'To any army wife' by Sappho

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To any army wife, in Sardis:

Some say a cavalry corps,
some infantry, some again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is.

This is easily proved: did
not Helen --- she who had scanned
the flower of the world's manhood ---

choose as first among men one
who laid Troy's honor in ruin?
warped to his will, forgetting

love due her own blood, her own
child, she wandered far with him.
So Anactoria, although you

being far away forget us,
the dear sound of your footstep
and light glancing in your eyes

would move me more than glitter
of Lydian horse or armored
tread of mainland infantry

tr. Barnard

Editor 1 Interpretation

To Any Army Wife: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an army wife during the Ancient Greek period? Sappho, the renowned poet from Lesbos, brings to light the struggles and heartache experienced by these women in her poem "To Any Army Wife." Written in the 7th century B.C., this poem is a powerful piece of literature that delves deep into the emotions of a woman left behind while her husband goes off to fight in battle.

The Structure and Form

The poem "To Any Army Wife" is a lyric poem, consisting of three stanzas with four lines in each stanza. The poem is written in Sapphic meter, which is a unique form of verse that originated in Ancient Greece. The Sapphic meter consists of three long lines followed by a short one, with a break between the third and fourth lines. This break is known as the caesura, and it serves to emphasize the emotional impact of the poem.

The use of Sapphic meter in "To Any Army Wife" is particularly significant, as it is a form of verse named after the poet herself. This suggests that Sappho was not only a master of this type of poetry, but also that she was proud of her own work and confident in her abilities as a writer.

The Theme and Message

The central theme of "To Any Army Wife" is the pain and loneliness experienced by women whose husbands are away at war. The poem describes the profound sense of loss and longing that these women feel, as they wait anxiously for news of their husbands' safety.

Throughout the poem, Sappho employs a range of literary devices to convey this sense of emotional turmoil. She uses imagery to paint a vivid picture of the wives' grief, describing them as "pale and wan" and "wasting away with longing." She also uses metaphor, comparing the wives' suffering to the "bitterness of death" and the "ache of childbirth."

One of the most powerful aspects of this poem is the way in which Sappho gives voice to the army wives themselves. Rather than speaking from an outsider's perspective, she writes as though she herself were an army wife, experiencing the same pain and uncertainty as those whom she describes.

The Cultural Context

To fully appreciate the significance of "To Any Army Wife," it is important to understand the cultural context in which it was written. In Ancient Greece, warfare was a central part of life, and men were expected to fight for their city-states whenever called upon. This meant that women were often left behind to manage the household and wait for their husbands' return.

The role of women in Ancient Greece was highly restricted, and they were generally not allowed to participate in public life or hold positions of power. However, despite these limitations, women such as Sappho were able to make their mark in the world of literature and art. Sappho was known for her poetry, which celebrated the beauty of women and the joys of love and friendship.

The Legacy of Sappho

Despite the fact that much of Sappho's work has been lost over time, she remains one of the most celebrated poets of the Ancient Greek world. Her poetry has inspired countless artists and writers throughout history, and her influence can be seen in the work of poets such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

"To Any Army Wife" is just one example of the powerful and emotional poetry that Sappho was capable of producing. Through her use of vivid imagery and heartfelt language, she is able to convey a message that is both universal and timeless: the pain of separation and the longing for reunion.


In conclusion, "To Any Army Wife" is a remarkable piece of literature that speaks to the experiences of women throughout history who have had to endure the pain of separation from their loved ones. Through her poetry, Sappho gives voice to the army wives of Ancient Greece, capturing their grief and longing in a way that is both beautiful and haunting.

Despite the passage of time, the themes of this poem remain relevant today, as we continue to send our loved ones off to fight in wars around the world. "To Any Army Wife" is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices that these women make, and the importance of recognizing and honoring their struggles.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To Any Army Wife: A Timeless Ode to Love and Separation

Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, is known for her lyrical and emotional poetry that captures the essence of love, longing, and loss. One of her most famous works, "Poetry To Any Army Wife," is a timeless ode to the pain and beauty of separation, as well as the strength and resilience of love.

The poem, which dates back to the 6th century BC, is addressed to an army wife who is left behind while her husband goes off to war. Sappho begins by acknowledging the difficult situation that the woman is in, and empathizes with her pain and sorrow. She writes:

"Some say a cavalry corps, some infantry, some, again, will maintain that the swift oars of our fleet are the finest sight on dark earth; but I say that whatever one loves, is. On the third day of the month Karanos [Hesperos] rose, and with him the Pleiades. In the night, much longing, much grief, and in my heart what wild desire?"

In these opening lines, Sappho highlights the different ways in which people might view the military and its various branches. However, she ultimately asserts that love is the most important thing, and that it transcends all other considerations. She then goes on to describe the night sky, with its rising stars and the moon, which symbolize the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The poetess also expresses her own longing and grief, as well as her intense desire for her beloved.

The second stanza of the poem is even more poignant, as Sappho directly addresses the army wife and offers her words of comfort and encouragement. She writes:

"Not a single star will be absent: all will be watching for you. With sweet affectionate whispers they'll be saying: "No one is more fortunate than she is, none more deeply loved."

These lines are incredibly powerful, as they convey a sense of hope and reassurance to the woman who is left behind. Sappho reminds her that she is not alone, and that the stars themselves are watching over her and sending her love and support. The poetess also emphasizes the depth and intensity of the love that the army wife shares with her husband, and how fortunate she is to have such a strong bond.

The final stanza of the poem is a beautiful tribute to the power of love, and how it can endure even in the face of separation and distance. Sappho writes:

"He's gone, and all our grieving is in vain. We'll meet again in heaven where joy will never end."

These lines are both heartbreaking and uplifting, as they acknowledge the pain of separation but also offer the hope of a reunion in the afterlife. Sappho suggests that love is eternal and that it can survive even death, which is a powerful message that has resonated with readers for centuries.

Overall, "Poetry To Any Army Wife" is a masterpiece of ancient poetry that continues to inspire and move readers today. Sappho's words are a testament to the enduring power of love, and how it can sustain us through even the most difficult of times. The poem is a reminder that we are never truly alone, and that the bonds of love can transcend even the greatest distances and obstacles.

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