Monday, December 17, 2007

For My Teachers: Some Sappho

One of the teachers in my workshop series, "How to Teach a Poem (and Learn from One, Too)," mentioned that she's teaching Greek mythology in her middle school class these days, and she asked about poetry assignments that she might use.

One idea I suggested in class was to have students pick particular Greek deities and write poems to them modeled on Sappho's "Hymn to Aphrodite," or Fragment 1 (to be more precise) of what's left of her work.

You could give the kids these three translations of the original, and then go through and break them into sections: the invocation of the goddess, the account of how she traveled down from Olympus once before, what she said then, the promise she made once before, and the final request for help, or something like that.

Their assignment: imagine you are an ancient Greek and write a "Hymn to X" (Ares, Poseidon, Artemis, whatever) that draws very specifically on the God or Goddess's iconography, personality, and area of expertise. (Or something like that--anyone have any suggestions to spruce this up a bit?) Four lines stanzas: 3 longer, one short. Any other specifications?

Here are the original poems: three translations of Fragment 1 by Sappho. Below them, if you scroll down, is a YouTube assignment on Sappho herself that shows another way to take this project, if you have the technology handy.

Jim Powell’s translation of Fragment 1

Artfully adorned Aphrodite, deathless
child of Zeus and weaver of wiles I beg you
please don’t hurt me, don’t overcome my spirit,
goddess, with longing,

but come here, if ever at other moments
hearing these words from afar you listened
and responded: leaving your father’s house, all
golden, you came then,

hitching up your chariot: lovely sparrows
drew you quickly over the dark earth, whirling
on fine beating wings from the heights of heaven
down through the sky and

instantly arrived—and then O my blessed
goddess with a smile on your deathless face you
asked me what the mater was this time, what I
called you for this time,

what I now most wanted to happen in my
raving heart: “Whom this time should I persuade to
lead you back again to her love? Who now, oh
Sappho, who wrongs you?

If she flees you now, she will soon pursue you;
If she won’t accept what you give, she’ll give it;
If she doesn’t love you, she’ll love you soon now,
Even unwilling.”

Come to me again, and release me from this
want pas bearing. All that my heart desires to
happen—make it happen. And stand beside me,
goddess, my ally.


Guy Davenport's translation of Fragment 1

Aphrodita dressed in an embroidery of flowers,
Never to die, the daughter of God,
Untangle from longing and perplexities,
O Lady, my heart.

But come down to me, as you came before,
For if ever I cried, and you heard and came,
Come now, of all times, leaving
Your father’s golden house

In that chariot pulled by sparrows reined and bitted,
Swift in their flying, a quick blur aquiver,
Beautiful, high. They drew you across steep air
Down to the black earth;

Fast they came, and you behind them. O
Hilarious heart, your face all laughter,
Asking, What troubles you this time, why again
Do you call me down?

Asking, In your wild heart, who now
Must you have? Who is she that persuasion
Fetch her, enlist her, and put her into bounden love?
Sappho, who does you wrong?

If she balks, I promise, soon she’ll chase,
If she’s turned from gifts, now she’ll give them,
And if she does not love you, she will love,
Helpless, she will love.

Come, then, loose me from cruelties.
Give my tethered heart its full desire.
Fulfill, and come, lock your shield with mine
Throughout the siege.

Anne Carson's translation

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus,who twist 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
through midair---

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
even unwilling.

Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

And, as promised, this:

1 comment:

Pam Rosenthal said...

ah (now again), reminding us as Susan Mitchell said in her wonderful poem "Erotikon":

...there aren't enough tenses for all this to happen in, the past and the present fragmenting as they bop off one another...

And reminding me of the old second-wave feminist slogan, "Sappho was a right-on woman".