Sapphic Stanzas – An Anthology

Sappho, the focus of a new series of newly-transcribed lectures here on the Allen Ginsberg Project.

Allen got especially interested in her and in the specific demands of the so-called Sapphic stanza sometime around 1980, and on into the early ‘eighties, making his own attempt in May 1980, in Boulder, at a poem in that form – twelve erotic stanzas (of which, right now, we’ll just quote the opening one): “Red cheeked boyfriends tenderly kiss me sweet mouthed/under Boulder coverlets winter springtime hug me naked laughing & telling girl friends/gossip till autumn.

Allen at Naropa (in his May 22, 1980 class on “Basic Poetics”)

AG: First of all, yeah, might as well take a look at that Sapphic anthology [Allen had compiled for the class a xeroxed anthology of representative Sapphics]. Unfortunately, we did it so hastily that if you want one of those you have to pay for one (unless you can’t pay for it), if you want to take it away. The index will give you a pretty good guide to what’s in here and what order it should be in. One thing we don’t have here that we forgot is the Ezra Pound (we spaced out) and William Carlos Williams‘ translation of the poem to the little girl [sic] we don’t have. Also, they are somewhat out-of-order, they’re not exactly in chronological order, as they should be, but the basic idea is we have a couple..if you notice it..we have a couple of copies.. We have the original Sappho “Hymn to Aphrodite” and then the poem to the little girl. And we also have from the (Willis) Barnstone book, that’s number one. We also have the translations from the Barnstone book, and then we have a whole series of other translations, a couple of translations of the “Hymn to Aphrodite”, and a whole bunch, five or six translations of the poem to the little girl, from the Greek. We also have a little bit of Alcaeus (from the (Richmond) Lattimore book) (Greek Lyrics) to show alcaics (so we have Alcaeus in there, (and) they may be a little out-of-order). Then there should be a whole series of Catullus (two poems of Catullus, Number 11 and Number 51  – I’ve gone over them in  class – They may be a little out-of-order too. Then some poems by Horace, using.. Horace also used  the Sapphic meters [Allen breaks off  -“hey, where is Michael? – and when mollified – “ok, because he’s supposed to talk about Horace today“].. There’ll be a couple of Horace poems, then versions.. then a.. Sir Philip Sidneys work with Sapphics, then Walter Ralegh (with) Sapphics, and (Thomas) Campion, who I spoke of, Campion’s observations on English Sapphics, and a few samples of his Sapphics. There’s an incomplete xerox of the Isaac Watts (The Day of Judgement), but you have it in your (other) anthology. You have (William) Cowper, Cowper’s in here, and (Lord) we have anything of Byron? – yeah, the only Byron here is the Byron from Zukofskys (A Test of Poetry), the Byron rhymed adaptation of poem to the little girl by Sappho and Catullus..  The variant “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” which is a variant of Sappho, you have in your Norton Anthology. (Alfred  Lord) Tennyson on  (John) Milton..and also one verse of Sapphic lyric that Tennyson wrote for Professor Jebb’s 1877 handbook of Greek Prosody (Greek Literature (Primer))– (he wanted to write an English equivalent, so he got Tennyson to write one verse, one Sapphic verse. So that’s in there, typed out). Plus a few fragments in typescript that I made from George Saintsbury’s History of English Prosody. One Sapphic was composed by Fulke Greville, who wrote one poem we examined , “Caelica”  (“..sweet Jesus come and fill up time and give my sins their everlasting doom”) [Editorial note – the exact phrasing -“..sweet Jesus, fill up time and come/To yield the sin her everlasting doom”], a poem we had in the Norton Anthology,  a month or so ago. He also  specializes in Sapphics. So there’s one stanza of that that I found in Saintsbury’s History. Plus an anonymous Sapphic stanza from an Elizabethan anthology called The Phoenix Nest (those are all typed up together) . We’ve got (A.C.) Swinburne‘s Sapphics. From amongst them..from the Tennyson things, we also have.. He also wrote a poem in hendecasyllabics, so just to get here an English sound of the hendecasyllabic, (as he did it), the eleven-syllable line, his version of it, you’ve got there. We have Robert Bridges Sapphics which I’ll read today. Pound, we spaced out, so we don’t have that, Williams we don’t have. Then we have Sapphics that are really out of place (chronologically, they’re up towards the front) by (Louis) MacNeice and Vernon Watkins (just put them towards the end), a whole bunch of Sapphics by (W.H.) Auden and then (Bob) Dylan’s William Zan Zinger (The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll) . Then also, there are a number of pages showing the various metrics (from the Princeton Anthology (Encyclopedia) of ..Poetics,they’re untitled, but the glossary is from the Princeton Anthology (Encyclopedia) of Poetry and Poetics (you might note that down, because it isn’t mentioned here. It gives you the defnition of alcaic, hendecasyllabic, adonic and sapphic – plus their outlines of it) – And also, an essay by Ed Sanders on…relaxation.. by the Achaean camp fires  (I don’t know where that is, I don’t know where that occurs in the collection)

Student: Towards the end?

AG:  Yeah, that should be towards the end.  And there’s a couple of notes, if you could..  could you find the Sanders?, could please, everybody, find page one of the Sanders, (the) Sanders bit looks like this [Allen displays the text]. But there’s one line missing that I have to put in, I have to dictate (because). I’m sorry, we gave it to you in such (a) confused order but we didn’t have much time to put it together.

Student: Where is the glossary from?

AG: The Glossary. Well, the glossary is from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Got it? Everybody? You can notate that. And do you have the. . okay..(and).. you can fill it in later. There’s one line, the bottom of  column one, page one. Sanders misses one line which is, “four-stringed tortoise-shell lyre – question-mark” (just write it down anywhere and you can fill it in later)

Student: Could you repeat that please?

AG: “Four-stringed tortoise-shell lyre”, four-stringed tortoise-shell lyre”  – that’s what Sappho played -a “four-stringed tortoise-shell lyre” – I think – Sappho, or Homer .. It just didn’t xerox properly. Has everybody got that ? Everybody heard it? – got it written down?  – “four-stringed tortoise-shell lyre” – and it belongs at the bottom of column one, page one, Sanders.  And you will also note that the Isaac Watts is incomplete.
(But) I would suggest you take all the glosseries and all the metrical schema and move them to the rear, and then you can just put everything in chronological order. If you take the trouble to do it (and) then you’ll have a chronological history of the Sapphic stanza

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding approximately eight minutes in]

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