Fragment 40

Love bitter-sweet — Sappho


Keep love and he wings,
with his bow,
up, mocking us,
keep love and he taunts us
and escapes.
Keep love and he sways apart
in another world,
outdistancing us
Keep love and he mocks,
ah, bitter and sweet,
your sweetness is more cruel
than your hurt
Honey and salt,
fire burst from the rocks
to meet fire
spilt from Hesperus.
Fire darted aloft and met fire:
in that moment
love entered us.


Could Eros be kept?
he were prisoned long since
and sick with imprisonment;
could Eros be kept?
others would have broken
and crushed out his life.

Could Eros be kept?
we too sinning, by Kypris,
might have prisoned him outright
Could Eros be kept?
nay, thank him and the bright goddess
that he left us.


Ah, love is bitter and sweet,
but which is more sweet,
the sweetness
or the bitterness?
none has spoken it.

Love is bitter,
but can salt taint sea-flowers,
grief, happiness?

Is it bitter to give back
love to your lover
if he crave it?

Is it bitter to give back
love to your lover
if he wish it
for a new favourite?
who can say,
or is it sweet?

Is it sweet
to possess utterly?
or is it bitter,
bitter as ash?


I had thought myself frail;
a petal,
with light equal
on leaf and under-leaf.
I had thought myself frail;
a lamp,
shell, ivory or crust of pearl,
about to fall shattered,
with flame spent.

I cried:
" I must perish,
I am deserted,
an outcast, desperate
in this darkness, "
(such fire rent me with Hesperus,)
then the day broke


What need of a lamp
when day lightens us,
what need to bind love
when love stands
with such radiant wings
over us?

What need —
yet to sing love,
love must first shatter us.
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