Dear Common Readers,
Just for fun let’s try to write a Sapphic stanza.
This is just an experiment to see how it’s done. One doesn’t need to be a poet or a lyricist. I’m certainly neither at heart as will soon be obvious. The point is just to see what we learn from making the attempt. Let’s suspend any aesthetic judgements about the results and focus on the process. If some of you make great art while you’re at it, bravo!
Unfortunately the differences in how poetic meter is determined in Ancient Greek and English mean that we can only approximate the original form of Sappho’s odes. But why let that stop us?
Now for the technical part. A Sapphic stanza is made up of three lines in Sapphic meter followed by one Adonic line.
Sapphic meter, reportedly invented by Sappho, is made up of eleven syllables as follows: a trochee, an anceps, a dactyl, a trochee, and a spondee.
An Adonic line is made up of two metric feet: a dactyl and a trochee. It takes its name from Sappho’s lyric “O for Adonis.”
(I’m heavily indebted to Stephen Fry’s excellent book The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within for an explanation of these terms.)
I confess I found this really difficult. I had intended to play with an allusion to Athena as Little Miss Muffet sitting beside her spider (Arachne) but couldn’t make it work with the meter. Still, I enjoyed the challenge. And, purely for authenticity’s sake, one line is cut short to make it more like a nearly complete stanza of a “lost” ode. (It’s also possible that I couldn’t come up with a good final spondee.)
If you’re truly ambitious, try to write an entire ode. If you are musical, try to compose a tune to accompany your lyrics. Please share your verses in the comments section.
Here’s the “recovered fragment” of my Sapphic stanza:
Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Your sister reader,