This week: The English SapphicEdited by: warpedsanity
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“You may forget but
let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us”
― Sappho, The Art of Loving Women
The quote above is from a poem by the poetess, Sappho. I felt it was relevant to this newsletter because like the quoted verse, her poetry has lived on. The lyrical meter to her form has been replicated to fit many poets today. In this newsletter I discuss one of the adaptations of Sappho's form called the English Sapphic.
The Sapphic form is named after the sixth century Greek poetess, Sappho. Only two of Sappho's poems have been found completely intact. The rest of her verse has been found in fragments, some due to deterioration through age and others were partially destroyed through censorship in ancient Greece.
During the time period Sappho lived, it was rare for a woman to gain notoriety as a poet. Mostly men were recognized . Yet, even one of the most respected philosophers of ancient Greece, Plato, praised her, naming her the 10th muse.
Sapphic poetry was meant to be sang with the accompany of a lyre, hence the meter was imperative to the lyrical quality. In Sappho's mother tongue, Aeolic Greek, meter was not presented the way it is in English. Instead of depending on stressed and unstressed syllables to create rhythm, it depended on short and long vowel sounds.
The video represents how the poetry by Sappho would have been sung.
The Sapphic form I share with you today, is titled an English Sapphic, and is adapted to be written in English, with the use of stressed and unstressed syllables. The meter can be tricky for one who is already struggling with the common iambic meter required with many of the well known poetry structures like sonnets. Though, it is worthy of giving a try.
Historically, there is no required rhyme in a Sapphic stanza and there is no limit to the amount of stanzas within a Sapphic poem, but each stanza must consist of four lines. The first three lines must have eleven syllables and the last line must have five syllables. The meter for the first three lines are stressed/ unstressed/ Stressed/ unstressed/ stressed/ unstressed/ unstressed/ stressed/ unstressed/ stressed/ unstressed. The meter for the fourth line is stressed/ unstressed/ unstressed/ stressed/ unstressed.
For example purposes, below is an excerpt from a poem by Australian poet John Tranter, titled "Writing in the Manner of Sappho" . The stressed syllables are in bold red. .
Writing Sapphics well is a tricky business.
Lines begin and end with a pair of trochees;
in between them dozes a dactyl, rhythm
rising and falling,
Scared to attempt this form because all this stressed and unstressed stuff is way over your head? Then check out my cheat site, howmanysyllables.com, which was introduced to me by my friend Robert Edward Baker . Just type in a word which contains two syllables or more and it will let you know which syllables are stressed or unstressed in the word. Then, remember most articles and conjunctions within English grammar are unstressed. Before you know it, you'll be hearing the stressed and unstressed syllables in your own speech. At least, that is what happens with me when I've been working on writing formed poetry with strict meter requirement for a long stretch of time.
Until next time, happy writing!
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