1. Song of the Rose: Attributed to Sapphoa
chose us a King of the
flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose and would royally crown
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves
Is the lightning of beauty, that strikes through the bowers
On pale lovers who sit in the glow unaware.
Ho, the rose breathes of love! ho, the rose, lifts the cup
To the red lips of Cypris10
invoked for a guest!
Ho, the rose, having curled its sweet leaves for the world,
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the Wind as it laughs from the west.
2. Note on the text
The subtitle of this song, “attributed to Sappho,” conveys the skepticism about
its authorship that EBB expressed more bluntly in her correspondence, where she
averred that the lyric was “not by Sappho, .. one of the severest of writers as
to style” (BC 11:47). H.T. Wharton (1846-95), who reprinted this translation in
his popular compendium Sappho. Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings, and a Literal
Translation (1895), agreed with her, as do modern classicists. In EBB’s
collected Poems (1850, 1853, 1856), this jubilant lyric immediately precedes and
stands in counterpoint to “A Dead Rose.” For a text with variants and more
extended annotation, see The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Vol. 2,
General Editor, Sandra Donaldson, Volume Editors Marjorie Stone &
Beverly Taylor (London: Pickering and Chatto).
Sappho Greek poet (5th c. B.C.) from Lesbos, famed
for her love lyrics; see “A Vision of Poets,” l. 318n. ↵
Tatius Greek author (flourished c. the second half of the
second century A.D.) of the prose romance Leuicippe and Cleitophon, in
which appears the Greek lyric from which this poem derives. EBB
inscribed and signed her translation on the fly-leaf of her 1792 edition
of Tatius’s work (R D1259, A8). She translated the Greek verse for a
“Classical Album” assembled by Anne Thomson (a friend of her kinsman
John Kenyon), but never published (see BC 10:397, 157-58, 171).
Zeus king of the
gods in Greek mythology (Roman Jove). ↵
Cypris Venus, goddess of love in Greek mythology,
associated with the island of Cyprus.