Lesbian Poetry


Lesbian Poetry
Since the beginning of time writers have expressed their deepest thoughts and desires through poetry. In poetry, writers have found that they can express a thought, a memory, a person, a landscape, etc. More often authors write about love, both physical and mental. Found in this genre of love is intimate imagery, suggestive language, and exotic fanticies. Most published love poems express love relationships between men and women but what most anthologies and collections leave out are those that imply relationships involving individuals of the same gender, specifically women. Writers in all literary eras have eloquently described this romantic love between women. A few of the poets who wrote of homosexual love were in fact honored during their life, while others of them in more recent times have risked their careers as writers because they or their material were lesbian.
Sappho was a pioneer in many aspects of Greek culture. One of the great Greek lyrists and little known female poets of the ancient world, Sappho was born soon after 630BC. Aristocratic herself, she married a merchant and had a daughter named Cleis (Robinson 24). Her wealth gave her the chance to live however she chose, and she chose to spend her life studying the arts on the isle of Lesbos which was a cultural center in the seventh century BC. Sappho spent a majority of her time here, but she also traveled extensively through Greece (Robinson 35). She spent time in Sicily too, because she was exiled due to certain activities of her family. The residents of Syracuse were so honored of her presence that to pay homage to her they built a statue of her because she had become a well-known poet (Cantarello 56).
She was determined a lyrist because her poems were to be performed with the accompaniment of a lyre. She wrote her own music and adapted the dominant meter to what is now known as "Sapphic meter," (Robinson 54). She became one of the Greek lyrists who began writing from the point of view of the individual instead of the view point of the gods and therefore made her contributions to lyric poetry in both technique and style (Robinson 55). She was also the first to write from the first person perspective which she used to speak of love and loss and how it personally affected her (Robinson 60).
Her innovative style was sensual and melodic. She mainly wrote songs of love, yearning, and reflection. The focus of her affections were commonly females, and many times it targeted women who had been sent to her to be enriched in the arts (Robinson 72). Sappho cared for these women, wrote poems of adoration to them, and when it came time for them to leave and marry, she wrote their wedding songs (Cantarella 58). "I have not had one word from her" tells of a sad parting between Sappho and one of her students. She tells her pupil to "Go, and be happy but remember . . . / Whom you leave shackled by love," (Line 6-7). She also asks a women to come back to her in the poem "Please." She writes "Come back to me, Gongyla, here tonight, / You, my rose," (Line 1-2). Her poetry was not condemned by her society, although later scholars ridiculed it. This hints that love between two women was not persecuted as harshly in Sappho\'s time as it has been in more recent times (Cantarella 81). She has become synonymous with homosexual woman-love to the extent that two popular words describing it, lesbian and Sapphic, have been derived from her name (Robinson 20).
During her time she was honored immensely. Lesbian coins were minted with her picture imposed on them and Plato, the great Greek philosopher, heightened her position from great lyric poet to one of the muses (Robinson 21). More recently, many poets have cited Sappho as a strong influence on their work (Cantarella 56). Given the popularity of her works, it is surprising that just one of her poems is accessible in its entirety; the rest are in fragments of their original form. Though there were possibly complete volumes published at one time, over the centuries due to neglect, natural disasters, and censorship they were lost (Robinson