If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
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If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  2,205 ratings  ·  148 reviews
Of the nine books of lyrics the ancient Greek poet Sappho is said to have composed, only one poem has survived complete. The rest are fragments. In this miraculous new translation, acclaimed poet and classicist Anne Carson presents all of Sappho’s fragments, in Greek and in English, as if on the ragged scraps of papyrus that preserve them, inviting a thrill of discovery an...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published August 12th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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I love this book so much that I copied out some of the best lines in thick sharpie onto a shirt that I wore so often it's now terribly stained and faded and rather hard to read. An interesting cyclical thing, sort of, given the flimsiness of what remains of Sappho's works.

Also, I once had a writing teacher who said we should follow the "Sappho rule": every word of your writing should be so good that if there was a great flood or conflagration and only snippets of lines survived, there would sti...more
and neither any[   ]nor any
holy place nor
was there from which we were absent

no grove[ ]no dance
]no sound

(view spoiler)a voice(view spoiler)heard. Time,(view spoiler)o(view spoiler)rator.

someone will remember us
I say
even in another time
Michael Alexander
I took high-school Latin, as perhaps a couple of my recent reviews have mentioned. The first poem they ever had us translate in our AP Catullus/Horace class was Catullus' half-translation ("inspired by?") of the second-most-complete Sappho lyric I think we have: Sappho 31. It's perfectly preserved as far as it goes, because it's in someone else's book and quoted in full in Greek, except that it very likely cuts off suddenly.

As Carson translates the original, it begins "He seems to me equal to g...more
In this place you Kypris taking up
in gold cups delicately
nectar mingled with festivities:


Evening you gather back
all that dazzling dawn has put asunder:
you gather a lamb, gather a kid,
gather a child to its mother.

Useful front- and end-notes.
the difference between four stars and five is something categorically different from all star-number differences. the move from 'i really liked it' to 'it was amazing' is a move away from the the realm of sheer personal pleasure, and toward something externaler.

this book was often a pleasure, but that's not why it gets five stars. i could have enjoyed it more. it took me a little while to get into it. at the beginning especially i sometimes found myself flipping through inattentively, mind wond...more
Anne Carson, poet and Classicist, presents all we have of Sappho in the original Greek and in English translation. Carson indicates with brackets where the papyrus has simply fallen apart or is incomprehensible, which gives a curious flow to most of the fragments. When I read this, I heard some of the lines with pauses; some of the lines overlapped as if multiple voices were speaking, breaking in and over the voice before it.

As you sift through chance lines, half-expressed thoughts, you begin to...more
Like an ancient Greek ee cummings. Concupiscent and sumptuous.
I don't normally read poetry: I don't really understand it, or most of what I've read has just been sub-par (or both). I wish we had more of Sappho's work, because it is definitely something else.

This book presents fragments as they are available, with missing portions outlined in [] to show where the papyrus has been degraded or lost. The missing portions are almost as interesting as the words that are present, because it makes you wonder what Sappho was really writing about. What did she mean...more
I love that Anne Carson takes into account the fact that the poems are fragments. I think it makes them more beautiful.

Some of my favorite poems/pieces of poems:

]to give
]yet of the glorious
]of the beautiful and good, you
]of pain [me
]you take your fill. For [my thinking
]not thus
]is arranged
all night long] I am aware
]of evildoing
]blessed ones




]flesh by now old age
]flies in pursuit
]sing to us
the on...more
Jason Gignac
(Original Review)
This is the sort of book that strikes me cleverness dumb. So I will simply begin by telling you what the book is.

If Not, Winter is a collection of all of the known works of Sappho - almost entirely fragments. Sappho was, in ancient Greece, considered one of the two greatest lyric poets, alongside Pindar. However, probably in part because she was a woman and in part because she appears to have been bisexual (her home was Lesbos, and the words lesbian and sapphic come from her), o...more
Sappho is one of the greatest poets out of ancient Greece. Her poems are beautiful, personal, and well structured. They also come down to us largely in fragments. Anne Carson, a phenomenal poet in her own right, has used the fragmentary nature of Sappho's surviving oeuvre to create a translation that is a work of art in itself. Rather than covering the gaps, or marking them in the same tedious way that is often done with other translations of fragmented works, Carson makes the gaps an important...more
Jun 08, 2010 owl marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, owl
‘He’s equal with the Gods, that man’

He’s equal with the Gods, that man
Who sits across from you,
Face to face, close enough, to sip
Your voice’s sweetness,

And what excites my mind,
Your laughter, glittering. So,
When I see you, for a moment,
My voice goes,

My tongue freezes. Fire,
Delicate fire, in the flesh.
Blind, stunned, the sound
Of thunder, in my ears.

Shivering with sweat, cold
Tremors over the skin,
I turn the colour of dead grass,
And I’m an inch from dying.


‘Stand up and look at me, face to...more
Sappho is a phenomenal poet, even in fragments.

"... of desire
... for when I look at you
... such a Hermione
... and to yellowhaired Helen I liken you
... among mortal women, know this
... from every care
... you could release me
... dewy riverbanks
... to last all night long

"...you will remember
for we in our youth did these things..."

She seems to like the color violet.

Here's one of my favorites:

you burn me


Eros shook my
mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees

One more:

Kristina Jo
What I learned from this book is that poetry is way more fun when it's incomplete. Especially if your Myth as Lit teacher has you complete one of the incomplete poems with your own words. Because that's kind of what you do when you read the fragments anyway. You try to figure out what the poet had said, was trying to say, wanted to get across. And every time you read it, what you're thinking it meant is a little bit different, a little clearer or cloudier or darker or lighter, so that every time...more
The omission of so many words (lost from the ancient texts) makes this more rumination than actual reading; some poems have only a line or two extant. Only one remains in its entirety.
Still, Sappho comes through. She exists in vibrant phrases - perhaps more wholly because she is so fractured; imagination fills in - her love for music, for dancing, for her daughter, her pleas to the gods - are desperate in their immediacy, although she's been dust for hundreds of years.

The original Greek is print...more
I love Anne Carson's approach to Sappho so much in theory, even if it's occasionally frustrating in execution. Her translations of the longer passages are, of course, incredibly stark and musical all at once. In the long sections of one line fragments, I'd get lulled into skimming mode... which actually paid off in a funny way when I'd then hit a slightly longer fragment that hit straight at the gut and jarred me back into the enormity and weight and history of what I was reading. I'd like to go...more
I love this translation. Which I say as someone who knows no Greek. It feels naked. Carson says in her introduction: "In translating I tried to put down all that can be read of each poem in the plainest language I could find, using where possible the same order of words and thoughts as Sappho did. I like to think that, the more I stand out of the way, the more Sappho shows through. This is an amiable fantasy (transparency of self) within which most translators labor." In laying the Greek and Eng...more
Tara N
I love this book so much that it has taken me about three months to truly claim that I have "read" it. I must have poured over its contents from beginning to end at least a dozen times, with a front to back reading being maybe four or five them. I think I keep coming back to this book over and over again because I find it so completely devastating how little of Sappho's poetry still remains. The "more whole" fragments being just a taste of what a gifted poet she was, for this book truly is "frag...more
Love these fragments, which I find all the more moving for their fragmented nature. Sappho has this very quiet, deliberate tone that really appeals to me, and that lets her get away with writing about love without seeming silly. This is the kind of book you can just randomly flip through forever.
This is a puzzle of poems in translation. What is missing matters so much in these fragments, and the way they are presented allows you to fill in those gaps, make your own connections to these particles from ancient times:

“memories terribly leaked away”
But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.
Carson does a fantastic job of translating not only the language of Sappho's work, but also the silences that lie between the fragments.
I appreciate the brackets, the white spaces...the homage to all that has been lost.
Exquisite translations, perfectly imagined and expressed. I love this book.
Appropriately tantalizing.
Utterly beautiful.
I had no idea just how little of Sappho's poetry was extant. And a huge proportion of it is the tiniest fragments - sometimes single words - found on papyrus, or quotations by other ancient authors of her works. There seems to be more surviving ancient works that were written about her than actually by her. I'm intrigued by this talented and mysterious woman, called 'the tenth Muse' by Hellenistic poets and quoted by Aristotle.

The book is laid out beautifully with the original Greek printed in r...more
Who would not like to know more about this garment? asks Anne Carson of the cloth Sappho calls beudos. It is a short transparent dress.

I’d like to meet an older version of you. Maybe stop by for tea and watch you sitting there, knees curled underneath you, rubbing your hands on the oily stone. I’d watch your bones recede to your heart. You burn me, you say. And I don’t know what comes next, what fragment we sharpen against the bright grindstone. I’ll tell you about my own bone, there and how dif...more
Jenny Maloney
I think this is a testament to the old adage: the right word in the right place. As Sappho was a lyricist, a musician, a poet, every word is intriguing and beautiful...even if we don't know what order they go in. After thousands of years, the papyrus that holds Sappho's words has crumbled leaving only one poem intact. But you wouldn't know it if you weren't told.

Beautiful imagery capturing appleblossoms and wedding days still exist. Mourning for the loss of youth and beauty still haunts. Invoca...more
Rebecca Reid
Because Sappho’s poetry remains for us only in fragments, reading through Ms Carlson’s translations was an enjoyable reminder of the essential building blocks of poetic thought: word choice, simplicity, and metaphor, for example.

Sappho lived in the 600s BCE, writing lyrics and singing them. Of her nine collections of poetry, only one poem remains in full today. The rhythm is simply gorgeous as it has been rendered, and Sappho’s words and images are memorable.

The reminder of the book contains tr...more
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Sappho (Ψάπφω) was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. In history and poetry texts, she is sometimes associated with the city of Mytilene on Lesbos; she was also said to have been born in Eresos, another city on Lesbos. Her birth was sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admire...more
More about Sappho...
Sappho: A New Translation Poems and Fragments Poems The Love Songs of Sappho Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho

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“their heart grew cold
they let their wings down”
“you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing”
More quotes…