Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Sappho: Aeolic Fragment


Apple orchard, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, south-west France
: photo by DSHover, August 2005

Frae the Aiolic o Psappho

Caller rain frae abune
reeshles among the epple-trees:
the leaves are soughan wi the breeze,
and sleep faas drappan doun.

reeshles = rustles

Douglas Young: Frae the Aiolic o Psappho, from A Baird o Thristles: Scots Poems, 1947

Tanew Nature Reserve, Poland: photo by Merlin, 2006


...Rain, a breeze, Aeolic
Within the cool trough of apple-wood
There is a rustle, air, water move,
...Sleep sifts through the leaves

Red-figure vase by the Group of Polygnotos, ca. 440–430 BC. Seated, Sappho is reading one of her poems to a group of three student-friends:
photo by Marsyas, 22 December 2005 (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

     αμφὶ δ᾽ ὔδωρ
ψῖχρον ὤνεμοσ κελάδει δἰ ὔσδων
μαλίνων, αἰθυσσομένων δὲ φύλλων
     κῶμα κατάρρει.

Marble head of Sappho, found at Smyrna, near present-day Izmir,Turkey
: photo by Bjorn Christian Torresen, 2009 (Istanbul Archeological Museum)

Sapphic fragment: text from Greek Lyric I: Sappho and Alcaeus, ed. D.A. Campbell (Loeb Classical Library)

Rain, a breeze, Aeolic: TC version


Hazen said...

Sappho, Tom, has the look of one who sees much and understands much but who is not resigned, who does not become like the stone to which the sculptor has managed to impart a kind of melancholy and compassionate wisdom.
That picture of the bucolic forest stream could be from the mountains around here. I experienced such as a child.
‘Sleep sifts through the leaves.’ Lovely.

TC said...

That's where we'd all wish to be, I think, Hazen.

The idea of Sappho in Scots, unlikely in conception -- but beautifully achieved by Douglas Young, here, to my alien ear-and-a-half anyhow.

Can it be some sensings of the world are universal?

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful. I love this and sleep faas drappan doun and the leaves are soughan.
For some reason, the Greek letters always give me a chill.
I suppose my mother telling me what they were and then giving me a piece of a myth . . . as if out of the letters comes a whole other world of gods and goddesses and so on.
Some childish part of me still sees them as magic.

Brad said...

The very phrase, in even one's worst Scottish accent, "and sleep faas drappan doun" carries with it the sound of which it speaks. It is difficult for me to vocalize without also slowing my tongue and pitching my tone into a whispered drone. There is a lullaby quality to it, as much as the rain.

You've done much better retaining your Greek lessons than I. As with Haven, I am esp. smitten by the final translated line.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

If one compares this to Anne Carson's translation in her If Not, Winter, one can appreciate how much better your version is condensed(pun unintended). Cool, to say the least.

ACravan said...

Really splendid. That apple tree. Sappho in Scots IS an odd conception but it really, really works. Curtis

Chris said...

I too love "sleep sifts through the leaves". But isn't κῶμα a touch more than "sleep"? Something closer to "insensibility", though that's too much (and too Latinate).

Tom, please do a post someday on Sappho 31, φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν. And Catullus's adaptation of it. Those poems burn and burn. Even their grammar is fiendish.



'Tis a lovely poem indeed -- in the Scots (". . . reeshles among the epple-trees:/ the leaves are soughan wi the breeze,/ and sleep faas drappan doun") and English ("a rustle, air, water move,/ ...Sleep sifts through the leaves") and the Greek too, no doubt. And all those apples in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, in the tree and on the ground!


light coming into sky above still black
plane of ridge, quail calling Chi-ca-go
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

synthesis, in so far as one
from the other is one

so obvious, and immediately
noticeable, that even

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
line of jet in pale blue sky on horizon

Anonymous said...

Apart from Scots Gaelic there are several dialects of Broad Scots ... one interestingly called Doric

TC said...

Thanks everyone!

The author of the Scots version of Sappho's lyric was a formidable translator of Greek drama as well, and a notable figure in the Scottish Renaissance movement. A bit of background might help, as this poet/translator is not a celebrity author (think Anne Carson... but only for a nanosecond, just to have something appropriate on the coffeetable of the mind in case the Poetry Foundation calls.).

From an article in Études Écossaisses:

Douglas Young was born in Fife in 1913 and died in the USA in 1973. His father worked in India and he spent his early years there before becoming a boarder at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. He went on to study Classics at St Andrews University, which he chose, in preference to the Oxbridge route urged on him by his schoolmasters, out of “a sort of Nationalist instinct". That “instinct” became for him a lifelong dedication as a cultural-political activist of left-wing sympathies to the cause of Scottish independence. As well as standing as a parliamentary candidate for the Scottish National Party, he served as Chairman of the party for a period. He also closely aligned himself with the Scottish Renaissance literary movement initiated by Hugh MacDiarmid in the 1920s, and followed MacDiarmid in his vigorous advocacy of the Scots language. He became one of the most prominent writers associated with the second wave of the Scottish Renaissance that emerged in the late 1930s and 1940s, to which he made significant contributions as a polemicist, poet, critic and translator; indeed, a profile of him in The Scots Review in 1947 stated: “Still in his early thirties Young is the acknowledged pillar of the Renaissance.” After St Andrews University, Young continued his studies at Oxford University, then took up a Classics post at Aberdeen University in 1938. During World War II he refused conscription out of nationalist principle and served two terms of imprisonment. While he was in Barlinnie Prison, his first collection of Scots poems and verse translations from a variety of languages, Auntran Blads, 1943, was seen through the press by friends; his second, ABraird oThristles, followed in 1947. The publicity attracted by his two trials and prison sentences caused him employment difficulties but he eventually secured a post at St Andrews University, where he remained from the late 1940s until 1968 when he took up a Classics chair, first in Canada and then in the USA. In a memorial volume published after his death, one tribute concluded: “He was a polymath […] with a fantastically well-stored mind, enriched by the widest reading, constant travel, and contacts with people of all lands and of all conditions.”

TC said...


"... isn't κῶμα a touch more than "sleep"? Something closer to "insensibility", though that's too much (and too Latinate)..."

Well, yes, κῶμα would obviously be a pretty deep form of sleep. But as you say "insensibility", not quite right. (Sounds more like Propertius than Sappho.)

"Lethargy" or "stupor" -- no, no, a bit too much like the warnings on over-the-counter sleepaids.

(Catullus as per request now loiters in the Green Room by the way.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TC said...

That's lovely, Colin.

As to the visit of your mother's second husband, the accent problem should not be a worry. To my ear, Scots always sounds quite a bit more intelligible than Down East, in any case. Not to speak of Uppercrustian Hahvud.

I was in Ann Arbor when JF Kennedy came through, campaigning for the Big Position. He stood on the steps of the Student Union and appealed for the support of the Masses of the Hinterland, with a prepared compliment I'm sure he thought certain to win hearts and minds -- calling Ann Arbor "the Hahvud of the West".

Nobody could figure out what he was saying.

Anonymous said...

"sleep sifts through the leaves"

say no more!

Thanks, Tom!