Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SAPPHO, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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SAPPHO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: She leant upon her harp, and thousands look'd
Last Line: Are sacred -- the devoted sappho!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): Sappho (610-580 B.c.)


... She was one

Whose lyre the spirit of sweet song had hung
With myrtle and with laurel; on whose head
Genius had shed his starry glories ...
"... transcripts of woman's loving heart
And woman's disappointment...."

She leant upon her harp, and thousands look'd
On her in love and wonder -- thousands knelt
And worshipp'd in her presence -- burning tears,
And words that died in utterance, and a pause
Of breathless, agitated eagerness,
First gave the full heart's homage: then came forth
A shout that rose to heaven; and the hills,
The distant valleys, all rang with the name
Of the AEolian Sappho -- every heart
Found in itself some echo to her song.
Low notes of love -- hopes beautiful and fresh,
And some gone by forever -- glorious dreams,
High aspirations, those thrice gentle thoughts
That dwell upon the absent and the dead,
Were breathing in her music -- and these are
Chords every bosom vibrates to. But she
Upon whose brow the laurel crown is placed,
Her colours varying with deep emotion --
There is a softer blush than conscious pride
Upon her cheek, and in that tremulous smile
Is all a woman's timid tenderness:
Her eye is on a Youth, and other days
And young warm feelings have rush'd on her soul
With all their former influence, -- thoughts that slept
Cold, calm as death, have waken'd to new life --
Whole years' existence have pass'd in that glance ...
She had once loved in very early days:
That was a thing gone by: one had call'd forth
The music of her soul: he loved her too,
But not as she did -- she was unto him
As a young bird, whose early flight he train'd
Whose first wild songs were sweet, for he had taught
Those songs -- but she look'd up to him with all
Youth's deep and passionate idolatry:
Love was her heart's sole universe -- he was
To her, Hope, Genius, Energy, the God
Her inmost spirit worshipp'd -- in whose smile
Was all e'en minstrel pride held precious; praise
Was prized but as an echo of his own.

But other times and other feelings came:
Hope is love's element, and love with her
Sicken'd of its own vanity .... She lived
'Mid bright realities and brighter dreams,
Those strange but exquisite imaginings
That tinge with such sweet colours minstrel thoughts;
And fame, like sunlight, was upon her path;
And strangers heard her name, and eyes that never
Had look'd on Sappho, yet had wept with her.
Her first love never wholly lost its power,
But, like rich incense shed, although no trace
Was of its visible presence, yet its sweetness
Mingled with every feeling, and it gave
That soft and melancholy tenderness
Which was the magic of her song .... That Youth
Who knelt before her was so like the shape
That haunted her spring dreams -- the same dark eyes,
Whose light had once been as the light of heaven! --
Others breathed winning flatteries -- she turn'd
A careless hearing -- but when Phaon spoke,
Her heart beat quicker, and the crimson light
Upon her cheek gave a most tender answer ...
She loved with all the ardour of a heart
Which lives but in itself: her life had pass'd
Amid the great creations of the mind:
Love was to her a vision -- it was now
Heighten'd into devotion .... But a soul
So gifted and so passionate as hers
Will seek companionship in vain, and find
Its feelings solitary .... Phaon soon
Forgot the fondness of his Lesbian maid;
And Sappho knew that genius, riches, fame,
May not soothe slighted love. ----
---- There is a dark rock looks on the blue sea;
'Twas there love's last song echo'd -- here She sleeps,
Whose lyre was crown'd with laurel, and whose name
Will be remember'd long as Love or Song
Are sacred -- the devoted Sappho!





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