This collection consists of one hundred poems crafted to emulate the spirit of Sappho’s work. For those unfamiliar with Sappho, she was a poetess of ancient Greece who was well-regarded and influential, particularly for her lyric poetry. (And this was “lyric poetry” in the original meaning of that term – i.e. meant to be musically accompanied by a lyre – as opposed to the contemporary meaning [short, emotionally evocative poems often metered to produce a musical quality.])
Emulating Sappho is harder than it seems because the vast majority of her poetry has been lost, and only about 650 lines of poems and fragments survive today [out of what was believed to be more than 10,000 lines.] In fact, little is known about Sappho as a person today either, and – like the name of her home island, Lesbos, – her name has largely been reduced to shorthand for female homosexual relationships.
The one hundred poems are all structured verse, though of a wide variety of line, stanza, and poem length. The subjects include: sensuality, love, nature, and Greek Mythology. Much of the poetry is reminiscent of imagism, poetry that heavily emphasizes visual depictions of scenes and events in clear and vivid language. Imagism’s heyday actually came later than this collection, and it’s been suggested that Carman’s work was influential in the movement.
Whether you have an interest in ancient Greek literature or not, this collection is worth reading. The poems are crisp and well-composed, and — given the centrality of imagery – they aren’t hard to follow. That said, if one knows a little about Greek Mythology some of the references to deities and mythological events will be more deeply understood.
Originally published in 1904, the collection is in the public domain, and is readily available at little or no cost.