Are you the mother of a distracted teen this Valentine Season? Then we have a 2600 year old poem-of-the-week just for you:
It’s no use
Mother dear, I
can’t finish my
soft as she is
she has almost
killed me with
love for that boy
That’s Mary Barnard’s 1958 translation of one of the surviving fragments of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who lived and wrote about 600 B.C. Times may change, but youth and its trials are ever green.
Perhaps instead of Barnard’s modern free-form translation, you’d prefer something more lyrical:
Oh! my sweet mother, ’tis in vain
I cannot weave as once I wove;
So wilder’d is my heart and brain,
With thinking of that youth I love.
Truly, sweet mother, I cannot weave my web, for I am overcome with desire for a boy because of slender Aphrodite.
Sappho was regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets of the ancient world, but her verse has survived only in fragments and in quotations in the works of other ancient writers.
This week’s love-sick lament, for example, is only known because an ancient grammarian cited it as an example of an unusual type of poetic meter; otherwise, it would have been lost.
So many different translations — but what did Sappho really write? For all you Classically inclined homeschoolers, what she really wrote was something like this:
γλύκηα μᾶτερ, οὔτοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον
πόθῳ δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι᾽ Ἀφροδίταν.
If you’re not Classically inclined, don’t worry. Just know that across the span of 2600 years, glukea mater — sweet mother — she really is speaking to you. 👩👧
What wonderful words have you found and what literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ Talking translations: Here’s a wonderful open-ended educational question you can talk about this week with your high school students: can there ever be a perfect translation from a foreign language? Many people first encounter this question in a serious way in the context of Bible translations, but it of course applies to all works written and spoken in other languages. On your next library visit, why not pick up two or three or four different translations of some literary work, and compare them over your homeschool study table. ✍️
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses poetry calendar for the whole school year at riverhouses.org/calendars and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends.