'You know the place: then' by Sappho

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You know the place: then
Leave Crete and come to us
waiting where the grove is
pleasantest, by precincts

sacred to you; incense
smokes on the altar, cold
streams murmur through the

apple branches, a young
rose thicket shades the ground
and quivering leaves pour

down deep sleep; in meadows
where horses have grown sleek
among spring flowers, dill

scents the air. Queen! Cyprian!
Fill our gold cups with love
stirred into clear nectar

Editor 1 Interpretation

"You Know the Place: Then" by Sappho: A Rich Tapestry of Love and Longing

Sappho's poetry has been celebrated for centuries for its depth of emotion, its lyrical beauty, and its exploration of themes that are timeless and universal. "You Know the Place: Then" is a prime example of Sappho's mastery of the poetic form, as she weaves together images of nature, references to mythology, and a powerful sense of love and longing to create a tapestry of emotion that lingers long after the poem is finished.

The Poem

"You Know the Place: Then" is a short poem, just ten lines long, but it is packed with meaning and emotion. Here is the text of the poem in its entirety:

You know the place: then leave Crete behind you, let your ship carry you where you have no intention of going.

As you sweep through the shallows on the way to Samos, fingers trailing in the sea, you'll think of us on Crete—

our sweet conversations, our laughter and our longing.

At first glance, the poem may seem simple, almost like a travelogue of sorts. But a closer look reveals the complex emotions at play, as the speaker urges the listener to leave behind the familiar and embrace the unknown, all while reminiscing about a past relationship and the intense emotions that still linger.


As with any poem, there are many possible interpretations of "You Know the Place: Then", and each reader may bring their own experiences and perspectives to the text. Here are a few possible interpretations to consider:

Love and Longing

Perhaps the most obvious theme of the poem is love and longing. The speaker is clearly addressing a former lover or friend, urging them to leave behind their old life and embrace something new. But at the same time, the speaker cannot let go of the past, reminiscing about the "sweet conversations" and "laughter and...longing" that they shared.

The use of the sea as a metaphor is particularly powerful here. The listener is urged to let their "ship carry [them] where / you have no intention of going", which suggests a willingness to let go of control and surrender to the power of the unknown. At the same time, the image of fingers trailing in the sea evokes a sense of intimacy and connection, as if the listener is physically reaching out to the speaker across the distance.

Overall, the poem conveys a sense of intense emotion that is both beautiful and painful. The speaker longs for something that they know is out of reach, but they cannot help but hold onto the memories of what once was.

Mythology and Nature

Sappho was known for her use of references to mythology and nature in her poetry, and "You Know the Place: Then" is no exception. The mention of Crete and Samos, two islands in Greece, invokes a sense of place and history that is deeply rooted in the ancient world. The sea, with all its power and mystery, is a recurring image that is central to the poem's themes.

At the same time, the poem uses these references to create a sense of timelessness and universality. The listener is urged to leave behind their old life and embrace the unknown, a theme that resonates across cultures and throughout history. The sea, too, is a symbol that has been used in countless works of literature to evoke a sense of both wonder and danger.

Overall, the poem's use of mythology and nature serves to deepen its themes and connect them to something larger than the specific situation of the speaker and listener.

The Power of Memory

Finally, the poem can be read as a meditation on the power of memory. The speaker cannot let go of the past, and in fact, they seem to revel in the memories of their former relationship. The listener, too, is urged to remember the speaker and the connection they once shared.

But memory is also a powerful force that can shape our present and future. By urging the listener to leave behind their old life, the speaker is asking them to embrace something new and unknown. At the same time, the memories of the past serve as a reminder of what is truly important and meaningful in life.

The poem's use of language and imagery is particularly effective in conveying this theme. The repetition of "you know the place" creates a sense of familiarity and comfort, while the image of fingers trailing in the sea evokes a sense of physical touch and connection. These details serve to underscore the power of memory to shape our emotions and our perceptions of the world around us.


"You Know the Place: Then" is a rich and complex poem that rewards close reading and interpretation. Its themes of love and longing, mythology and nature, and the power of memory combine to create a tapestry of emotion that is both beautiful and haunting.

As with any great work of literature, the poem invites readers to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the text, and to find their own meanings and interpretations within its words. Whether read as a meditation on lost love, a celebration of the natural world, or a reflection on the power of memory, "You Know the Place: Then" is a powerful and enduring work of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a way for people to express their deepest emotions and thoughts. It is a form of art that has been around for centuries and has been used to capture the essence of life. One of the most famous poets of all time is Sappho, a Greek poet who lived in the 7th century BC. Her poetry is known for its emotional depth and beauty, and one of her most famous poems is "You know the place: then."

This poem is a beautiful expression of love and longing. It is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul of anyone who has ever been in love. The poem is written in the first person, and it is addressed to someone who is familiar with the place that the speaker is describing. The poem begins with the line "You know the place: then," which immediately draws the reader in and creates a sense of intimacy.

The poem goes on to describe the beauty of the place, with its "purple flowers" and "soft grass." The speaker describes how the place is "full of whispers" and how the "trees are trembling with love." The imagery in this poem is stunning, and it creates a sense of wonder and awe.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to express their longing for the person they are addressing. They describe how they "long to see" the person and how they "burn with desire" for them. The language in this section of the poem is passionate and intense, and it conveys the depth of the speaker's emotions.

The poem ends with the line "Come to me now: loose me from hard / care and all my heart longs / to accomplish, accomplish." This line is a plea for the person the speaker is addressing to come to them and to free them from their cares and worries. It is a powerful statement of love and longing, and it leaves the reader with a sense of hope and possibility.

Overall, "You know the place: then" is a beautiful and powerful poem that speaks to the heart and soul of anyone who has ever been in love. It is a poem that captures the essence of human emotion and longing, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to express the deepest parts of ourselves. Sappho's poetry continues to inspire and move people to this day, and "You know the place: then" is a perfect example of why her work is still relevant and important.

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