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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Death of Sappho

By Franz Grillparzer (1791–1872)

From ‘Sappho’

Sappho enters, richly dressed, the Tyrian mantle on her shoulders, the laurel crown upon her head, and the golden lyre in her hand.Surrounded by her people, she slowly and solemnly descends the steps.A long pause.

MELITTA—O Sappho! O my mistress!
Sappho[calmly and gravely]—What wouldst thou?

Melitta—Now is the darkness fallen from mine eyes.

Oh, let me be to thee again a slave,

Again what once I was, and oh, forgive!

Sappho[in the same tone]—Think’st thou that Sappho hath become so poor

As to have need of gifts from one like thee?

That which is mine I shall ere long possess.

Phaon—Hear me but once, O Sappho!
Sappho—Touch me not!

I am henceforth devoted to the gods.

Phaon—If e’er with loving eyes thou didst behold—

Sappho—Thou speak’st of things forever past and gone.

I sought for thee, and I have found—myself.

Thou couldst not understand my heart. Farewell:

On firmer ground than thee my hopes must rest.

Phaon—And dost thou hate me now?
Sappho—To love—to hate!

Is there no other feeling? Thou wert dear,

And art so still—and so shalt ever be.

Like to some pleasant fellow traveler,

Whom accident hath brought a little way

In the same bark, until the goal be reached,

When, parting, each pursues a different road;

Yet often in some strange and distant land,

Remembrance will recall that traveler still.[Her voice falters.]

Sappho—Be still, and let us part in peace.[To her people.]

Ye who have seen your Sappho weak, forgive:

For Sappho’s weakness well will I atone.

Alone when bent, the bow’s full power is shown.[Pointing to the altar in the background.]

Kindle the flames at Aphrodite’s shrine,

Till up to heaven they mount like morning beams![They obey her.]

And now retire and leave me here alone:

I would seek counsel only from the gods.

Rhamnes[to the people]—It is her wish. Let us obey. Come all.[They retire.]

Sappho[advancing]—Gracious, immortal gods! list to my prayer.

Ye have adorned my life with blessings rich:

Within my hand ye placed the bow of song;

The quiver of the poet gave to me;

A heart to feel, a mind to quickly think;

A power to reveal my inmost thoughts.

Yes! ye have crowned my life with blessings rich.

For this, all thanks.
Upon this lowly head

Ye placed a wreath, and sowed in distant lands

The poet’s peaceful fame,—immortal seed;

My songs are sung in strange and foreign climes;

My name shall perish only with the earth.

For this, all thanks.
Yet it hath been your will

That I should drink not deep of life’s sweet cup,

But only taste the overflowing draught.

Behold! obedient to your high behest,

I set it down untouched. For this, all thanks.

All that ye have decreed I have obeyed,

Therefore deny me not a last reward:

They who belong to Heaven no weakness show;

The coils of sickness cannot round them twine;

In their full strength, in all their being’s bloom,

Ye take them to yourselves: such be my lot.

Forbid that e’er your priestess should become

The scorn of those who dare despise your power,

The sport of fools, in their own folly wise.

Ye broke the blossom; now then, break the bough.

Let my life close e’en as it once began.

From this soul struggle quickly set me free.

I am too weak to bear a further strife:

Give me the triumph, but the conflict spare.[As if inspired.]

The flames are kindled, and the sun ascends!

I feel that I am heard! I thank ye, gods!

Phaon! Melitta! hither come to me![She kisses the brow of Phaon.]

A friend from other worlds doth greet thee thus.[She embraces Melitta.]

’Tis thy dead mother sends this kiss to thee,

Upon yon altar consecrate to love,

Be love’s mysterious destiny fulfilled.[She hurries to the altar.]

Rhamnes—What is her purpose? Glorified her form!

The radiance of the gods doth round her shine!

Sappho[ascending a high rock, and stretching her hands over Phaon and Melitta]—Give love to mortals—reverence to the gods;

Enjoy what blooms for ye, and—think of me.

Thus do I pay the last great debt of life.

Bless them, ye gods! and bear me hence to heaven![Throws herself from the rock into the sea.]