Sappho’s Phainetai moi – Poem of Jealousy

Got intrigued by Germaine Greer’s reference to above poem in her scathing criticism of Naomi Wolf’s book ‘Vagina‘.  Greer pointed out that this poem is about love for a distant object, not a free-for-all celebration of the supposedly dual clitoral/vaginal female orgasm that only a select third of the female population supposedly experience.

Actually Greer cleared up decades of angst over the issue for me with her reference to urologist Dr Helen O’Connell, you know feeling so inadequate because I only ever seem to achieve a ‘clitoral orgasm’.  What O’Connell says is: Helen O’Connell: “I think if you’re trying to separate out the two then it’s probably, you know, like barking up the wrong tree – I think they’re clearly one and the same structure.”  Oh the immense comfort!  (thanx Germs!) But that’s another story….

I know next to nix of ancient Greek language, but on researching the poem (just for something to do) found a very interesting web page of poets throughout the ages translating Sappho’s poem from Catullus to Sir Phillip Sidney in the 16th century to Robert Lowell and beyond.  This poem with its theme of unrequited love and the very real personal agony it causes, seems to be an unending source of fascination to poets.  I suppose that’s what you call immortal poetry.  I’ve had a lot of experience with unrequited love so thought I’d try my hand at it, although ending up with three stanzas rather than the usual four:

My take on Sappho’s  Poem of Jealousy

So like a God
To me who
Sits and watches you who
Hears your voice
And laughter

And seeing you
My tongue cracks
Voiceless fire burns live words
The beating heart
Beneath the skin
My eyes opaque
And ears are dead
To listening

And now
Your dark shade
Sits as death in cold sweat upon me
Pale shade of the green grass
I am

So poor that I suffer all.

– Megan Payne, 13/12/12


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