affect due to location. Am I supposed to take the first word as long-short or short-long? I am sure Mr. Tweedie takes it as the first, whereas in classical poetry it would be the latter; and in fact it is the only short vowel sound in the line; it is followed by ten long syllables. Swinburne’s lines too have similar problems, if not so flagrant.

    6. Though I have many misgivings about the content of Tennyson’s, and especially Swinburne’s, verses, the Victorians did strive for a fluidity not seen before or since. But just as the Neoclassicists lost themselves in the regularity of heroic couplets, so too did the Victorians lose themselves in the cult of feeling and the fluidity of sound, from which the Modernists recoiled.

    7. I am glad Mr. Tweedie has put forth two Australian poets, one of whom I had placed in my earlier comments on sapphics, as a reminder that the striving after classical excellence is far-flung. By the way, I noticed at the time no one responded to my remarks on sapphics, so I am happy Mr. Tweedie and Mr. Southerland have again opened up the conversation. Let’s see how far we go this time.

    8. I do believe Mr. Southerland is trying harder than anyone in the New Millennium to write sapphics. I recommend he scan the Internet for work being done in sapphics on classical sites, even at free verse venues. Get out there and know your competition.

    9. In counting vowel lengths, I wonder how Mr. Southerland would count the following: bee, bit, bay, bet, bat, but, baa, buy, boat, book, boo, bout, and boy. And how will he account for our consonant rich language, which differs in important ways from Greek and Latin, not to mention Italian, French, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.?

    10. In light of this discussion, here is a poem by Robert Bridges, “To Catullus”, published in the last decade of his long life, in the 1920s. The poem is an apostrophe to the acerbic Roman poet of the Republic, Gaius Valerius Catullus.

    Would that you were alive today, Catullus!
    Truth ’tis. there is a filthy skunk among us,
    A rank mush-idiot, the filthiest skunk,
    Of no least sorry use in earth, but only
    Fit in fancy to justify the outlay
    Of your most horrible vocabulary.
    My Muse, all innocent as Eve in Eden,
    Would yet wear any skins of old pollution
    Rather than celebrate the name detested.
    Ev’n now might he rejoice at our attention,
    Guess’d he this little ode were aiming at him.
    O! were you but alive again, Catullus!
    For see, not one among the bards of our time
    With their flimsy tackle was out to strike him;
    Not those two pretty Laureates of England,
    Not Alfred Tennyson nor Alfred Austin.

    Reply
    • Charles Southerland

      Bruce–

      Only the example of “boy” would be counted as a long(ish) sound in your list. I am working on a dictionary of words that are sound specific to sapphics. It will take some time.

      Bridges poem is not truly sapphic but loose alcaic Roman verse. The Roman poets have the same problem with sapphics, generally speaking, that English poets do. They couldn’t figure out how to make the long vowel sounds work for them. It is the most common problem with writing sapphic stanzas. To date, I have written one four stanza “true” sapphic. I have been successful with publishers regarding accent-or stressed-based sapphics. I am hopeful that one of the two journals where I have submitted the true sapphic poem will publish it. Donald Hall’s essay/interview before he died was the final key to my rethinking how to write a proper sapphic stanza. A. E. Stallings is working some with the form but she is a little hesitant with them as well. It’s hard to be bold when you have to re-learn English to accommodate sapphics. It is long-vowel rich and consonant poor, in a nutshell. I hesitate to post my published sapphic poems only because I don’t wish to mislead someone into thinking that the poems are form correct. I am proud of them though. Thanks for the compliment.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Charles, I also add my compliments to you in regards to your efforts on behalf of, and in pursuit of, a true English sapphic. Such a thing is far beyond my grasp. Even so, although breaking the sound barrier and the four-minute mile were considered impossible, but once broken those who followed made such feats both routine and ordinary. Perhaps your efforts will accomplish something similar in the (albeit more esoteric) field of sapphic poetry!

    • James A. Tweedie

      Bruce,

      1. I feel no need to offer a defense for my attempt at Sapphics.

      2. Every English-language poet who has attempted to write in this form has done so in a way that substituted stressed and unstressed syllables in place of the Greek standard of short and long ones. To criticize them for writing in this manner is most curious.

      3. I would appreciate an example of someone who (while writing in English) has been able to pull this “long-short” style off in a way credible enough to be immune from being nit-picked to death.

      4. My citation re Tennyson only mentions his admiration for alcaic meter. The reference to Sapphic meter is the opinion of the author of the article, not Tennyson.

      5. Bruce! You of all people! The self-proclaimed Master of Fluidity! Suddenly concerned about Victorian sentimentality and their predecessors’ over-emphasis on heroic couplets! Not to mention your interest in seeking a shibboleth/sibboleth distinction regarding the subtle nuance of whether the words in your list represent long or short vowel lengths! What assemblage of poetic Divines could ever agree on an answer to such a question?

      6. Even so, your not-too-long-ago comment on Sapphic meter (in response to my article on Samuel Cowper–who, as you pointed out–also attempted a sapphic poem) was the bait that drew me into the subject in the first place. I do thank you for that! Along with a second thanks for keeping the present conversation moving forward!

      7. Curiously, even Allen Ginsberg claimed to have written a sapphic poem, although his crude verse bears little resemblance to anything we are discussing here. Talk about fluidity!

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      If we English speakers define Sapphics as trochees & dactyls, then we have no choice but to deal with stresses in the ordinary way. As we all learned in grade school, a long vowel in English is one that says its own name, and this does not seem to be at all the situation in Greek. From botanical Latin I have learned that botanical names are accented on the penultimate syllable unless the antepenultimate syllable is long. If the latter is a diphthong (e.g. Eucomis) then the situation is clear: EU-co-mis. Otherwise (e.g. Clematis) you just have to know how to pronounce it: CLE-ma-tis. Anyway, here are some un-Hellenized Sapphic stanzas I’ve had around for years now:

      Phase Transitions

      Lofty vapors drifting below the heavens
      will condense, becoming a cloud of micro-
      scopic water droplets that coalesce, then
      fall on a desert.

      Love divine is largely perceived as physics
      through corrupted lenses of human vision,
      making it unlikely that anyone will
      notice its presence.

      Ordinary people believe in that which
      gives them comfort; saints, on the other hand, are
      pledged to suffer mortification when be-
      lief shall demand it.

      Solid rock will thaw if conditions merit
      rivers overflowing with chthonic lava;
      changeless laws inscribed on a slab of stone have
      never existed.

      Neither saints nor miscreants, cautious mortals
      wait until the dust has completely settled
      prior to selecting their perfect soul-mates
      frozen in vitro.

      Reply
      • Charles Southerland

        C.B.–

        Certainly, one of the main keys that unlock the sapphic line are/is diphthongs. Your sapphic is pretty fair, better than most I read in lit.

  4. Aedile Cwerbus

    1. Mr. Southerland is going through an experiment—similar, but not the same as—the one I attempted in vain—some time ago. Still, even failures can give us valuable insights into this ever shifting language that we use.

    2. Even in ancient Greek literature there were fluctuating quantities in the various dialects, Aeolic, Doric, and Ionic, from Attic to Koine. What chance do we have in English? For short vowels, I tried to use those at the front of the mouth, beat (clipped—not bee—lengthened), bit, bet, bat, and possibly, but—the schwa—in the central part of the mouth, midrange).

    3. Another item that makes English untenable to such rules is that we, in general, spell words historically as opposed to phonetically. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, that was why I spent several years only writing phonetically. [And, although I am a right-hander, when I was in England, I only wrote with my left hand.] These things matter.

    4. No, Bridges poem is not written in sapphics, nor did I say it was; it’s in hendecasyllabics. I appended that poem for various reasons, one slightly mischievous.

    5. Mr. Tweedie is right: he need not offer a defense for his sapphics, as I indeed would not offer one for Swinburne’s. The battle for poetic power is hard, as even Vergil knew. Vigour is wanted in all of our poetry and our prose (including that of our groupie historian Mr. Burch).

    6. I have included on this site poems in what Mr. Tweedie calls this “long-short” style, but nobody noticed. I would rather have preferred them being “nit-picked to death”; but I gave up long ago expecting such literary criticism @ SCP. At least, writers, like Mr. Stone and Mr. Salemi, have picked up the pace since the earlier quiet days @ SCP.

    7. I am thankful for Mr. Tweedie’s clarification about my misinterpretation of what was not Tennyson’s opinion. I do hope he can understand how a writer can admire aspects of a poet’s work, and at the same time immensely despise parts of it. I can think of no writer (including myself) whose work, if I admire it, I don’t also dislike aspects of it—even enormously.

    8. By the way, the prose in Mr. Tweedie’s #5 is good; but as I am not TransJordanian, I dot my ש on the right. Despite my overall antagonism to Cowper, which I mentioned to Mr. Tweedie earlier, what makes his few sapphics admirable, is the genuine humility from which he approached them.

    9. Unlike Mr. Anderson, I have never thought of sapphics as trochees and dactyls; and I don’t like the sapphics I have written either. However, that does not mean I disregard Sappho’s poetry.

    10. Here is a tennos published elsewhere a couple of years ago by acquaintance Esiad L. Werecub:

    Astronomers Date Sappho Poem

    Astronomers and physicists have used advanced software
    to date the lyric poet Sappho’s undisturbed despair,
    back in 570 BC on Lesbos rocky isle,
    her sad and haunting, lonely lines: I wonder, would she smile?
    The moon had set back then, as had the starry Pleiades;
    they left her in the darkness, on her couch and ill at ease.
    At midnight, time was passing by, and she lay all alone;
    nobody there to sense or hear her uncomplaining moan.
    Did these researchers, furthermore, detect, the residue
    of quiet resignation in the metred lines construed?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      This poem is a monument to everything that is wrong with the New Formalism.

      Reply
  5. Charles Southerland

    I’ve never published this poem. I wrote it five years ago when I was just trying to understand the form and make certain the count was right.

    The Eunuch
    (a sapphic)

    When I heard your mother departed, left this
    life, left you alone with a father you scant
    knew, I wept for you, for your loss, your heartache.
    You were so young then.

    She was joyful, fabulous with her humor,
    always, always ready with cackling laughter
    even when your father was sailing coastlines,
    mapping for Solon.

    She would send for me at the oddest instance,
    night or day, and graciously I would visit.
    We would write of gatherings, orchards, fig trees,
    flowers and islands.

    Playing games with you on mosaic tables
    scattered near the fountains of Aphrodite
    pleased her so—the abacus always favored.
    You were a bright child.

    There was no denying it; understanding
    was your gift, gods happily shedding cold light,
    saturating liberally your mind’s eye.
    Who could have known it?

    You were never babyish but reflective,
    even when your mother and I debated
    over which stringed instrument you would take to.
    Memories mock me…

    Lyre! she stomped deliberately, the lyre, sir.
    It was such a delicate thing and complex
    too. And all the cruelties lie within it.
    Lying there hidden.

    Its forbidden devious beauty quiet,
    stirred by fingers tenderly roused, provoked by
    my instruction, thespian that I was, tasked.
    Vanity took me.

    Your dynamic fingers obeyed me fully,
    striking strings with vividly poised aplomb, your
    yellow locks so wantonly watching, flowing.
    Willowy limbs took.

    They took hold like zinnias blooming, dancing
    smartly like viscaria after cloudbursts.
    Blue eyes like Ionian waters sparkled,
    prisoners held fast.

    Here, you grew, your musical murmurs nymph-led,
    mated with your lyre in the form of mystic
    sorcery confounding my sense of being.
    Oracles haunt me.

    When your mother died in the winter, opened
    you to darkness, nausea rose like bone chills
    clawing hard at militant places tearing.
    Myrmidon Fates came.

    When they came, they mercilessly denied you
    solace, forcing mutiny to your surface—
    lava from Vesuvius flowed within you
    charring your soulspar.

    You survived somehow in the thrashing harvest,
    gleaned your childhood agonies, shocked and gathered
    all of that and never betrayed your self once.
    Quiddity drowned there.

    When your aunt came, whisked you to Athens, took you
    from us, I was governing your estate on
    Lesbos, thought I never again would see you.
    Zeus intervened, though.

    You returned, a woman exemplifying
    grace and beauty, relishing home and comforts.
    All who met you reveled in joy regaling.
    Poignantly, weeping.

    You preferred the love of the girls to cloying
    boys’ advances— principled, prescient lovers,
    fiercely loyal, purposeful, skilled in your arts.
    Readily willful.

    Many men came courting for your affections,
    undeterred by sentiments you displayed to
    them of fairer maidens collaborating.
    Steady, exploiting.

    You rebuffed them stoically, all but one though.
    Maybe you were left with the empty womb pain.
    I suspected tentacles there attached, pulled…
    Comedy’s drama stuck.

    Cleis came so named, and the whole of Lesbos
    cheered her birthing, celebrants all endowing
    her with gifts and treasures a child should dream of.
    Burgeoning young sprout.

    Long forgotten, loosely bound golden curls swayed—
    babbling, lively chattering, long erased wisps…
    Still, the axis Cronus devised kept turning.
    Turning and turning.

    Marriage made you flammable, focused, jocose—
    writing, singing, teaching the girls the same arts,
    all the time encouraging his adventures,
    pushing him wayward.

    She reminded me of a younger you, your
    mother, chasing breathlessly after shadows.
    Aging, I could amble along and trick her.
    Afterwards, we’d faint.

    Little Cleis grew and her voice raised pillars.
    Duos, you both went singing the Sirens lyrics,
    tunes entrancing denizens, sating Pleiades.
    Sensuous poems flew.

    Both of you have sailed on the seas to foreign
    lands, performed as dyads and cronies, slain worlds,
    seen the gods and goddesses, Mount Olympus.
    Drunk from their vineyards.

    You came home in time for the autumn harvest.
    I had taken offerings to the temple.
    She was with the girls at the school consorting.
    Pallid, the horse neighed.

    O my Sappho, where have you gone? The Boatman’s
    come, your last love, pots for you filled with olive
    oil–for Charon, Hades, the journey ginning—
    filling the Styx full.

    Love of mine, I’ll finish the care of Cleis.
    These old bones will faithfully guide her calling,
    wipe her tears and sing in the morning’s reason,
    gather your ashes.

    Reply
  6. Aedile Cwerbus

    I have to get to some writing; I’m a little bit behind. But I would still like to mention my first reactions to “The Eunuch” before that experience dissipates. [Reasoned thought may or may not be forthcoming. Sorry for the cursory thoughts.]

    1. I don’t like the title; it requires too much thought that isn’t worth the effort.

    2. Again, as I think I have mentioned before, Mr. Southerland writes the best sapphics I have read in the New Millennium. The ease of his lines is remarkable, if not entirely smooth. I am definitely reminded of Swinburne.

    3. I really like the poem, despite its various flaws. It has an enormous power missing from my tennos on Sappho. As I am so grounded in reality, however, I dislike its imaginative flights, which I am sure a lot of people find appealing and actually come to poetry for. It’s not that I mind imaginative literature; it’s just that it is a negative capability for me; and I require an allegorical, symbolic, or metaphorical power, if I have to put up with such. That is not here.

    4. The concrete imagery that Mr. Anderson is so fond of is here. Both Mr. Southerland and Mr. Anderson remind me of Formalists, like William Baer, Timothy Steele, et. al. It’s a kind of writing that is exciting, but that I am battling, if rather unsuccessfully, through Wallace Stevens and Phillip Larkin.

    5. As one goes through life, as a poet, there are so many dragons one has to face.

    6. Mr. Southerland’s poem is a breath of fresh air; he worked hard to get it there (maybe not on the poem, but on the process); and this is what I have noticed in his poetry generally.

    7. I still have to have a reason to go to Mr. Southerland’s sapphic style, but I could find one. We’ll see what the future brings.

    8. I’m sure other people will not respond to his poetry as I do; and I dislike his poetry for lots of reasons; but I can’t help but feel his work is amongst the very best being written at this time, and shows new possibilities for English. We are lucky he is hanging around the SCP.

    Reply
  7. James A. Tweedie

    It takes a brave and bold man or woman to bare their sapphic soul on this site! I am glad to be in the company of poets who, like Icarus, seek to rise to new heights on wings of inspiration. Like eagles, they soar, even as the critics’ heat melts the wax that lifted them into worlds beyond our ken. And if, in the end, their wings should fail and they be cast into the sea, yet they shall be remembered as those who dared to “slip the surly the bonds of earth;” and the tips of their wings touched the sun.

    Reply
  8. David Watt

    James, I admire the work you have put into your essay. The examples of sapphic verse provided are excellent. Responses by Messrs. Southerland and Cwerbus added further value to an already noteworthy piece.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Let us not get carried away with ourselves. Yes, we’ve penned a few good pieces, but that does not make us masters of the genre.

      Reply
  9. C.B. Anderson

    This poem is a monument to everything that is wrong with the New Formalism.

    Reply
    • Charles Southerland

      Dear C.B.-

      I did not mean or intend to give you or anyone else the impression that I was or am a master of any form. If I did that, I humbly apologize.

      In fact, I am a neophyte in nearly all aspects of writing.

      In particular, I have more than a passing interest in quantitative verse and seek to become proficient at writing in that genre. On the SCP, I can think of a couple of very educated folks who have forgotten more about the Classical forms than I will ever learn. So again, If I have mislead you, please accept my apology.

      Since I am striving to learn how to write ancient Sapphic stanzas in modern English, I don’t regard my work as New Formalism, so your assertion that my work, if that is your assertion, is most probably awry. You have many more publications under your belt than I, and I am in awe of your abilities. As I said, I’m a beginner.

      I gladly plead guilty to being in the “New Formalist” mode or camp. I’m in pretty good company, I think. I love qualitative verse and I would like to think that I can hold my own in a few of the recognized forms. Certainly some of the editors of some very good journals think so. We live in the reality of a post-modern world. I can’t help that. I have many peers to read, admire and critique.

      Perhaps there is a lot wrong with the New Formalism schtick. OK. However, there are few, if any venues left for anything resembling serious study of pre-Victorian or Elizabethan poetics, and ever fewer places worthy to publish such work if one chooses or prefers that route. Pity.

      My poem, “The Eunuch” was a fairly early attempt to write quantitative verse- namely Sapphic Stanzas. It has been rejected by the few journals I eagerly submitted it to. I doubt it will ever be published. But I do have a few Sapphic poems published and am trying to get it right-and I will.

      My only request to you is that you not lay the Sapphics that I write off to what is either what is right or wrong with New Formalism. It and they are not that. I have not crossed some poetics line here. But I surely seek to. I am not a Master of anything but I serve and delight in the one Perfect Master.

      Thanks for all your input.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Upon re-reading my comment, I discovered that I had no idea what it was in reference to. Sometimes the order of the comments here become a bit tangled. In any event, I have always admired your work, especially what I have read in TRINACRIA & TPR.

  10. Aedile Cwerbus

    1. Here is S1 of Ezra Pound’s “Apparuit”:

    “Golden rose the house, in the portal I saw
    thee, a marvel carven in subtle stuff, a
    portent. Life died down in the lamp and flickered,
    caught at the wonder.”

    Pound’s language does not fit the form.

    2. Horace’s sapphics fit the form. Here is one of his shorter odes, Book I, Ode XXX, as an example:

    O Venus regina Cnidi Paphique,
    sperne delectam Cypron et vocantis
    ture te multo Glycerae decoram
    tranfer in aedem.

    Fervidus tecum puer et solutis
    Gratiae zonis properentque Nymphae
    et parum comis sine te Iuventas
    Mercuriusque.

    Notice how Mercury fills the adonic, as he trails the other gods in Horace’s sapphics, following in the style of the Hellenistic epigrammatists. I have learned so much from Horace, not least of which is word placement.

    3. At least Mr. Tweedie does not hyphenate words in his sapphics.

    4. S1 (and that first sentence) lacks a verb.

    5. If it is poetically uncomfortable, the division in S4 at least places “Deo” in a good position.

    6. In S5 (L2) “come” takes an accent, does it not?

    7. S6 (L1): I can’t help but accent the last syllable of “Immanuel”.

    8. What I like about Mr. Southerland’s sapphics is their movement, as opposed to the static quality of, say, Mr. Anderson’s.

    9. One of the excellences of the Neoclassicists is their appreciation of Horace.

    10. Like Mr. Harris, I am grateful for Mr. Tweedie’s essay and sapphics; and, as Mr. Tweedie points out: Who knows where his attempt might not go?

    Reply
  11. Aedile Cwerbus

    Apologies to all, especially Messrs. Tweedie and Southerland; but I thought I’d attempt a quick sketch in the mode of Mr. Southerland. It would take a great deal of practice to reach a polished plateau; but it is an oddly freeing form.

    Antipodal Ponderings
    by Aedile Cwerbus

    Jupiter has sent not a thing to us here.
    Yesternight the lightning appeared with thunder
    and the rain came down with a pounding—
    giant jolts flashing.

    Yet it wasn’t Jupiter hurling bolts out.
    It was just a weather event reminding us
    of the movie “Back to the Future” playing,
    unterrifying.

    Grackles on the tops of the oak trees were gone.
    We had left the clock tower in the town square
    and the lighting of the trees for Christmas,
    heading for our home.

    Years ago we’d seen it—the Tiber River—
    rushing, crashing waves smack against its stone sides,
    It was not the Temple of Vesta…we saw…
    Hercules Victor.

    Boasting wasn’t happening, time avenging,
    human beings ever complaining, endless.
    In its banks the watery wealth kept flowing,
    Jove not in Roma.

    Here we drive magnificent, six-laned, paved roads,
    and the narrow, bumpier side-roads as well,
    thinking not of Persian malfeasance that much,
    though it is evil.

    Which gods can the people invoke to save this—
    the United States of America now?
    Vestal Virgins praying are not around here.
    Importune Fortune?

    The unhearing Goddesses have vacated
    th’ ever-rising premises of the city.
    No Apollo comes in a cloud, prophetic.
    Crime’s not arrested.

    Darkness covers Texas this very moment.
    Venus can’t be seen in the night sky right now,
    only some news stories of InSight landing
    earlier on Mars.

    Daily missives tell us of battlefield deaths,
    camo helmets falling from soldiers each month,
    facing Asian enemies, fierce and bloody—
    enemies here too.

    Maia, your son’s taken a human body,
    and he is inhabiting our home once more.
    If he were transformed, he’d be like a youthful
    Caesar avenger.

    May he stay, mercurial though he may be,
    in the Metroplex with his hopeful people,
    as long as is possible, never leaving
    angry or upset.

    Let no storm-blast bear him away triumphant.
    Here he can be father and prince in this place,
    fighting off all menacing raiders, though no
    Caesar Augustus.

    Reply
    • Charles Southerland

      Good try, Bruce, but, {ahem}, you can’t have Jupiter both ways. It reads/scans as a double dactyl in the first line, and rightly as a dactyl in S2L1. If you start the meter wrong, you can never catch up. IMHO. There are numerous other issues with the poem. Too many shorts, not enough longs. Good God, Man, it’s Winter. ;{)

      Reply
  12. Aedile Cwerbus

    1. A central problem with “Antipodal Ponderings” is the long-short dilemma, as in Swinburne, etc. But Mr. Southerland’s example has helped me past that.

    2. Another problem is spontaneity in writing and typing. I noticed I left out a word in the typing of L3.

    3. Poetry 101: Word placement can alter accent. That being said, at times I am downright Poundian.

    4. I had to use Jupiter at the beginning (cf. Horace, Book I, ode ii.), as the classical writer is used throughout the poem, as an important key to its meaning.

    5. I am surprised to learn I am less personal than Horace, though who in the New Millennium could have alerted me earlier?

    6. Mr. Southerland is right” The try was “good”—and fun, I would add.

    7. From this vista, the possibilities seem endless—even if, in reality, they may not be.

    8. Of course, in life there is always the question of time and purpose, epic v. lyric, etc.

    Reply
  13. Wic E. Ruse Blade

    We have attracted Mr. B— about this Garden Tea.
    Perhaps he’ll find some honey, buzzing round about with glee.
    Gee whiz, he is, a busy body with his little sting.
    Perhaps he’ll keep us ever watchful with his bid-dle-ing.
    Collecting nectar for his ever-growing essay’s length,
    perhaps he’ll make it longer, ever-stronger in its strength.
    But look who’s fluttering about the flowering pear tree.
    It’s Mr. Mockingbird. He seeking insects for a treat.
    His SCoPe is wide; he flies so high; he sweeps across the sky.
    Perhaps he’ll find a fuzzy buglet when he’s flapping by.

    Reply

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