Sapphics

Original Text: 
Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1924): I, 204-07.
1All the night sleep came not upon my eyelids,
2Shed not dew, nor shook nor unclosed a feather,
3Yet with lips shut close and with eyes of iron
4  Stood and beheld me.
5Then to me so lying awake a vision
6Came without sleep over the seas and touched me,
7Softly touched mine eyelids and lips; and I too,
8  Full of the vision,
10Saw the hair unbound and the feet unsandalled
11Shine as fire of sunset on western waters;
12  Saw the reluctant
13Feet, the straining plumes of the doves that drew her,
14Looking always, looking with necks reverted,
17Heard the flying feet of the Loves behind her
18Make a sudden thunder upon the waters,
19As the thunder flung from the strong unclosing
20  Wings of a great wind.
21So the goddess fled from her place, with awful
22Sound of feet and thunder of wings around her;
23While behind a clamour of singing women
24  Severed the twilight.
25Ah the singing, ah the delight, the passion!
26All the Loves wept, listening; sick with anguish,
27Stood the crowned nine Muses about Apollo;
28  Fear was upon them,
29While the tenth sang wonderful things they knew not.
30Ah the tenth, the Lesbian! the nine were silent,
31None endured the sound of her song for weeping;
32  Laurel by laurel,
33Faded all their crowns; but about her forehead,
34Round her woven tresses and ashen temples
35White as dead snow, paler than grass in summer,
36  Ravaged with kisses,
37Shone a light of fire as a crown for ever.
38Yea, almost the implacable Aphrodite
39Paused, and almost wept; such a song was that song.
40  Yea, by her name too
41Called her, saying, "Turn to me, O my Sappho;"
42Yet she turned her face from the Loves, she saw not
43Tears for laughter darken immortal eyelids,
44  Heard not about her
45Fearful fitful wings of the doves departing,
46Saw not how the bosom of Aphrodite
47Shook with weeping, saw not her shaken raiment,
48  Saw not her hands wrung;
49Saw the Lesbians kissing across their smitten
50Lutes with lips more sweet than the sound of lute-strings,
51Mouth to mouth and hand upon hand, her chosen,
52  Fairer than all men;
53Only saw the beautiful lips and fingers,
54Full of songs and kisses and little whispers,
55Full of music; only beheld among them
56  Soar, as a bird soars
57Newly fledged, her visible song, a marvel,
58Made of perfect sound and exceeding passion,
59Sweetly shapen, terrible, full of thunders,
60  Clothed with the wind's wings.
61Then rejoiced she, laughing with love, and scattered
62Roses, awful roses of holy blossom;
63Then the Loves thronged sadly with hidden faces
64  Round Aphrodite,
65Then the Muses, stricken at heart, were silent;
66Yea, the gods waxed pale; such a song was that song.
67All reluctant, all with a fresh repulsion,
68  Fled from before her.
69All withdrew long since, and the land was barren,
70Full of fruitless women and music only.
71Now perchance, when winds are assuaged at sunset,
72  Lulled at the dewfall,
73By the grey sea-side, unassuaged, unheard of,
74Unbeloved, unseen in the ebb of twilight,
75Ghosts of outcast women return lamenting,
77Clothed about with flame and with tears, and singing
78Songs that move the heart of the shaken heaven,
79Songs that break the heart of the earth with pity,
80  Hearing, to hear them.

Notes

9] Aphrodite: Venus. Back to Line
15] Lesbos: Greek isle, the home of Sappho, classical poet of lesbian love. Back to Line
16] Mitylene: birthplace of Sappho, and principal town, of Lesbos. Back to Line
76] Lethe: river of forgetfulnes in classical Hades. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1866
Publication Notes: 
Poems and Ballads (London: J. C. Hotten, 1866): 235-38. end S956 P644 1866b Fisher Rare Book Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO (1999).
Rhyme: 
Form: