Alexander Pope

Sappho to Phaon (Ovid Heroid XV)

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is regarded as one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Hom…






Say, lovely youth, that dost my heart command,
Can Phaon's eyes forget his Sappho's hand?
Must then her name the wretched writer prove,
To thy remembrance lost, as to thy love?
Ask not the cause that I new numbers choose,
The Lute neglected, and the Lyric muse;
Love taught my tears in adder notes to flow,
And tun'd my heart to Elegies of woe,
I burn, I burn, as when thro' ripen'd corn
By driving winds the spreading flames are borne!
Phaon to Aetna's scorching fields retires,
While I consume with more than Aetna's fires!
No more my soul a charm in music finds,
Music has charms alone for peaceful minds.
Soft scenes of solitude no more can please,
Love enters there, and I'm my own disease.
No more the Lesbian dames my passion move,
Once the dear objects of my guilty love;
All other loves are lost in only thine,
Ah youth ungrateful to a flame like mine!
Whom would not all those blooming charms surprize,
Those heav'nly looks, and dear deluding eyes?
The harp and bow would you like Phoebus bear,
A brighter Phoebus Phaon might appear;
Would you with ivy wreath your flowing hair,
Not Bacchus' self with Phaon could compare:
Yet Phoebus lov'd, and Bacchus felt the flame,
One Daphne warm'd, and one the Cretan dame,
Nymphs that in verse no more could rival me,
That ev'n those Gods contend in charms with thee.
The Muses teach me all their softest lays,
And the wide world resounds with Sappho's praise.
Tho' great Alcaeus more sublimely sings,
And strikes with bolder rage the sounding strings,
No less renown attends the moving lyre,
Which Venus tunes, and all her loves inspire;
To me what nature has in charms deny'd,
Is well by wit's more lasting flames supply'd.
Tho' short my stature, yet my name extends
To heav'n itself, and earth's remotest ends.
Brown as I am, an Ethiopian dame
Inspir'd young Perseus with a gen'rous flame;
Turtles and doves of diff'ring hues unite,
And glossy jet is pair'd with shining white.
If to no charms thou wilt thy heart resign,
But such as merit, such as equal thine,
By none, alas! by none thou canst be mov'd,
Phaon alone by Phaon must be lov'd!
Yet once thy Sappho could thy cares employ,
Once in her arms you center'd all your joy:
No time the dear remembrance can remove,
For oh! how vast a memory has love!
My music, then, you could for ever hear,
And all my words were music to your ear;
You stopp'd with kisses my enchanting tongue,
And found my kisses sweeter than my song.
In all I pleas'd, but most in what was best;
And the last joy was dearer than the rest.
Then with each word, each glance, each motion fir'd,
You still enjoy'd, and yet you still desir'd,
'Till all dissolving in the trance we lay,
And in tumultuous raptures died away.
The fair Sicilians now thy soul inflame;
Why was I born, ye Gods, a Lesbian dame?
But ah beware, Sicilian nymphs! nor boast
That wand'ring heart which I so lately lost;
Nor be with all those tempting words abus'd,
Those tempting words were all to Sappho us'd.
And you that rule Sicilia's happy plains,
Have pity, Venus, on your Poet's pains!
Shall fortune still in one sad tenor run,
And still increase the woes so soon begun?
Inur'd to sorrow from my tender years,
My parent's ashes drank my early tears:
My brother next, neglecting wealth and fame,
Ignobly burn'd in a destructive flame:
An infant daughter late my griefs increas'd,
And all a mother's cares distract my breast.
Alas, what more could fate itself impose,
But thee, the last and greatest of my woes?
No more my robes in waving purple flow,
Nor on my hand the sparkling di'monds glow;
No more my locks in ringlets curl'd diffuse
The costly sweetness of Arabian dews,
Nor braids of gold the varied tresses bind,
That fly disorder'd with the wanton wind,
For whom should Sappho use such arts as these?
He's gone, whom only she desir'd to please!
Cupid's light darts my tender bosom move,
Still is there cause for Sappho still to love:
So from my birth the Sisters fix'd my doom,
And gave to Venus all my life to come;
Or while my Muse in melting notes complains,
My yielding heart keeps measure to my strains.
By charms like thine which all my soul have won,
Who might not - ah! who would not be undone?
For those Aurora Cephalus might scorn,
And with fresh blushes paint the conscious morn.
For those might Cynthia lengthen Phaon's sleep,
And bit Endymion nightly tend his sheep.
Venus for those had rapt thee to the skies,
But Mars on thee might look with Venus' eyes.
O scarce a youth, yet scarce a tender boy!
O usef

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