In the most recent issue of the New Yorker there’s a charming little long read about recent discoveries in the life and work of Sappho, including two new Sappho poems (or… whatever). The two fragments, one discovered in 2012 the other in 2004, take on the subject of idiot relatives and old age.
[I bring] the beautiful gifts of the violet Muses, girls,
and [I love] that song lover, the sweet-toned lyre.
My skin was [delicate] before, but now old age
[claims it]; my hair turned from black [to white].
My spirit has grown heavy; knees buckle
that once could dance light as fawns.
I often groan, but what can I do?
Impossible for humans not to age.
The article includes an excellent summary of the recent scholarship on the poet. Including why so much of her work is lost (an estimated 10,000 lines reduced to 70 complete lines and 250 fragments), and the possible social context of her writing.
Rather than expressions of individual yearning for a young woman, the poems were, in Lardinois’s view, “public forms of praise of the general attractiveness of the girl,” celebrating her readiness for wedlock and integration into the larger society.
The essay repeatedly reinforces how little we actually know about the woman and the work except for the strange loneliness and wonder her words provoke.
You came, I yearned for you,
and you cooled my senses that burned with desire
An updated collection of her poems, including some background essays was published in 2014.