Hi readers, it's Fireblossom with my favorite poem #2. Actually, as I said last time, my very favorite poem is Emily Dickinson's "I Cannot Live With You", which has been my favorite since high school and has remained so. You can find it at my blog, any time; just click on the tab "my favorite poem."
Last time, I featured Tennyson. This time, I want to share with you a poem from antiquity which, nonetheless, echoes my favorite Dickinson in some ways. I will also include another poem, still from antiquity, but several centuries newer, which I feel is just a parroting of the earlier poem. You decide.
Now then, the poem I want to to share my love of, with you. It's by Sappho.
He is almost a god, a man beside you,
enthralled by your talk, by your laughter.
Watching makes my heart beat fast
because, seeing little, I imagine much.
You put a fire in my cheeks.
Speech won't come. My ears ring.
Blind to all others, I sweat and I stammer.
I am a trembling thing, like grass,
an inch from dying.
More than five centuries later, Catullus wrote the following. Or did he? It sounds an awfully lot like Sappho, to me.
He is like a god,
he is greater than a god
sitting beside you listening
to your laughter. You make me crazy.
Seeing you, my Lesbia, takes my breath away.
My tongue freezes. My body
is filled with flames,
bells ring, and night invades my eyes.
Leisure, Catullus, is your curse.
You exult in it, the very thing
that brought down noble houses and great cities.
I like Sappho's ending better. It is echoed in Emily's ending to "I Cannot Live With You" in her words about "that white sustenance, despair." I find it interesting that Sappho likened herself to something as humble and insubstantial as a trembling blade of grass, dying, while Catullus went on about great cities. I always prefer the personal and the particular to the great and global in my poetry, partly because the personal portrays the universal more clearly.
Someone said this about romantic love and creativity: love yes, longing yes, but the having is bad for the poetry. I hope you enjoyed Sappho's poem.
One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.