I don’t wonder some blamed you
For coming to me when you shouldn’t.
We walked everywhere together,
To hills, streams, holy places
Where we talked alone among
Spring choirs. But can any girl
Stay long or far from the woman she loves?
Soft girl I was all apart from,
You came to my house again and sang
To me; so I have come, and waited
For you, woman wanderer like me,
Beneath the laurels, and when you came,
So quiet I hardly heard you,
Sudden beauty of your moving robes:
You have worn your milky gown
That loosens my limbs every time
I see it. My breath catches,
And I laugh. No girl who looks
Into sunlight will ever have
Your mastery. You bring fire
To cool my heart. Safe now,
You have flown to me like a child.
I spread pillows, and you lie down,
Taking off your blouse, leaning
On my breasts, and girls serve us
All that Ionians could want.
You tie tiny roses and violets
In your hair, weave hundred-
Flower garlands for our throats,
And rub royal myrrh over our bodies.
I see Love dance down from heaven,
Tearing off his locust-red shirt.
Quick, send your girls
Away. Sing me loose
From your silent beauty.
Like downrushing mountain whirlwinds
That whip the oaks, love
Shatters my heart, and I
Tremble. My eyes
Fade, my ears
Roar, my tongue
Is broken up. Thin
Fire runs under all my skin.
Blinded by hyacinth light, I
Gaze at Hera’s faceted
Throne. I am drowned
In sweat. I am paler
Than grass. I know
What it is to die.
Up, tortoise lyre, become a poem.
I’ll sing for my comrades’ delight.
Earth has flowered into spring
Embroidery, women in Lydian gowns.
I watch young girls pick wildflowers
Sun has coursed
Over purple seas, over sacred rivers
Where virgins rub their thighs, pouring
Gentle water on themselves like oil.
He dazzles Earth with long-
Falling flame; cricket scrapes
Shrill song from his wings.
Come, Aphrodita, from Crete’s flowers
To this grove where apple branches
Rattle by waterside, and quivering
Leaves pour dusky sleep down on us.
Come, Queen, bear nectar in gold-knuckle
Cups to these, my honey-voiced virgins,
I’ll always love.
Now my doves’ hearts
Grow light; their wings drop to their sides.
Hesperos, most beautiful star,
You bring home sheep and goat, and all
That dawn disperses, but send
Daughter wandering from mother.
Yet all stars are nothing
Next to Moon, who burns
The sky silver. Supple girls
Ring the ancient incensed altar,
Crushing flowering grass
As shepherds crush hyacinths to bloom
Stubbornly more purple against green.
Call out our friends! We’ll pour
Myrrh on our breasts, loop anise
Around our necks, and dance to keen
Flutes and tight drums, singing
Hymen! our bodies! Hymenion!
Our joyous madness! We’ll have
Less sleep than that nightingale
Whose herald voice intrudes
On us from dewy branches.
But we must stop our singing
Before the Queenly dawn
In her Scythian-wood sandals
Steals upon us. Oh, Kypros-born,
Let our night last twice as long!
6. To Her Lover
Alkaios, if your tongue weren’t
Always stirring up trouble,
You’d tell me your real desires.
Stand up. Look at me as friend
To friend. Show me your naked eyes.
Now, though you still love me,
Find yourself a younger woman.
I can’t bear any more
To share my bed with a man.
If my breasts could drip milk
Or my womb still carry, I’d climb
Happy in your bed, but though
I’ve prayed I might escape it,
Age thousandfolds my skin, and
Love doesn’t hurry his painful
Gifts to me. But, Kypros, what
Can I do? This can’t be undone,
No more than dawn can end
Without becoming night, or keep
Her lover young. Oh, black dream,
Come while I’m sleeping: I still
Delight in making love, and need
Beauty of graceful girls
Just as I need sunlight.
So for now, Alkaios, I’ll sing
Her whose young breasts are made
Even sweeter by violets.
7. To Whom the Seagirls Sang
Beloved Gongyla, sing
And play the tortoise lyre
For me. Children, I’ve had
Such fine gifts, but now my hair,
Once raven-violet, is white,
And my legs, once fawn-nimble,
Can’t even carry me. I never
Hoped for Agamemnon’s lot,
To join Achaea’s heroes
That Hermes led by Acheron’s meadows,
But soon I’ll see Hekate come,
And I’ll be all undone.
My wealth is no comfort; now
I want only that riverbank’s lotus.
Don’t do that, Kleis; there’s
No place for grief in this house,
Devoted to the Muses. I know
When golden Hekate, handmaid
Into Persephone’s dark bedroom,
You’ll cut off all your hair, and tear
Your clothes until your breasts bleed.
But think: when a woman dies
Who refused to share in Pieria’s nine
Roses, she’ll be forgotten. Dim here,
She’ll be dimmer there. They have
No memory in the house of Lord
Aidoneus. Death is man’s evil; the gods
Know this, or they’d have died themselves,
Long ago. Of all the gods, only Death
Makes no room for hope.
Is a child of Zeus—it does not
Rust; no moth or worm eats it;
It overturns the strongest heart—
But the rosy-ankled Muses, who
Taught me their secret Craft,
I will not be forgotten. Death
Oppresses us; we fear oblivion,
But are saved by human memory:
Over all the world’s poets,
Tall in her chariot,
Towers the singer of Lesbos.
[By the way, if you liked this, my complete poetry (so far) is available on Amazon and Kindle. The title is Theodyssies and Paradoxologies.]