Song of the Rose: Attributed to Sappho

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1. Song of the Rose: Attributed to Sapphoa

(From Achilles Tatiusb)

If Zeus1 chose us a King of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose and would royally crown it,
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it.
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair,--
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).

3. Explanatory Notes

Sappho Greek poet (5th c. B.C.) from Lesbos, famed for her love lyrics; see “A Vision of Poets,” l. 318n.

Achilles 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.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 17-Feb-2009
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