‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sappho in Late Middle English

And so we go on. If (in my timeline, at any rate) Hesiod's 7th-century Greek maps onto an early Middle-English idiom, then Sappho's 6th-century lyrics ought to be renderable into a kind of Chaucerese without doing too much violence to the time-scheme of the project. I've elected to do this, at any rate, for the only one of her poems to have survived complete: the 'Hymn to Aphrodite'. Three parts to this blogpost: the cod-Chaucer of the poem itself; a literal English prose translation of the Greek stanza by stanza and finally, as an added bonus, the Greek itself. (If you're interested, here's a modern English translation by Edwin Marion Cox).

Glytering-troned and dethlesse Afrodytte,
Gods dowhter, wunder-wicche, on me haf pitee,
Let passe me, queene, thes agonie and thole,
Grinde not my soule.

Wheneer byfor thou hast mi hearkenéd—
And ploumbed the distans heering that I said,
And heeding, thou hast com, and left behand
Gods golden land,

In chaar moste flete bi wingéd steedes drawn,
Upon the skye al dark afore the dawn,
Throgh hevenes hy and wide espace in glyde
Doun to erthside;

Than soonest com thou blessedest ladie,
With contenance devyne and asketh me
Asmile, what wo anonder me did falle,
That I thee calle?

What in my leesting hertes maddenesse
Who now most feele my ane besechenesse?
Who is it most thir own hertsease ago
For wreyed Sapfo?

For yif she fleeth, fresshly shal she folowe,
Today turn giftes, yet offreth them tomorwe,
She chues nat love, yet loving shal her chues
Thogh she eschewes.

Com then, I preye, gyf me an ende to grief,
Remoeven care o godess if thou leef,
What I moste coveite an it be provyde,
Thou at my syde!

[[Stanza 1] Glittering-throned and immortal Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, wondrous sorceress, spare me, o queen, this anguish and distress and do not crush my spirit. [2] Whenever before you discerned my call in the great distance, and heard my words, you came, leaving behind your father’s golden realm. [3] You came with chariot drawn by winged beasts through the darkness of the sky, from the expanses of heaven and down to the earth. [4] Quickly you arrived; most blessed lady, and with a smile upon your divine countenance did ask me what woe had fallen upon me that I had called you: [5] What is it now, in my yearning heart's madness? Who now must be made to feel desire for me? Who now must sacrifice their heart’s-ease for wronged Sappho? [6] For even if she flies she shall soon follow and if she rejects gifts today, yet tomorrow she will offer them, and if she does not choose love yet shall love choose her, howevermuch she tries to avoid it. [7] Come I pray thee, give me release from my sorrows, and if it please you o goddess take away my cares; what my heart most craves may it be provided, and you my ally.]

Ποικιλόθρον᾽ ἀθάνατ᾽ ᾽Αφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος, δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε
μή μ᾽ ἄσαισι μήτ᾽ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
πότνια, θῦμον.

ἀλλὰ τυίδ᾽ ἔλθ᾽, αἴποτα κἀτέρωτα
τᾶς ἔμας αὔδως ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα
χρύσιον ἦλθες

ἄρμ᾽ ὐποσδεύξαια• κάλοι δέ σ᾽ ἆγον
ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύκνα δινεῦντες πτέρ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ὠράν᾽ αἴθε-
ρος διὰ μέσσω,

αἶψα δ᾽ ἐξίκοντο• σὺ δ᾽, ὦ μάκαιραv
μειδιάσαισ᾽ ἀθάνατῳ προσώπῳ,
ἤρε᾽ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
δηὖτε κάλημι

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ• "τίνα δηὖτε †πείθω
ἄψ σ᾽ ἄγην† ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς τ᾽, ὦ
Ψάπφ᾽, ἀδίκηει;

καὶ γάρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει,
αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ᾽, ἀλλὰ δώσει,
αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει,
κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα".

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον
ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι
θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον• σὐ δ᾽ αὔτα
σύμμαχος ἔσσο.


  1. That's superb, even if the verse structure makes me think of Dunbar more than Chaucer. Makes me want to learn Greek, not for the first time.