Sappho on the Cliff

A Tragic Monologue by FAITH BALDWIN.

Return not yet, thou golden-sandalled Dawn,
For, with Thy rosy coming, I depart!
Sweet, tarry yet awhile beyond the vast,
Far portal of the sky; and fear to flood
All Lesbos with Thy beauty lest too soon
Thou dawn upon the last, strong-winged flight
Of one wild, wayward bird! In this still hour
Wherein I bid farewell to Love and Pain,
Wherein I bid farewell to Joy and Love,
My vision clears! Zeus, in Thy pity stoop
To steel Thy daughter's heart! Thou, Atropos,
I rob Thee of Thy shears and with the hand
Which hath caressed to soaring ecstasy
Beloved heart strings; with the hand which set
High, singing words upon the singing wood
To lure it from the music of the trees,
I cut the slender, scarlet thread of that
Which was my life; nay, Atropos, not Thine
The final right to hush the longing lips
Which Love hath bruised immortally to song!
I, Sappho, singer of Aegean Seas
Took from the hands of Zeus, Omnipotent,
His blessing and His curse — Mortality!
Bold was my taking; and I greatly dared
To make of Life a crimson, joyous thing
To weave into the stainless warp and woof
The gold of song, the purple of desire
Which bit like acid to the fabric's core.
Life, as I made it, would destroy me now.
I give it back, Oh Zeus, Thy bitter gift!
For I am wearied of the harried flesh,
Flesh all too frail, and all too deeply seared
By that flame-spirit warring in its walls!
Farewell, my Lesbos! green and wave-kissed gem
Set in a turquoise sea. I owe Thee much;
Thou gavest me Beauty which hath fed my soul,
Thou gavest me Love to wrack and tear my heart.
I have repaid Thy bounty with the songs
Which men shall read long after I am gone
And, reading, love Thee for Thy Beauty's sake
And for her sake who was the Lesbian.
As, olive-crowned, ah, shining Mitylene,
Shake not my stern resolve; but bloom more fair
For that Thy Sappho lingering, is loath
To leave Thy sunlit hills and garden ways.
Thou Lesbian cliff starred with the vivid gold
Of far-flung jonquil wealth; and piercing sweet
With rosemary and myrtle, I have walked
Thy winding paths beneath soft, twilight skies
And hand and hand with Love I, mute, have watched
The opal sheen of Hesperus; and stayed
To hearken to the music of the stars.
And in far dawns I touched the lyre's loud strings
To waken Love with Song, and, singing, saw
The white-sailed boats drift down the rose-red glow
Dawn's ardent kiss left in the crystal heart
Of blue translucent waves! Oh! Lesbian woods!
No more I walk your scented paths to see
The laughing dryad leaping from the oak.
No more I strain to catch the golden sound
Of Pan's far pipes of singing wind and tree
And silver running stream. No more I hear
The raptured choral of Song's feathered priests!
Farewell, Aeolian Isle! And farewell those
I loved within Thy shelter and embrace:
Loved, held and — lost! Not theirs the ultimate,
The final fault, not theirs, alas, but mine.
Yet stay! Not wholly mine; for lo! the Gods
Breathed with a subtle breath upon my soul.
I was not wholly Lover; for the Will
To sing of Love half robbed Love of its joy.
So some small wide-eyed child will pluck a rose
And scatter one by one the delicate,
The bruised petals to his careless feet.
I was not wholly Poet; for the Will
To Love did blind my spirit's god-clear eyes
With kisses and with tears and mist o'dreams,
Till I but vaguely saw beyond the flesh.
Farewell! The pale cheek of the waking sky
Caressed by Dawn's pink fingers, flushes red.
I go to lay my tortured, fevered heart
Upon the last heart that shall throb against
Its pulsing passion and its vast despair!
Thy arms are waiting, Sea! enfold, embrace
The weary frame, and cradle me to sleep.
Thy breast is cool and pure of all desire
Thy kiss is Peace and Thy possession — Death!
Ah, bury deep my singing and my love!
Well may it be that in some future age,
A poet lying on some far white shore
Shall hearken to Thy messengers, the waves
And catch a distant mournful melody —
“I loved thee, Atthis, in a by-gone day,”
And mayhap he who hears will understand
How Sappho, faithless, could not bear to live
Thus lacking Faith! Farewell, oh Cyprian!
Thou white-armed Aphrodite, Fare-Thee-well!
Grant, I implore Thee, this my last request,
Fulfilment of my love for gracious Death,
As Thou hast granted Love of Love and Life
Zeus, have Thou Mercy! And, Thou Lover Sea
Rise up to take me, here on Leukatas,
Here on the white and wave-engirdled cliff
With that bright wine of my impassioned days,
The dregs of which are failure. Thus I pour
My last libation to the waiting Gods!


Previous | Top | Issue 3, March 1918


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