Two Poems

by Jeffrey Burghauser (December 2020)

Sappho Embracing her Lyre, Jules Elie Delaunay, 19th Century






[Sappho] wrote nine books of lyric poetry and invented the plectrum for playing the lyre. —The Suda Lexicon


The spring lamb’s ring

Of viscera was meant

Receptive, soft.

But razor-rent,

Bleached, plaited, prim,

Hard, surfeit-free,

Becomes a sym-

Bol of Intent.


And now, the string

Will happily discard

The music trough’d

And reservoir’d

(For it dislikes

This custody)

When Sappho strikes

Hard against hard.


Prepared to sing,

She, mastering the grand

Precision heft

Of hatred and

Of medicine,

Insults the three

Tons hidden in

A tightened strand.


The offering

She’ll have is not the bed,

Nor the croft

Alive with bread.

“Some paid me love

By giving me

The secrets of

Their works,” she said.


These secrets wing,

And sigh, and glow, and strut.

Maintained aloft,

They’re sickly, but

They’re better than

The poetry

Since secrets can 

Be tough as gut.



from Kindertotenlieder[*]


Just before the child died,

He, without a fuss,

Bent to the receding tide

Like Aurelius.—

Just before the child died.


Just before the child died,

Father studied son

With tenacious, frantic-eyed


Just before the child died.


Just before the child died,

God, however (clad

Firewise, bent, Time-astride)

Went completely mad.—

Just before the child died.


[*] “Songs on the Death of Children”


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