The word “lesbian” is actually Greek for the isle of Lesbos, where the poet, Sappho, wrote entrancing and beautiful love poems for other women. Maybe you already knew that, but there has been some talk about the word “lesbian” not encompassing all it needs to or that the label might even be dying out. Even before the feminist movement of the 70’s, many women with same-sex attraction called themselves “gay” or “queer” flat out rejecting the label “lesbian”. With this term’s popularity possibly facing a downward trend, I find myself grieving that process.

 

I find the term “lesbian” beautiful and iconic, and even part of my identity. I wouldn’t want that to be stripped away from me. So in celebration of my identity and the identity of other women who similarly identify as lesbian, I wanted to share some of my favorite Sappho poems.

I have not had one word from her

I have not had one word from her

Frankly I wish I were dead

When she left, she wept

a great deal; she said to me, “This parting must be

endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly.”

I said, “Go, and be happy

but remember (you know

well) whom you leave shackled by love

“If you forget me, think

of our gifts to Aphrodite

and all the loveliness that we shared

“all the violet tiaras,

braided rosebuds, dill and

crocus twined around your young neck

“myrrh poured on your head

and on soft mats girls with

all that they most wished for beside them

“while no voices chanted

choruses without ours,

no woodlot bloomed in spring without song…”

–Translated by Mary Barnard

Please

Come back to me, Gongyla, here tonight,

You, my rose, with your Lydian lyre.

There hovers forever around you delight:

A beauty desired.

Even your garment plunders my eyes.

I am enchanted: I who once

Complained to the Cyprus-born goddess,

Whom I now beseech

Never to let this lose me grace

But rather bring you back to me:

Amongst all mortal women the one

I most wish to see.

–Translated by Paul Roche

 

 

To Atthis

Though in Sardis now,

she thinks of us constantly

and of the life we shared.

She saw you as a goddess

and above all your dancing gave her deep joy.

Now she shines among Lydian women like

the rose-fingered moon

rising after sundown, erasing all

stars around her, and pouring light equally

across the salt sea

and over densely flowered fields

lucent under dew. Her light spreads

on roses and tender thyme

and the blooming honey-lotus.

Often while she wanders she remem-

bers you, gentle Atthis,

and desire eats away at her heart

for us to come.

–Translated by Willis Barnstone

 

A Hymn to Venus

O Venus, beauty of the skies,

To whom a thousand temples rise,

Gaily false in gentle smiles,

Full of love-perplexing wiles;

O goddess, from my heart remove

The wasting cares and pains of love.

 

If ever thou hast kindly heard

A song in soft distress preferred,

Propitious to my tuneful vow,

A gentle goddess, hear me now.

Descend, thou bright immortal guest,

In all thy radiant charms confessed.

 

Thou once didst leave almighty Jove

And all the golden roofs above:

The car thy wanton sparrows drew,

Hovering in air they lightly flew;

As to my bower they winged their way

I saw their quivering pinions play.

 

The birds dismissed (while you remain)

Bore back their empty car again:

Then you, with looks divinely mild,

In every heavenly feature smiled,

And asked what new complaints I made,

And why I called you to my aid?

 

What frenzy in my bosom raged,

And by what cure to be assuaged?

What gentle youth I would allure,

Whom in my artful toils secure?

Who does thy tender heart subdue,

Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

 

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,

He soon shall court thy slighted charms;

Though now thy offerings he despise,

He soon to thee shall sacrifice;

Though now he freezes, he soon shall burn,

And be thy victim in his turn.

 

Celestial visitant, once more

Thy needful presence I implore.

In pity come, and ease my grief,

Bring my distempered soul relief,

Favour thy suppliant’s hidden fires,

And give me all my heart desires.

 

Awed by her splendor

Awed by her splendor

stars near the lovely

moon cover their own

bright faces

when she

is roundest and lights

earth with her silver

Etymology of Lesbian