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Sappho, fragment 2 (Bergk), The Ode to Anactoria, or To a Woman from Wharton's Sappho, with versions by H. T. Wharton, Catullus, W. E. Gladstone, Burton, Ambrose Philips, Smollett, John Herman Merivale, J. A. Symonds, and Tennyson, plus context.

That man seems to me peer of gods, who sits in thy presence, and hears close to him thy sweet speech and lovely laughter; that indeed makes my heart flutter in my bosom. For when I see thee but a little, I have no utterance left, my tongue is broken down, and straightway a subtle fire has run under my skin, with my eyes I have no sight, my ears ring, sweat pours down, and a trembling seizes all my body; I am paler than grass, and seem in my madness little better than one dead. But I must dare all, since one so poor ...
H. T. Wharton

The famous imitation of this ode by Catullus, li., Ad Lesbiam--

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
Ille, si fas est, superare divos,
Qui sedens adversus identidem te
        Spectat et audit

Dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
Eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
        * * * *

Lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
Flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
Tintinant aures, gemina teguntur
        Lumina nocte--

is thus translated by Mr. W. E. Gladstone:--

Him rival to the gods I place,
    Him loftier yet, if loftier be,
Who, Lesbia, sits before thy face,
    Who listens and who looks on thee;

Thee smiling soft. Yet this delight
    Doth all my sense consign to death;
For when thou dawnest on my sight,
    Ah, wretched! flits my labouring breath.

My tongue is palsied. Subtly hid
   Fire creeps me through from limb to limb:
My loud ears tingle all unbid:
    Twin clouds of night mine eyes bedim.

and recently by the late Sir R. F. Burton:--

Peer of a god meseemeth he,
Nay, passing gods (an that can be!),
Who all the while sits facing thee,
        Sees thee and hears

Thy low sweet laughs which (ah me!) daze
Mine every sense, and as I gaze
Upon thee, Lesbia, o'er me strays
        . . . . .

My tongue is dulled, my limbs adown
Flows subtle flame; with sound its own
Rings either ear, and o'er are strown
        Mine eyes with night.
Blest as the immortal gods is he,
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
And hears and sees thee all the while
Softly speak and sweetly smile.

'Twas this deprived my soul of rest,
And raised such tumults in my breast;
For while I gazed, in transport tost,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost:

My bosom glowed; the subtle flame
Ran quick through all my vital frame;
O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung;
My ears with hollow murmurs rung.

In dewy damps my limbs were chilled;
My blood with gentle horror thrilled;
My feeble pulse forgot to play;
I fainted, sank, and died away.
Ambrose Philips, 1711
Thy fatal shafts unerring move,
I bow before thine altar, Love.
I feel thy soft resistless flame
Glide swift through all my vital frame.

For while I gaze my bosom glows,
My blood in tides impetuous flows;
Hope, fear, and joy alternate roll,
And floods of transports whelm my soul.

My faltering tongue attempts in vain
In soothing murmurs to complain;
My tongue some secret magic ties,
My murmurs sink in broken sighs.

Condemned to nurse eternal care,
And ever drop the silent tear,
Unheard I mourn, unknown I sigh,
Unfriended live, unpitied die.
In Roderick Random, 1748
Blest as the immortal gods is he,
The youth whose eyes may look on thee,
Whose ears thy tongue's sweet melody
        May still devour.
Thou smilest too?--sweet smile, whose charm
Has struck my soul with wild alarm,
And, when I see thee, bids disarm
        Each vital power.
Speechless I gaze: the flame within
Runs swift o'er all my quivering skin;
My eyeballs swim; with dizzy din
        My brain reels round;
And cold drops fall; and tremblings frail
Seize every limb; and grassy pale
I grow; and then--together fall
        Both sight and sound.
John Herman Merivale, 1833
Peer of gods he seemeth to me, the blissful
Man who sits and gazes at thee before him,
Close beside thee sits, and in silence hears thee
        Silverly speaking,
Laughing love's low laughter. Oh this, this only
Stirs the troubled heart in my breast to tremble!
For should I but see thee a little moment,
        Straight is my voice hushed;
Yea, my tongue is broken, and through and through me
'Neath the flesh impalpable fire runs tingling;
Nothing see mine eyes, and a noise of roaring
        Waves in my ear sounds;
Sweat runs down in rivers, a tremor seizes
All my limbs, and paler than grass in autumn,
Caught by pains of menacing death, I falter,
        Lost in the love-trance.
J. Addington Symonds, 1833

Compare Lord Tennyson:--

    I watch thy grace; and in its place
My heart a charmed slumber keeps,
    While I muse upon thy face;
And a languid fire creeps
    Through my veins to all my frame,
Dissolvingly and slowly: soon
    From thy rose-red lips my name
Floweth; and then, as in a swoon,
    With dinning sound my ears are rife,
        My tremulous tongue faltereth,
        I lose my colour, I lose my breath,
        I drink the cup of a costly death
    Brimmed with delicious draughts of warmest life.
    I die with my delight, before
        I hear what I would hear from thee.
Eleänore, 1832.


Last night, when some one spoke his name,
From my swift blood that went and came
A thousand little shafts of flame
Were shiver'd in my narrow frame.

When Fatima was first published (1832) this motto was prefixed--

phainetai moi kênos isos theoisin
emmen anêr,

showing Tennyson's acknowledgments to Sappho.


And with line 14, Swinburne's--

Paler than grass in summer.


Made like white summer-coloured grass.

Longinus, about 250 A.D. uses this, The Ode to Anactoria, or To a beloved Woman, or To a Maiden, as tradition variously names it, to illustrate the perfection of the Sublime in poetry, calling it 'not one passion, but a congress of passions,' and showing how Sappho had here seized upon the signs of love-frenzy and harmonised them into faultless phrase. Plutarch had, about 60 A.D., spoken of this ode as 'mixed with fire,' and quoted Philoxenus as referring to Sappho's 'sweet-voiced songs healing love.'

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