Most of my intellectual life these days is focused on romance fiction, my new area of inquiry. I love the books, and I love the happiness with which any new scholar joining that community gets welcomed. I haven't yet found the sort of sniping one sees in poetry criticism, nor the bickering about schools, etc., that bores me to tears in so many poetry venues. Not that I plan to leave poetry criticism for good, but I must say, given the choice between reading a new book on poetry or a new romance novel, I'm going with the little heart sticker more and more. Is it just the novelty? The ease? Or is there some deeper, substantive reason? Hmmm. Something to mull over at the pool, perhaps, this afternoon.
Reading Eloisa James's Duchess in Love last week I hit this passage, in which our hero, Cam, a sculptor, considers his next project:
...he spent the morning starting at the marble lump in the corner of his bedroom. Should he sculpt Gina as a pink, naked Aphrodite? A pleasant thought.One thinks, of course, of Sappho's "Hymn to Aphrodite," whose goddess is anything but indolent and sensual. And where better to find such an echo than in a popular romance novel?
Even more pleasant when the duchess herself stood before him. She would make a lovely Aphrodite. Unusual for an Aphrodite, of course. She was slimmer than the normal model, and her face was far more intelligent. The Aphrodites he could bring to mind had sensual, indolent faces, like that of Gina's statue. Whereas her face was thin with a look of curiosity. But why should Aphrodite, as the goddess of eros, of desire, be indolent? Why shouldn't she have precisely that innocent look combined with a gleam of erotic curiosity--the look in his wife's eyes?
Here's the Sappho, by the way, in Anne Carson's translation. I generally give my Love Poetry students this one, and Guy Davenport's version, and also Jim Powell's, and we work by triangulation. Enjoy.
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus,who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart
but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father's
golden house and came,
yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out
and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?
For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.