'Sleep , darling' by Sappho

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Sleep, darling
I have a small
daughter called
Cleis, who is

like a golden
I wouldn't
take all Croesus'
kingdom with love
thrown in, for her


Don't ask me what to wear
I have no embroidered
headband from Sardis to
give you, Cleis, such as
I wore
and my mother
always said that in her
day a purple ribbon
looped in the hair was thought
to be high style indeed

but we were dark:
a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Sleep, darling" by Sappho: A Mesmerizing Ode to Love and Longing

Are you ready to delve into the world of Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess whose words have transcended time and space to captivate our hearts and minds? If so, let's take a journey together to explore one of her most famous poems, "Sleep, darling."

The Context and Form of the Poem

First, let's set the stage for this masterpiece. Sappho lived in the 7th century BCE on the island of Lesbos, where she founded a school for young women and composed lyric poetry that celebrated feminine beauty, love, and desire. Her poems were performed with music and dance at public festivals and private gatherings, and they were widely admired for their emotional intensity, sensual imagery, and musicality.

"Sleep, darling" (in Greek, "Κρυπτί, φίλος") is one of Sappho's most iconic poems, preserved in fragments that were discovered on papyri and pottery shards in the 19th and 20th centuries. The poem is written in Sappho's characteristic meter, the Sapphic stanza, which consists of three long lines followed by a shorter one (11 syllables, 11 syllables, 11 syllables, and 5 syllables, respectively). The poem is addressed to a beloved person who is sleeping, and it expresses the speaker's yearning to be near them and to share their dreams.

The Themes and Imagery of the Poem

Let's dive into the poem itself and explore its themes and imagery. Here is one translation of the poem:

Sleep, darling, now.
The sun has gone to bed,
the moon is climbing up
the sky with its silver horns.

The stars are shining bright,
the silence is deep and wide,
and through your eyelids  
softly sleeps the sea.

All around the house
the flowers are nodding,
the fragrant herbs are stirring 
in the gentle breeze.

Sleep, darling, now,
and let me watch your dreams,
and hold your hand
in mine, until the dawn.

The poem begins with a gentle command, "Sleep, darling, now," that sets the mood of intimacy and tenderness. The speaker addresses the sleeping person directly, as if they were present, and invites them to rest in the peaceful night. The use of the word "darling" suggests a close relationship between the speaker and the addressee, but the nature of that relationship is left ambiguous. Is the speaker a lover, a friend, a mother, a sister, or someone else?

The imagery of the poem is rich and evocative, painting a vivid picture of the nocturnal world. The sun has "gone to bed," implying that it too needs rest, and the moon is "climbing up the sky with its silver horns," creating a magical and mystical atmosphere. The stars are "shining bright," suggesting a sense of wonder and awe, and the silence is "deep and wide," emphasizing the stillness and calmness of the night.

The sea, which appears in many of Sappho's poems, is described as "softly sleeps," as if it were also lulled by the night's tranquility. The sea is a recurring symbol in Sappho's poetry, representing both the vastness and the fluidity of emotions, as well as the dangers and the pleasures of love.

The natural world surrounding the house is also alive with activity and beauty. The flowers are "nodding" and the fragrant herbs are "stirring" in the gentle breeze, creating a sense of movement and vitality. The use of sensory details such as fragrance and touch adds to the sensory richness of the poem, making it feel alive and vibrant.

The final stanza of the poem brings the focus back to the speaker and their desire to be close to the sleeping person. The speaker wants to "watch your dreams" and "hold your hand in mine," implying a sense of protectiveness and tenderness. The use of the word "watch" suggests a longing to be a part of the addressee's inner world, to share their thoughts and feelings. The holding of hands is a powerful gesture of connection and support, suggesting that the speaker wants to be a source of comfort and strength for the other person.

The Interpretation and Significance of the Poem

So, what can we make of this beautiful poem, and what does it tell us about Sappho's worldview and poetic style? Let's explore some possible interpretations and significance of "Sleep, darling."

One interpretation of the poem is that it expresses a longing for intimacy and companionship, which are essential human needs that transcend time and culture. The speaker's desire to be close to the sleeping person suggests a deep emotional bond that is based on mutual trust and affection. The fact that the speaker wants to share the other person's dreams implies a desire to understand and empathize with their inner world, to bridge the gap between two separate minds and souls. The holding of hands is a gesture of physical closeness and comfort, which can be a source of solace and support in times of need.

Another interpretation of the poem is that it celebrates the beauty and wonder of the natural world, which is a recurring theme in Sappho's poetry. By describing the moon, the stars, the sea, and the flowers in such vivid and sensuous language, Sappho invites us to appreciate the richness and diversity of the world around us. She also suggests that nature can be a source of inspiration and solace, a reminder of the larger forces that govern our lives and connect us to each other.

Finally, the poem can be seen as an example of Sappho's unique poetic style, which combines musicality, sensuality, and emotional intensity. The use of the Sapphic meter creates a rhythm and flow that evoke the dance and music that accompanied Sappho's performances. The sensory details and vivid imagery create a sensual and evocative world that invites us to experience the poem with our whole selves. The emotional intensity of the poem, expressed through the speaker's longing and tenderness, creates a sense of intimacy and vulnerability that is both powerful and touching.

The Conclusion and Takeaway

In conclusion, Sappho's "Sleep, darling" is a mesmerizing ode to love and longing that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire and move us today. Its themes of intimacy, companionship, and the beauty of the natural world are universal and timeless, and its poetic style is unique and unforgettable. Whether we read it for pleasure or for scholarly study, this poem invites us to enter a world of wonder and beauty that is both ancient and modern, both familiar and surprising.

So, what is your takeaway from this poem? What emotions and thoughts does it evoke in you? How does it reflect your own experiences and values? Take a moment to reflect on these questions, and let the poem speak to you in its own way. And who knows? Maybe you too will fall under the spell of Sappho's lyrical magic, and find yourself dreaming of love and beauty in the night.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium of expression for human emotions, and Sappho's "Sleep, darling" is a classic example of how poetry can convey the deepest feelings of love and longing. Sappho, a Greek poetess from the island of Lesbos, was known for her lyrical poetry that celebrated love and beauty. Her works have been admired for centuries, and "Sleep, darling" is one of her most famous poems.

The poem is a love song addressed to a lover who is sleeping. Sappho uses vivid imagery and metaphors to express her desire for the lover to wake up and be with her. The poem is written in the Aeolic dialect of ancient Greek, which adds to its musicality and beauty.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing the lover as "darling" and asking them to wake up. The use of the word "darling" suggests an intimate relationship between the two, and the speaker's urgency to wake the lover up indicates a strong desire to be with them.

"Sleep, darling, I have a lover's prayer for you"

The speaker then goes on to describe the beauty of the world around them. She talks about the "rosy-fingered dawn" and the "golden sun" rising in the sky. The use of these vivid images creates a sense of wonder and awe, and the speaker seems to be urging the lover to wake up and experience the beauty of the world with her.

"See the rosy-fingered dawn, see the golden sun appear"

The speaker then uses a metaphor to describe the lover's sleep. She compares it to death, saying that the lover is "dead to the world" while they sleep. This metaphor adds a sense of urgency to the poem, as the speaker seems to be saying that the lover is missing out on life by sleeping.

"You are dead to the world, and your sleep is like death"

The speaker then goes on to describe her own feelings of longing and desire. She says that she cannot bear to be apart from the lover, and that her heart is "aching" for them. This is a powerful expression of love, and it shows how deeply the speaker feels for the lover.

"My heart is aching, and I cannot bear to be apart from you"

The poem ends with the speaker urging the lover to wake up and be with her. She says that she will be waiting for them, and that they should come to her as soon as they wake up. This final stanza is a beautiful expression of love and longing, and it shows how much the speaker wants to be with the lover.

"Wake up, my love, and come to me. I will be waiting for you"

Overall, "Sleep, darling" is a beautiful and powerful poem that expresses the deepest feelings of love and longing. Sappho's use of vivid imagery and metaphors creates a sense of wonder and awe, and her lyrical style adds to the beauty of the poem. The poem is a classic example of how poetry can convey the most complex emotions in a simple and elegant way.

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