Tuesday, 26 June 2012


“Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho”

She was about sex, love, poetry. Smart as hell, and sassy to boot. An enigma who’s given us access to her deepest thoughts. A woman about whom we know nothing of use, and everything of importance. Doesn’t she sound a little like your best friend?
Sappho was born on the Island of Lesbos in the early-7th century BC. She wrote poetry. And that’s about all we know of her. A violet-haired mystery. But through her poems, she’s left us keys to the innermost rooms of her heart.

I have not had one word from her

Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left, she wept

a great deal; she said to me, "This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly."

I said, "Go, and be happy
but remember (you know
well) whom you leave shackled by love

"If you forget me, think                                                    
of our gifts to Aphrodite

and all the loveliness that we shared

"all the violet tiaras,
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck

"myrrh poured on your head
and on soft mats girls with
all that they most wished for beside them

"while no voices chanted
choruses without ours,

no woodlot bloomed in spring without song..."

Yes, that’s a woman she’s pining for.
 Sure, there have been debates about whether these poems were autobiographical. Sure, same-sex romantic love was more common in Greece than in other historical periods. But let’s be clear about this: Sappho was absolutely subverting norms when she wrote this. Loving women was a brave thing in a world where (even high-status, intelligent) women were ultimately expected to keep house, have children, and behave. Writing well was a brave thing in a patriarchal society where men held political power, and men’s education was most cherished. Writing better than men – well. That was just foolish.

Except somehow, it wasn’t. Through her genius – the beauty, clarity and feeling in her poetry – Sappho gained not just acceptance, but admiration. Plato called her the 10th muse. Students study her work to this day.

Sappho is a muse, but not just for men, not just for poets. House of Beth is basing their next collection on her – strong, sensuous, loving and intelligent – and the spark that she brings to the world through her writing.
Take heed:

That country girl has witched your wishes,
all dressed up in her country clothes
and she hasn't got the sense
to hitch her rags above her ankles.
--Translated by Jim Powell

Have the sense. Make like House of Beth’s Sappho and you’ll never be the country bumpkin! Combine sexy confidence (those cheeky hints of skin) with the heady romance of a floaty dress. Twine flowers through your hair, or beads. Get fierce, brave, and inspired.

After all, we can all use a little extra poetry in our lives.

By Saskia Deerson 

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