Saturday, 27 September 2008

Versions of Sappho

I'm currently preparing a piece for this blog on the extraordinary polymath, translator, writer and artist Guy Davenport. As part of researching this piece, I've been rereading his fiction. In one luminous story in the voice of Pausanias, The Antiquities of Elis, I came upon some lovely Davenport-minted pieces of pseudo-Sappho. I thought I'd share them, along with another fragment written by Jeanette Winterson, from her novel Art & Lies.
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'The Antiquities of Elis', from Da Vinci's Bicycle, Guy Davenport

We came to a field where women were winnowing beside a white house, their blue shirts stippled with chaff. Whether they were working or dancing was a pretty question, for they dipped the grain with their long baskets to a busy music which a bearded fellow played on a bouzouki, a peasant lyre with four sets of double strings. He could have been forty or a hundred years old. Greeks go from youth to age with no apparent transition. He could have been Orpheus himself, older than the blue mountains beyond the fields. As we came abreast of them, we could make out the song.

White was the moon
And the stars in the river.
O Anaktoria,
Do you dream of Lysander?

To our surprise, Lykas began to sing in his high sweet voice, not yet that of a man.

White was the robe
She spread for her lover,
White was the robe
And embroidered the cover.

But whiter far
Was the snow he lies under,
And whiter the stars
Where the hill foxes wander.

* * *

And Jeanette Winterson's:

Then rose the white moon.
My love is whiter.
White as salt
Drawn from bitter pools.

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