Sappho in Verse Translation

Sappho. Translated by Mary Barnard, Foreword by Dudley Fitts. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1956 (renewed 1986). (link)

Let me begin with a quotation, and it shall be nearly all I need to say:

You may forget but

Let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us

If you like powerful, simple verse, this book of translations is for you. Mary Barnard’s Sappho has a voice that rings across 2600 years with the crisp and particular clarity of poems by a woman friend one has left behind in one’s home country while traveling, who sends letters with poems tucked into them by post.

None of the taunting fragments that line Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era are to be found here; whether or not the illusion of completeness is an ill to scholars, the collection of translations by Barnard are, altogether, a thing of beauty. The book deserves to be read many a time and cherished, and it will. I could go into all kinds of particularities, but it would mean reading the book again to find them and I’d get sucked into it again, like I did as the sun began to sink on us, traveling across the countryside in a bus.

So I won’t quote more. I’ll just recommend it with the utmost sincerity and urgency. Buy it now, read it, give it to friends.

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