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If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

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From poet and classicist Anne Carson comes this translation of the work of Sappho, together with the original Greek. During her life on the island of Lesbos, Sappho is said to have composed nine books of lyrics. Only one poem has survived complete. In "If Not, Winter", Carson presents all the extant fragments of Sappho's verse, employing brackets and white space to denote missing text - allowing the reader to imagine the poems as they were written. Carson says of her method of "I like to think that, the more I stand out of the way, the more Sappho shows through". Her translation illuminates Sappho's reflections on love and desire, her companions and rivals, the goddess Aphrodite and her own daughter, Kleis. The book brings us an ancient poet brought to life by an empathetic contemporary poet, and is complete with an introduction and notes.

416 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 551

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299 books1,435 followers
Work of Greek lyric poet Sappho, noted for its passionate and erotic celebration of the beauty of young women and men, after flourit circa 600 BC and survives only in fragments.

Ancient history poetry texts associate Sappho (Σαπφώ or Ψάπφω) sometimes with the city of Mytilene or suppose her birth in Eresos, another city, sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC. She died around 570 BC. People throughout antiquity well knew and greatly admired the bulk, now lost, but her immense reputation endured.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,820 reviews
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,300 followers
March 20, 2013
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 still be great beauty and intensity in what was left. Kind of a tall order, but given the state of publishing today, I'd say it's needed now more than ever.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
July 2, 2018
Intimate, piercing, and incisive, Sappho's fragments are as enrapturing as they are reflective. The subjects of her lyrics range from musing about forbidden love to reveling in the passing of time. Paradoxically, the soft musicality of the poet's phrasing pairs extraordinarily well with the intensity of the emotions she describes in her lyrics: at once the fragments read as tender and visceral. Carson's edition makes for an ideal introduction to Sappho's work, as it clearly marks the many gaps in her extant verse. Whereas editions that don't format the fragments tend to transform Sappho into a kind of sparse Imagist, If Not, Winter forces readers to remember that most of the poet's work has in fact been lost or destroyed.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
January 3, 2022
(137) I want to say something but shame
prevents me
yet if you had a desire for good or beautiful things
and your tongue were not concocting some evil to say
shame would not hold down your eyes
but rather you would speak about what is just

Sappho (c.630-c.570BCE), one of Ancient Greece’s Nine Lyric Poets, is an absolutely gorgeous poet and writer, one who’s been the subject of much academic discourse. Sappho was a complicated woman. Believed to have written 8 or 9 books, her lover Megara, daughter Kleis, and enemy Andromeda all appear within these texts. Through this translation, Anne Carson attempts to convey the best of her work, through both presentation—sometimes the spacing makes the poem, as with verse 26—and wording, as she discusses in her final notes of the book.

For me, half the appeal of this edition was the work put into translation notes by Carson. Her insights on poem 137’s use of the extremely loaded term aidos (shame), and poem 142’s use of the term hetairai (friend) to connote an intimate relationship with a woman, each deepen the meaning of the poem. I also appreciated Carson’s commentary on 16, 55, 94, and 98. I particularly loved her choice to end on the brief verses, page after page of lines with no context beyond. Each line may be brief, but together they are infinite.

Carson points out that Sappho associates desire with death, an idea that—interestingly enough—is also a function of queer theory in later times. Lee Edelman would, in his iconic 2004 book No Future, argue that because queerness cannot produce the patriarchal ideal of a Child, it is fundamentally defined by a drive towards death. Though I think this can easily become an oversimplification when applied to the ancient world, I couldn’t help but think of this when reading her poetry. If desire is death, what does it mean that through her poetry, her desire has kept her alive?

There is something particularly powerful about a note in Anne Carson’s introduction, where she discusses the fact that much of our remaining knowledge of Sappho comes from references—other ancient artists quoting Sappho, discussing her works, creating poetry inspired by her. I wondered, reading this, what our future histories will look like: Which lines will survive? Which will not?

A few of my highlights are listed below.
(16) Some men say an army of horse and some say an army on foot and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is
What you love.

Because I prayed
this word:
I want.

]for those
I treat well are the ones who most of all
]harm me
]you, I want
]to suffer
]in myself I am
aware of this

Dead you will lie and never memory of you
will there be nor desire into the aftertime—for you do not
share in the roses
of Poeroa, but invisible too in Hades’ house
you will go your way among dim shapes. Having been breathed out.


I simply want to be dead.
Weeping she left me

with many tears and said this:
Oh how badly things have turned out for us.
Sappho, I swear, against my will I leave you.


]into desire I shall come

stand to face me beloved
and open out the grace of your eyes

with anger spreading in the chest
to guard against a vainly barking tongue

I also really enjoyed fragments 23, 31, 74B, 91, 93, 95, 104B, 120, 126, 129B, 137 (commentary here) and 147.

I know I’ll return to this collection again, and I’m sure different poems will resonate with me each time. Regardless, I adored this, and am honored to have spent some time with Sappho in 2021.

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Profile Image for Marley.
129 reviews109 followers
July 26, 2012
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 gods," (I now paraphrase) that lucky man who is standing in front of you and getting to hear your sweet voice.

It's every high school crush rolled into one, double-strength for adults. The awe there of a particular type of love from afar. And having your voice stopped up, just as the poem goes on to say.

Really, it's the run into the third stanza, which came through just as overwhelming in my own half-proficient high school translation out of Latin when I was 17, that gives me shivers:
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

(Nobody seems to be sure whether this stray last line was a mistaken addition in a later copy or whether the jerk of a grammarian we got it from decided to break off one line into another stanza--and Catullus' copy doesn't help either, because after some very gorgeous poetry, he breaks off somewhere ENTIRELY differently right at this point -- starts grumbling about how all this desire is probably just a sign he's got too lazy a schedule. That's the Roman in him, even though no other Roman appreciated Sappho like Catullus did--all his love poems are to "Lesbia," after Sappho's homeland, which had at the time more sensual and artistic than solely homoerotic connotations.)

The Point

Anyway, this is a long, nerdy, Goodreadsy introduction, but there's a reason: a poem nearly 2,600 years old, not even in its original language, not even in its entirety, and originally written as a song but with the music lost aeons ago (one wonders whether this is what will happen to Bob Dylan one far-away day)--what I am saying to you is: all these qualifiers, all this in between us and the original impact, and me bored in high school, and it still knocked me flat on my ass.

And now you realize there is only one other poem in better shape (from a book of her work as late as the 8th century, which KILLS me that she survived in good shape over 1,000 years but couldn't last more), and every single other one in existence is in pieces--some still getting you most of a through-line, others just one or two or three words. Shattering.

And of course, this is exactly what Carson plays up, translating every tiny snowflake of parchment we've ever been able to trace to Sappho, every time some stodgy grammarian or hokey philosopher quotes half a line to keep his audience from falling asleep--and showing you as best she can how much is lost, and how much you can tell through this incredibly hazy lens how fantastic a poet she clearly was.

And I'm getting frustrated, because this input form has eaten half my review twice already (starting to feel like our subject, here), but I'm going to lay out what this means if it kills me:

The way Carson shows you the gaps are with the power of ASCII art: brackets, brackets everywhere. Left hand page is always the Greek, laid out in the SHAPE of what remains, brackets to show the yawning gaps in the ripped or torn or blotted parchment, and to show the little interpolations that remain. Right hand page is her English--still using brackets, but gesturally, to give you a sense of the "papyrological event," as Carson says in her introduction--and desperately trying to translate only the words that remain, to show you that lack that is also need that is also desire.

How else to behold:
]sing to us
the one with violets in her lap
]goes astray

and realize even those few words come from two full stanzas we will never see, and not go as silent as the lover in that first poem I mentioned, trying to grapple with the passion for life that still blazes out of this gorgeous, tragic confetti?
Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews381 followers
July 17, 2016
"Someone will remember us
I say
even in another time"

Sappho was an ancient Greek poetess from the island of Lesbos, but little is known of her life, with mostly fragments of her work surviving, and which are often not taken as biography. So little of her works survives, that it is known she was exiled from Lesbos after the rise of Pittacus, but very little of her political standing has been discovered.

“yet if you had a desire for good or beautiful things
and your tongue were not concocting some evil to say
shame would not hold down your eyes
but rather you would speak about what is just”

Sappho wrote with wit and sharpness, but so soft and beautiful, that I would love to listen to her fragments being sang, they create a space of peace within me. It makes me happy.

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

It is to say, that a poem written 2 millennial ago, by an ancient woman, not to my eyes in its native tongue, and not even in its entirety, and it still survives and is widely read, loved, admired, and studied, is to show the magnificence of the author.
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
October 14, 2016
Greek Lyric: Sappho and Alcaeus, tr. David A Campbell, Loeb 1990
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, tr. Anne Carson, Virago 2002
Stung With Love: Poems and Fragments, tr. Aaron Poochigian, Penguin 2015


Each ellipsis teases, inviting dreams – dreams
Formed from torn papyruses' single words. Bare,
Lonely scrawls of sigmas and psis that sing, still,
      Sticky with meaning.

Fragments all. What's left is the one percent, rich,
Rare. When Alexandria burned, the whole world
Choked to breathe the smoke of the ninety-nine. Now,
      Desperate to get you

Back, we trawl millennia-old unearthed dumps,
Hunting out your clotted Aeolic strung lines.
Lone hendecasyllables' sounds that awed Greeks
      After you quoted.

Questing, reading, marvelling – so we search on,
Poets seeking answers to questions all lost
Lovers ask. Your answers still reach us, drenched, fresh
      From the Aegean.


Towards the end of the second century AD, in the last flickering light of classical Greece, a philosopher called Maximus, in a city on the Levantine coast, wrote a grammatical textbook about figures of speech. Casting around in old books for examples of how poets have described love, he writes: ‘Diotima says that Love flourishes when he has abundance but dies when he is in need: Sappho combined these ideas and called Love bitter-sweet and “ἀλγεσίδωρον”.’

So we have this one word that Sappho wrote, some eight centuries before Maximus was born. This is what we mean when we talk about her poetry existing in ‘fragments’. The Canadian poet Anne Carson translates this example as:



Very often these remnants are quoted with no regard to any poetic quality, but rather in illustration of some grammatical point. Apollonius Dyscolus, for instance, writing again some time in the 100s AD, included a throwaway remark on variant dialects during an essay on pronouns. ‘The Aeolians,’ he said, ‘spell ὅς [‘his, hers, its’] with digamma in all cases and genders, as in Sappho's τὸν ϝὸν παῖδα κάλει.’ Again Carson's translation gives us just the phrase in question:


she summons her son

Carson's translation of Sappho's oeuvre is well subtitled ‘Fragments of Sappho’, since most of what's left is of this nature. It's certainly nice to have everything collected in this way in English, though it must be admitted that her book sometimes seems more an exercise in completionism than in poetic expression. That said, as other reviewers have pointed out, reading pages and pages of these deracinated terms (‘holder…crossable…I might go…downrushing’) can succeed in generating a certain hypnotic, Zen-like appeal.

Nevertheless, such things lose a lot by being read in isolation; the as it were archaeological pleasure of digging them out of their original context, in works of grammar or rhetoric, is completely absent. For that, the Loeb edition translated by David A. Campbell is far preferable, for all that he has no pretensions to being a poet, just because you get Sappho delivered in that context of other writers. The fonts used for the Greek are also much more readable in the Loeb. (The Carson edition does include the original Greek, and points for that – though there are some strange editorial…choices? mistakes? – such as printing ς for σ in all positions.)


To the Ancient Greeks, Homer was simply ‘The Poet’ – and ‘The Poetess’ was Sappho. She was held in extraordinarily high esteem, which makes it the more frustrating that so much of her has been lost: ninety-nine percent, according to some experts. Only one or two poems remain that can be said to be more or less complete.

Her poetry is mainly ‘lyric’, that is, designed to be sung while strumming along on the lyre. Sappho was, in modern terms, a singer-songwriter; she was known to be an extremely talented musician, designing a new kind of lyre and perhaps even inventing the plectrum. When we read her poetry now, we have to remember that we're looking at something like a shredded collection of Bob Dylan or Georges Brassens lyrics, with no idea of how their meaning would have interacted with the music.

But however important the lost melodies, we do know that she was revered for the beauty of her phrasing. This is something translators struggle with. Fragment 146, a proverb about not wanting to take the bad with the good, is rendered literally by Campbell as ‘I want neither the honey nor the bee’ and by Carson, ‘Neither for me honey nor the honey bee’ – which is better, but consider the alliterative dazzle of the original:

μήτε μοι μέλι μήτε μέλισσα
(mēte moi meli mēte melissa)

Reading the Greek, even if you don't understand what any of the words mean, will often get you halfway there with Sappho. Say it out loud and you'll get a tingle, as it starts to dawn on you what all the fuss might have been about.

But the rest of the job has to be done by translators. The Loeb edition will not help you here: its prose translations are only a crib to help you study the original. Carson's approach is slightly conflicted. She quotes approvingly a well-known statement from Walter Benjamin to the effect that a translation should ‘find that intended effect…which produces in it the echo of the original’, i.e. that one should translate ideas and feelings rather than words. But she also claims to be trying to use ‘where possible the same order of words and thoughts as Sappho did’, which is the sort of thing that makes me instantly suspicious.

Here's her version of Fragment 2, which is one of the more complete poems we have, scratched on to a broken piece of pottery which has miraculously survived from the second century AD. The first stanza (an invocation to Aphrodite) is probably missing, but the next two run like this:

here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
      with frankincense.

And it in cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
      sleep comes dropping.

This is not bad. I think the word order is unnecessarily foreign at times, but it does sound good and Carson even includes a few of Sappho's famous hendecasyllabic lines – though they are not true ‘Sapphic’ verses, a very strict form which is not well adapted to English (as you may be able to tell from my attempt at the top of this review).

Aaron Poochigian, in a selected edition for Penguin Classics, takes a different approach. ‘Sappho did not compose free verse,’ he chides, perhaps with one eye on Carson, ‘and free-verse translations, however faithful they may be to her words, betray her poems by their very nature.’ Poochigian's version of the stanzas above goes like this:

Leave Crete and sweep to this blest temple
Where apple-orchard's elegance
Is yours, and smouldering altars, ample

Here under boughs a bracing spring
Percolates, roses without number
Umber the earth and, rustling,
The leaves drip slumber.

I think that's pretty great. It takes much more liberties with Sappho's actual words but, to the extent that it produces a sensual thrill in English, it more faithfully reproduces the effect that Sappho had on her original audience. At least, to me it does. Poochigian's selection, called Stung with Love, is much shorter than the other two I read, but a very good encapsulation of her qualities. It also has by far the best introduction, a brilliant essay which puts Sappho in her context extremely well. And because it's the most recently published, it's also able to include the magic new Sappho poem discovered in 2013, written on a scrap of papyrus used to stuff a mummy.


‘Someone will remember us / I say / even in another time.’ Another fragment. The irony of this one upset me at first, because she should have survived in far greater quantities than she did. But even so, the thrill of hearing the voice of a woman who lived six centuries before Christ was enough to catch my breath over and over again. Generally speaking, women in antiquity are pretty silent. But Sappho isn't, and her influence, despite the meagre remains we have, is ginormous.

It might sound hyperbolic to claim that all modern love poetry is inherited from Sappho, but in fact there's a very real sense in which that's true – so great was her reputation among Classical writers and the Europeans who, in turn, studied them, that it's quite possible to trace a direct line from Sappho, through Catullus, to the Romantic poets and from them to contemporary pop lyrics. Every song about the pain of unrequited love owes something to Sappho's Fragment 31, for example – ideas now so clichéd that we forget they have an ancestry at all. That's just natural, surely – just the way people speak? But no, it isn't natural, it's Sappho. She's part of our inheritance, part of our language. She's under our tongue.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,382 followers
December 16, 2016
We have almost none of Sappho, the Bob Dylan of ancient Greece, the most famous poet of like 600 BCE. What we have is aching and mysterious and sexy. As my friend JG pointed out, there's an intimacy here that feels modern. A lot of the old Greek stuff feels like dudes standing around yelling (because a lot of it is drama). Sappho's in the room with you, whispering in your ear.
For her dress when you saw it
Stirred you. And I rejoice.
In fact she herself once blamed me

because I prayed
this word:
I want

Some of the other fragments, you're a little confused by. If Not, Winter collects every surviving Sapphic word, which is a few poems and a heap of scraps, and that's noble but you may find yourself asking, what good does this do anyone?

I had a girlfriend in college with this tattooed on her ankle, probably

But Anne Carson is not just a mighty translator but a poet herself, and she's off on her own trip here, making a sort of found poetry out of these fragments, a larger statement about echoes and loss. And it works: it has a cumulative power, skimming over all these snatches and breaths.
Their heart grew cold
they let their wings down

I mean, cumulative power and also it reminds you of those refrigerator magnet poetry sets on the fridge at someone's party right before someone rearranges it to sound dirty.

Who even knew they had soda back then?
Profile Image for ZOË.
194 reviews168 followers
September 16, 2022
“your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing—oh it

puts the heart in my chest on wings

for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking

is left in me”

4.5 Being Sapphic is so beautiful.

Books around the globe: Greece
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Plant Based Bride).
411 reviews3,753 followers
July 8, 2022
someone will remember us
I say
even in another time

(Fragment 147)

If Not, Winter was my first introduction to Sappho's writing, and I have been thoroughly bewitched. It is incredible to me that these ancient words, rescued from damaged papyrus and recovered from walls and vases, can be so relevant and evocative thousands of years later. Sappho writes of many things, but love and beauty are at the forefront. In these difficult times, being reminded that we are only human and that we are just as lost and small as we were in ancient times brings a strange sense of comfort. We are all connected in the ever-expanding family tree of humanity, and if only we could value love and beauty in the ways Sappho did, perhaps we would know peace.

For the man who is beautiful is beautiful to see
but the good man will at once also beautiful be.

(Fragment 50)

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Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
865 reviews397 followers
July 19, 2017
"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."


"someone will remember us
I say
even in another time"

(this last one is particularly poignant because it makes up the entirety of the poem. damn.)
Profile Image for saïd.
6,165 reviews711 followers
March 9, 2023
As a poet Dr. Anne Carson has a strong, unique voice that sets her apart, but as a translator she can sometimes fall flat. This is less of an issue with Dr. Carson’s work itself but with the critical response to it, specifically in the context of the translation aspect. If Not, Winter is probably her best in terms of translation in the sense that it is, more or less, a comparatively literal translation of Sappho in the more poetic style of Mary Barnard. Dr. Carson’s translations are also incredibly popular on social media. I’ll fully admit that I am certainly biased due to being bitter about the rather irreverent and anti-intellectual way non-specialists tend to treat Dr. Carson’s work (which is no fault of Dr. Carson’s!), but whatever.

As an example of Dr. Carson’s translation style, here is one of Sappho's fragments (Voigt 130.1–2, Bergk 40, Lobel–Page 130):
Ερος δαὖτέ μ' ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει,
γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον
This is the famous ‘sweetbitter’ fragment. Dr. Carson renders the fragment thusly:
Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me
Sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in
The literal translation would be something like:
Eros | this, again | me | limb-relaxing¹ | shakes, | bittersweet | inexorable² | serpent³
This is entirely a stylistic preference, but I don’t care for how Dr. Carson phrases this fragment, or really most of them; I appreciate that Dr. Carson includes the original Greek alongside her translations, and doubly that she includes the line breaks and gaps in the fragments. Unfortunately the primary audience for her translation—teenagers on social media who think The Song of Achilles is the pinnacle of historical fiction—does not read Ancient Greek. (My own translation would be, roughly: “Eros, limb-loosening, shakes me again, / that bittersweet indomitable creature.”)

Here’s another (Lobel–Page 126, Diehl 134):
may you sleep on the breast of your delicate friend
The original:
δαύοις⁴ ἀπάλας ἐτάρας ἐν στήθεσιν
Word-for-word translation:
(you) sleep | soft | companion | in, on | breast
I actually really like this translation, with one minor disagreement: ‘friend’ is, in my opinion, too vague a translation of ἑταῖρος; it more commonly referred to a companion, comrade, or fellow soldier or worker.⁵ (Compare Jim Powell’s translation: “May you sleep upon your gentle companion’s breast.”)

Overall I’d recommend Dr. Carson’s translation to a student in a relevant field, or someone who’s interested in a different take on Sappho, but I would absolutely not recommend this particular translation to someone who’s never read Sappho. Dr. Carson’s translation takes an immense amount of liberties with the text; the primary benefit of her work is the fact that she includes the original Ancient Greek text in recto, hence why I would recommend this translation to a student but not to the uninitiated. My personal relationship with Dr. Carson’s translation work is complicated, but from a more or less objective standpoint, her interpretation of Sappho is subject to a great deal of poetic licence.


¹An epithet usually applied to sleep, love, death, wine, and the like.
²From μάχομαι (‘to fight; to wage war, to make battle’); cf. ‘Ἔρως ἀνίκατε μάχαν’ (Sophocles, Antigone 781). Connected to μάχη from whence is derived the English suffix -machy. I’d translate it as one of the following: unconquered, undefeated, indomitable, unconquerable; etc.
³Really any animal that ‘goes on all fours’: slithers, creeps, crawls, etc.; commonly assumed to denote a snake, from whence we get the prefix ἑρπ- (as in ‘herpetology’).
⁴The word δαύοις is from δαρθάνω (‘to sleep’).
⁵Although ἑταῖρος could refer to a lover, that usage was quite rare, and it’s unlikely that Sappho meant it as such in this example.
Profile Image for Alan.
419 reviews181 followers
February 28, 2023
An exercise in projection and awareness of projection. A therapist’s dream, if you would.

Carson’s introduction gives some much needed context in order to understand the exact format of this book:

“Sappho was also a poet. There is a fifth century hydria in the National Museum of Athens that depicts Sappho, identified by name, reading from a papyrus. This is an ideal image; whether or not she herself was literate is unknown. But it seems likely that the words to her songs were written down during or soon after her lifetime and existed on papyrus rolls by the end of the fifth century B.C. On a papyrus roll the text is written in columns, without word division, punctuation or lineation. To read such a text is hard even when it comes to us in its entirety and most papyri don’t. Of the nine books of lyrics that Sappho is said to have composed, one poem has survived complete. All the rest are fragments.”

Carson uses square brackets to indicate “destroyed papyrus or the presence of letters not quite legible somewhere in the line”, which really gives the whole series of fragments immense context.

The projections I discuss come in with the blank spaces - those are the places where we let our imaginations run wild. Check out this fragment, number 26:

]for those
I treat well are the ones who most of all
]harm me
]you, I want
]to suffer
]in myself I am
aware of this

It doesn’t take a genius to fill in the gaps and grasp the emotion the original was attempting to convey. I wish I could type out the proper spacing that Carson used here, but Goodreads isn't cooperating with the formatting.

Then you have fuller pieces, like fragment 31, but then again you have shorter pieces like 129A and 129B:


but me you have forgotten


or you love some man more than me

Ouch. Some are even shorter:


girl sweetvoiced

I don’t need much more than that, personally.
Profile Image for Brierly.
155 reviews104 followers
January 11, 2018
I don't know what to do
two states of mind in me

And so goes this translation of Sappho, compiled by Anne Carson. Carson's done something unique here: presented Sappho in exact context, missing fragments and all. A lot of Sappho's work has been lost or truncated; Carson includes a lot of blank space to emphasize just how much of Sappho we will never know. The book itself is multilingual; the left page reads in Greek while the right reads in English. I love reading ancient texts this way--my copy of Troilus and Criseyde follows this format.

you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing

Reading Sappho is an otherworldly experience because she feels so distant from me in time . . . 2500 years. Two thousand and five hundred plus years. That is humbling, especially with so few women's texts surviving until present day. Guess what? Sappho is still very good. She writes lyric poetry; in this case, Sappho's poems are meant to be sung with a lyre. This edition was a short, enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of history, poetry, and women's lit. Brava to Carson for her work compiling this.
Profile Image for Rosemarie Björnsdottir.
96 reviews98 followers
February 4, 2023
these fragments of sappho’s poems are so so beautiful. her poems have such a quiet longing and sadness to them while still being so full of passion.

here are some of my favourite fragments:

fragment 31
“your sweet speaking
and lovely laughing—oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me”

fragment 34
“stars around the beautiful moon
hide back their luminous form
whenever all full she shines
on the earth


fragment 51
“I don’t know what to do
two states of mind in me”

fragment 55
“Dead you will lie and never memory of you
will there be nor desire into the aftertime-for you do not
share in the roses
of Pieria, but invisible too in Hades' house
you will go your way among dim shapes. Having been breathed out.”

fragment 95
“but a kind of yearning has hold of me—to die
and to look upon the dewy lotus banks
of Acheron”

fragment 147
“Someone will remember us
I say
even in another time”

fragment 168B
“Moon has set
and Pleiades : middle
night, the hour goes by,
alone I lie.”
Profile Image for laura.
156 reviews134 followers
April 22, 2016
the difference between four stars and five is something categorically different from all other 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 wondering, and have to go back. but once i hit a stride, it was a transcendent kind of pleasure. i sometimes didn't realize i was holding my breath until it hurt a little. i read pages and pages and can't remember turning any.

a hundred other reviewers will have said it better, but anne carson has made something serious, and earnest, and illuminating. i can't even fully grasp the temporal distance across which these words have cut. the primary accomplishment here, for what it's worth, is that i feel i know what sappho actually said, and what its power is.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
August 15, 2015
This marvelous collection of the extant fragments of verse attributed to Sappho is a glorious spur to the imagination. Sappho was a lyricist, a poet, a musician. It is unknown whether or not she was literate in reading and writing, but her work was collected in writing, and reprinted, but little has survived the centuries. Only one full poem, the ode to Aphrodite, survives whole at twenty-eight lines.

Sappho was known and lauded throughout the ancient world for the beauty of her poems accompanied by the lyre. She wrote nuptial songs mainly, it seems, for the tenor of the fragments suggest the happy circumstance of a marriage. The Encyclopedia Britannica suggests that Sappho taught young women the arts of courtesanship, seduction, marriage which may (I speculate here) be one reason why she was so universally adored and admired.

Can we all agree that to be a brilliant courtesan requires great intelligence: a deep understanding and acceptance of human nature and desire, and enormous self-control and discipline? Add to this her apparently unparalleled skill as a poet—alas! We do not have enough of her work surviving to adequately judge, but the fragments set us to dreaming and are an undeniable spur to writers and lyricists alike. We will have to trust her contemporaries and sup upon lines like
Eros shook my
mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees
you burn me

Anne Carson has chosen to reprint fragments attributed to Sappho, sometimes single words, separated by brackets to indicate lost fragments. The blank spaces are fruitful places for meditation on what was once there. Sometimes the few words jump from the page
for as long as you want
] ] ]
]goatherd ]longing ]sweat
] ] ]
]roses ]
Does your mind race? And this
colored with saffron
purple robe
]Dawn with gold sandals

If many of the song or poem fragments were composed for weddings, just that concept brings a host of associations and an understanding of Sappho’s history. There is more to learn about her as an individual (she had three brothers, was married with a child, was exiled to Sicily in her twenties it is thought) but not much more. It is thought she lived from 610 B.C. to 570 B.C. A collection of her work was published during the Middle Ages in nine volumes but has not survived. Our imagination will have to suffice.

That the work of an individual has so inflamed the public imagination for such a long time is cause enough for wonder. One fragment shows an awareness of her fame
someone will remember us
I say
even in another time
Sappho was a “honeyvoiced…mythweaver,”
]nectar poured from
]with hands Persuasion

The surviving fragments are a kind of spur to the creative mind. When writers or lyricists find themselves stuck, they could do much worse than flip through this book for its inspiration. To my mind Sappho addresses writer's block:
for it is not right in a house of the Muses
that there be a lament
this would not become us

Apologies to Anne Carson and publisher AA Knopf for not being able to reproduce the high quality typesetting and lovely spacing in this book. If this review is at all intriguing to you, try to lay your hands on a printed copy from 2002. The formatting is as informative as the print. Also, I put pictures in my blogpost.
Profile Image for NPC.
19 reviews48 followers
June 2, 2022
Not sure if I love Sappho despite the fact that we only have fragments of her poems or because we only have fragments of her poems and that makes her ~~mysterious~~. It's probably a combination of both.

My rating is for Carson's translation. I found her voice intrusive and it kept calling attention to the language in a way that seems more like a late 20th century poet than how I imagine Sappho sounded to her original audience. Disclaimer: I don't speak Ancient Greek so I could be totally wrong! Also I'm biased because I had read the Mary Barnard translation (Sappho) before and adored it.
Profile Image for s ⚢.
144 reviews52 followers
January 16, 2023
sometimes the experience of reading a book where an ancient poet from 600 bce says the gayest shit imaginable to me across time and space can be so important..
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews712 followers
May 4, 2016
and neither any[   ]nor any
holy place nor
was there from which we were absent

no grove[     ]no dance
              ]no sound

a voiceheard. Time,orator.

someone will remember us
                          I say
                          even in another time
Profile Image for molly.
1 review1 follower
August 25, 2018
I have to say, I loved the layout of the poetry and how the ancient greek was shown on the left pages, but I don't think it's honourable to Sappho. The translations of he poems were mostly well done, but the poems that were longer than two lines lacked the flow and imagery of other translations (which are things I love about Sappho's writing, so the absence was disappointing). My biggest quarry with this book is the erasure of the fact that Sappho is and was a lesbian. Since these translations were released in 2003, I understand where the setback was, but that is a trademark of beautiful Sappho and honourable to sapphics of aeons. The poems where she talks about being in love with women etc are not in this book, or if they are every gender identifying factor was changed from female to male. That's the utmost disrespect and dirt on her name. I can't say I hold this book in high esteem.
Profile Image for Raul.
282 reviews203 followers
May 27, 2023
you burn me

Incredible how these words conceived millennia ago can cross that chasm of all these thousands of years, through all those who acted as medium and transcribed, preserved, and translated them, to land with such piercing recognition reading them in this present–already past as I type this–period.

It’s difficult to review this, because how do you review papyrean fragments, bits and parts of what survived the destructive effects of time and remained intact and legible while its accompanying parts that made the whole suffered that complete loss to oblivion? Anne Carson’s method, using brackets to indicate where the lost bits would have been, and thus providing space for them, in her words: “brackets imply a free space of imaginal adventure” creates a kind of continuity and connectivity to the work. Providing reverberations to what would have been whole.

The poems themselves are a celebration of life and love. They are rapturous, sensual, and lyrical. When one takes a step back and beholds the whole tapestry: Sappho herself and the splendour of these wonderful fragments of poetry, all that it has survived, the work through the ages to preserve, Carson’s brilliant translation, it’s hard not to be awed.

Some of my favourite parts:

"Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me–
sweet bitter unmanageable creature who steals in"

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

"I don't know what to do
two states of mind in me"

"O beautiful O graceful one"

"may you sleep on the breast of your delicate friend"
Profile Image for Meredith, troll to a criminal degree.
774 reviews453 followers
June 16, 2019
Gorgeous. Sappho's imagery and turn of phrase is stunning:

and lovely laughing-oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings

nightingale with a voice of longing

as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
and roses bloom and frail
chervil and flowering sweetclover

But she goes back and forth remembering
gentle Atthis and in longing
she bites her tender mind

Favorites from Anne Carson's translation:

The only other translation of Sappho I've read is the Willis Barnstone translation. I noticed similarites, and dare I say I prefer his translation? I plan on rereading his collection to compare.

Here's an example of a Willis Barnstone translation I prefer (just my preference)

Anne Carson: I would not think to touch the sky with two arms

Willis Barnstone:

I could not hope
to touch the sky
with my two arms

Barnstone's choice of words: 'I could not hope to touch the sky with my two arms' simply resonates with me more than Carson's translation.

This is an excellent translation, but I understand the criticisms Anne Carson has received. I don't mind translations that take liberties, and believe it's better to keep the spirit of the text vs staying true to the exact words and syntax. (Side note: This is why I'm not a fan of the Russian translators P&V...) I'm looking forward to reading Aaron Poochigan and Diane Rayor's translations next.
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