Humanitarian / Literature Book Report/Review


Sappho 31 Poem Analysis Essay

The poem Sappho 31 is known to be one of the most difficult to interpret, as a result of its complexity and the lack of unanimity in the various works concerning it.

Sappho beholds a man’s attitude to the one he loves in admiration of his self-mastery different from that of his love. The description of his feelings as a result of his agitated love is understandable. Notwithstanding, the interpretation remains a hard nut to crack, due to the anonymity of the man, and the part he plays in the poem. The man is deified to be in the same league as the gods, hence the assertion; “He is more than a hero/he is god in my eyes”. It is, however, surprising that, henceforth, the man is seen to be passive in the poem despite his deity attribute, which would have been thought to make him an important and indispensable character in the poem. Surprisingly, the man’s deification is a tool used by Sappho to show that there can be someone of greater value cum importance than a god which ought to be perceived as the apex and supreme. This enables us to see Sappho’s main affection and admiration is for the character she refers to as “you” throughout the poem. The change in focus from the man to the character reveals that the character is more important to her than god.

The consistent use of the second person pronoun ‘you’, posits that the character in question shares a connection with Sappho, an intimate one, bringing to specificity to the character the speaker is addressing because the man (a character in the poem) is conversing with her.

The setting of the poem is not explicitly stated, the concise description between the man and the character shows the intimacy between both parties and the speaker viewing from afar, the far distance seems to be the source of the central conflict in the poem.

In the second stanza, there seems to be a diversion of the conversation to a wider thought of her feelings for her beloved. The speaker was engrossed after hearing her “lovely laughter”, there is a burning passion within her (the speaker) which results in an increase in the pace of her heartbeat by just looking at her. The intoxication of love is coupled with a constraint to express the same, a theme that escalates as the poem progresses.

There is a use of metaphor, tone, and imagery to expatiate the relationship between the speaker and her beloved. The description of her beloved in the previous stanza posits imagery; a mental picture of the action that occurred. The speaker’s diversion of attention from her beloved’s conversation with the man to her feelings, the poem also switches focus to her experiential knowledge of love. The speaker talks about the magnitude of her burning desire such that she became speechless upon the sight of her not even an utterance “for a moment”, this shows the depth of the speaker’s comprehension of her feelings for her lover. It suggests a pre-existing knowledge of her lover by the speaker through which she realizes that a glance at her can make her dumb. The speaker continues to describe his experience and feelings as a result of her addictive love for her, how the various organs of her body stun the speaker and other various effects they have on her. The separation of her body parts in the effect each creates rather than treating the body as a whole, initiates the intensity of the drama in the poem, bringing a new dimension of extremism to the unaccomplished desires of the first two stanzas.

The very first line of this stanza, “no: tongue breaks and thin,” not only talks about breakage but initiates a structural breakage founded in the first part of the poem. The presence of the colon, an uncommon punctuation mark in a poem foregrounds, focuses on the first pair of words on the line. It compels the reader to stop by putting it behind the first word of a new line. Hence, the stanza takes a twist to what preceded it. The "tongue breaks" is used to depict the brokenness in the structure of the stanza which makes it different from the preceding two. There is a deviation in the syntax of the stanza which brings about the complication in its understanding. The breaking continues through the rest of the stanza, which separates the body into skin, eyes, tongue, and ears, all functioning without connection to a whole person. In their separate forms, each piece of the body fails to perform on its own. There is also a disconnectedness of the speaker from herself and her immediate environment. Hence, in a phrase like "in eyes no sight", there is no reflection of the speaker in the grammatical build-up which shows that she is carried away in love and has lost consciousness of herself and her world, showing a replica of the gap between her and her lover in the beginning only that now, it's between her and her world.

The last stanza of the poem happens to have the distance between the speaker and her world cum lover escalates to a climax where she gives a self-description of herself as "greener than grass" and how sweaty and shaky she is coupled with a dead feeling. The beginning of the last stanza witnesses the disappearance of the first person due to the partial loss of the senses. Meanwhile, the object of the actions is brought to play as that of the body. The description of the speaker offers insight into her predicament to make it look like an external judgment apart from the speaker herself, but is also the first instance of freedom from the speaker's self-occupation with her loverSappho 31 Poem Analysis Essay, giving a picture of the speaker's newfound ability to see herself. The last line reveals an exit from the previous norm and her audacity to move on and face what is ahead squarely.

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