Sappho : Lost In Translation

Sappho : Lost In Translation

Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is that which is lost in translation.” I am inclined to agree with that statement. The ancient Greek poet Sappho instilled many strong emotions into her poetry. She carefully crafted her writing so it flowed from one verse to another. However, while trying my best to pronounce the Greek words to understand the sound the original poem had, I am English with no background in Greek what so ever. Therefore I have to rely on the English translation. Once written in English however, Sappho’s poetry becomes different, as the English words introduce sounds that are not able to rhyme or “flow’ as the Greek ones could. Her poetry then becomes more of a story than a flowing rhythmic poem. This is where I believe Mr Frost’s statement becomes apparent. Sappho was Greek, as were her poems, therefore when we attempt to translate then into English we lose the “essence’ or real “true’ poetry that were her works. No much is known of Sappho’s life. She was born in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, somewhere around 600BC. (There are so many conflicting dates, ranging from 600BC to 630BC.) There is not much mentioned of her family either. Fragments of her poetry that have survived allude to the possible presence of a brother (no. 3) and a daughter (no. 25). Sappho came from an aristocratic family who were believed to be involved in the political world of Mytilene, which, in the end, earned the family exile to Sicily. Sappho never let this influence her poetry however, which she kept confined to the theme of “erotic passion as experienced within the context of a close knit circle of friends”. As I previously said, Sappho’s poems are written, for the most part, about her relationships with women. This has made her a cause for speculation in today’s society. Was she or was she not lesbian? No one to this day can actually make up an answer to satisfy everyone, as there is not enough information…


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