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  • Translation

Sappho Fragments 2, 55, and 58

Sappho, fragment 2 (Lobel-Page 2 / Voigt 2 / Diehl 5, 6 / Bergk 4, 5)

Come, Cypris, from Cretea

to meet me at this holy temple

where a lovely grove of apple awaits our presence

bowering altars

fuming with frankincense.

Here brisk waters babble beneath apple branches,

the grounds are overshadowed by roses,

and through the flickering leaves

enchantments shimmer.

Here the horses will nibble flowers

as we gorge on apples

and the breezes blow

honey-sweet with nectar ...

Here, Cypris, we will gather up garlands,

pour the nectar gracefully into golden cups

and with gladness

commence our festivities.

Sappho, fragment 58 (Lobel-Page 58 / West (2004) / Bergk 79?)

Virgins, be zealous for the violet-scented Muses' lovely gifts

and those of the melodious lyre ...

but my once-supple skin sags now;

my arthritic bones creak;

my ravenblack hair's turned white;

my lighthearted heart's grown heavy;

my knees buckle;

my feet, once fleet as fawns, fail the dance.

I often bemoan my fate ... but what's the use?

Not to grow old is, of course, not an option.

I am reminded of Tithonus, adored by Dawn with her arms full of roses,

who, overwhelmed by love, carried him off beyond death's dark dominion.

Handsome for a day, but soon withered with age,

he became an object of pity to his ageless wife.

Sappho, fragment 55 (Lobel-Page 55 / Voigt 55 / Diehl 58 / Bergk 68 / Cox 65)


soon you'll lie dead, disregarded,

as your worm-eaten corpse like your memory fades;

for those who never gathered the roses of Pieria

must mutely assume their places

among the obscure, uncelebrated

Hadean shades.

Translations © Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch is the editor of The HyperTexts, on-line at, where he has published hundreds of poets over the past three decades. His poetry has been translated into fourteen languages, taught in high schools and colleges around the globe, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. A five-time Pushcart nominee, his poems, translations and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary journals, including The Lyric, New Lyre, Romantics Quarterly, The Chained Muse, LIGHT, Measure, Southwest Review, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Brief Poems, Poem Today, Asses of Parnassus, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing and The Best of the Eclectic Muse.

1 comentario

12 may 2022

Michael, it's very interesting to read these old 'fragments' that has been translated by you. What strikes me most (and I've said the same thing in regard to your translations of Tagore) is how alive and relevant they have become in your hands, and that is no small feat. It's like reading something that has been freshly written - or rewritten - which is more than likely the case. Of the 3 fragments, 'fragment 58' is my favourite. The final 4 lines are a very memorable evocation of a mortal person growing painfully old while an immortal lover looks helplessly on. Compelling stuff!

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