Definition

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.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Favorite Poem (2)

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. 
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20 comments:

L. Edgar Otto said...

Beautiful as each generation's sequel and enhancememt of unchanging legend goes. Even Zeus we cannot live without we think is subject to the fate of passion. Caught between an idol atop fountain in Zurich or entangled with indifference as a swan.

Susan said...

Yes. I enjoyed your entire presentation. Sappho changed the old "Aphrodite struck me" into "I feel"--discovering inner life from a women's perspective. I see Cato was fixing that, a step in the conquer and dis-empower process I hadn't noticed before.

Margaret said...

"seeing little, I imagine much" (that's what we don't have with TV & movies anymore - and why, perhaps, I think the old classics will always be my favorite.

There are times when I think I'm too happy to write really good poetry (the "having" is bad for poetry" quote - but I must admit, I get tired of the subject of "love lost" sometimes. I want to tell them "get on with life :) (not very poetic.

I really adore Sappho - can't say the same for Catullus. I don't really like his much at all.

The minuscule observations in poetry are what thrill me - "I am a trembling thing, like grass, an inch from dying." is thrilling poetry for me.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I agree that Catallus certainly based his piece on Sappho and I'm sure he would have been familiar with her verse. I prefer Sappho's original version. Somehow her feminine perspective moves me more than his masculine viewpoint. I got the impression that he found his fascination with the beautiful woman as amounting to leisure and as such, a waste of his precious male mind.

Mama Zen said...

I much prefer Sappho!

manicddaily said...

Wonderful, thank you. K.

hedgewitch said...

I love the Sappho, Shay. Thanks so much for sharing it. It is bare bones poetry that fleshes itself out in the mind through the reader's own sympathetic imagination; meanwhile, Catullus is telling, not showing.

I find it odd that he wrote it all, as it is so blatantly derivative, though I do think the notion of leisure being bad for one because it allows one to dwell on what one doesn't have,leading to the Fall, is a topic worthy of poetry. His just doesn't spark it for me. Great selection, and in the comparison. also a telling lesson on influences and what not to do with them.

Herotomost said...

Wow, that does seem like a bit of rip off....the first is definitely the better of the two. Plus the word Lesbia is odd to me....not sure why. Maybe because it reminds me of certain female body part...lol. Love the desperation and the longing, I know that feeling. Thanbks for sharing Shay!!!

Susie Clevenger said...

I much prefer Sappho's poem. Such a beautiful poem..Thanks so much for sharing with us. I knew nothing of either poet.

Marian said...

what a timeless observation: "...seeing little, I imagine much." thanks, Shay.

myheartslovesongs.com said...

i discovered your favorite poem "I Cannot Live With You" on your site and find something new in it every time i read it ~ so full of Emily's longing and despair, it breaks my heart a little with every reading.

i don't care for the Catullus poem and not just because it is obviously derivative {as hedge said} or the ending which is so less graceful, but overall i feel it lost the romance of Sappho's version which i like very much.

thank you for sharing them all, SP ~ great post!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I prefer Sappho's, too, a better ending for certain. The second one does sound amazingly like Sappho's. Ha. Thanks for the share. Looking forward to Fireblossom Friday!

grapeling said...

with you: Sappho superior, Catullus copycat

sharplittlepencil.com said...

I am with you all, folks. Sappho's poem, its exquisite ending, the female POV... I cannot believe Catullus would not be familiar with Sappho's classic poetry, so yes, I think it's diritive and that's a shame. If it had been a nod to her, he would have attributed it, but then again, he probably hoped no one would notice. SNAP! He didn't know the Toads, especially our rockin' Shay! Love you, girl.

Fireblossom said...

Thanks everyone, for your comments and thoughts! I really enjoyed reading what everyone had to say about the post. :-)

Sam Edge said...

"having is bad for poetry" my new favourite quote. Great poems & writing CB.

Kay L. Davies said...

I definitely enjoyed Sappho more than Catullus.
And I agree, "having is bad for the poetry" — I know this from personal experience.
A great post today, Shay.
K

Ella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ella said...

Thank you Shay! This connects for me on another level. Interesting about the this lines. I adore Emily, but I prefer Sappho's way of echoing this haunting ache.

Kerry O'Connor said...

As for Catullus acknowledging his source, there was no copyright law in ancient times.