Isle of Lesbos: Poetry : Historical : Sappho's Poetry in Translation

 

Sappho's Poetry in Translation

(For biographical information and other poems, see Sappho.)

This page presents a single poem of Sappho's, as it is translated by six different translators. Reading these translations should give you an idea of the possible changes in meaning and tone that a translator can introduce to Sappho's work.

Translations available here:

Translation by Josephine Balmer

It seems to me that man is equal to the gods,
that is, whoever sits opposite you
and, drawing nearer, savours, as you speak,
the sweetness of your voice

and the thrill of your laugh, which have so stirred the heart
in my own breast, that whenever I catch
sight of you, even if for a moment,
then my voice deserts me

and my tongue is struck silent, a delicate fire
suddenly races underneath my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears whistle like
the whirling of a top

and sweat pours down me and a trembling creeps over
my whole body, I am greener than grass,
at such times, I seem to be no more than
a step away from death;

but all can be endured since even a pauper....

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Translation by Mary Barnard

He is more than a hero

He is a god in my eyes--
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you--he

who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing

laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can't

speak--my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,

hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body

and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn't far from me

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Translation by Willis Barnstone

"Seizure"

To me he seems like a god
as he sits facing you and
hears you near as you speak
softly and laugh

in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs. For now
as I look at you my voice
is empty and

can say nothing as my tongue
cracks and slender fire quick
under my skin. My eyes are dead
to light, my ears

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Translation by Jim Powell

In my eyes he matches the gods, that man who
sits there facing you--any man whatever--
listening from closeby to the sweetness of your
   voice as you talk, the

sweetness of your laughter: yes, that--I swear it--
sets the heart to shaking inside my breast, since
once I look at you for a moment, I can't
   speak any longer,

but my tongue breaks down, and then all at once a
subtle fire races inside my skin, my
eyes can't see a thing and a whirring whistle
   thrums at my hearing,

cold sweat covers me and a trembling takes
ahold of me all over: I'm greener than the
gras is and appear to myself to be little
   short of dying

But all must be endured, since even a poor [

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Translation by Diane Rayor

To me it seems
that man has the fortune of the gods,
whoever sits beside you, and close,
who listens to you sweetly speaking
and laughing temptingly;
my heart flutters in my breast,
whenever I look quickly, for a moment--
I say nothing, my tongue broken,
a delicate fire runs under my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears roar,
cold sweat rushes down me,
trembling seizes me,
I am greener than grass,
to myself I seem
needing but little to die. But all must be endured, since...

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Translation by Paul Roche

"I More Than Envy Him"

He is a god in my eyes, that man,
Given to sit in front of you
And close to himself sweetly to hear
   The sound of you speaking.

Your magical laugh--this I swear--
Batters my heart--my breast astir--
My voice when I see you suddenly near
   Refuses to come.

My tongue breaks up and a delicate fire
Runs through my flesh; I see not a thing
With my eyes, and all that I hear
   In my ears is a hum.

The sweat runs down, a shuddering takes
Me in every part and pale as the drying
Grasses, then, I think I am near
   The moment of dying.

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