Oh Litis, little slave, why will you sleep?
These long Egyptian noons bend down your head
Bowed like the yarrow with a yellow bee.
There, lift your eyes no man has ever kindled,
Dark eyes that wait like faggots for the fire.
See how the temple's solid square of shade
Points north to Lesbos, and the splendid sea
That you have never seen, oh evening-eyed.
Yet have you never wondered what the Nile
Is seeking always, restless and wild with spring
And no less in the winter, seeking still?
How shall I tell you? Can you think of fields
Greater than Gods could till, more blue than night
Sown over with the stars; and delicate
With filmy nets of foam that come and go?
It is more cruel and more compassionate
Than harried earth. It takes with unconcern
And quick forgetting, rapture of the rain
And agony of thunder, the moon's white
Soft-garmented virginity, and then
The insatiable ardor of the sun.
And me it took. But there is one more strong,
Love, that came laughing from the eider seas,
The Cyprian, the mother of the world;
She gave me love who only asked for death
I who had seen much sorrow in men's eyes
And in my own too sorrowful a fire.
I was a sister of the stars, and yet
Shaken with pain; sister of birds and yet
The wings that bore my soul were very tired.
I watched the careless spring too many times
Light her green torches in a hungry wind;
Too many times I watched them flare, and then
Fall to forsaken embers in the autumn.
And I was sick of all things even song.
In the dull autumn dawn I turned to death,
Buried my living body in the sea,
The strong cold sea that takes and does not give
But there is one more strong, the Cyprian.
Litis, to wake from sleep and find your eyes
Met in their first fresh upward gaze by love,
Filled with love's happy shame from other eyes,
Dazzled with tenderness and drowned in light
As tho' you looked unthinking at the sun,
Oh Litis, that is joy! But if you came
Not from the sunny shallow pool of sleep,
But from the sea of death, the strangling sea
Of night and nothingness, and waked to find
Love looking down upon you, glad and still,
Strange and yet known forever, that is peace.
So did he lean above me. Not a word
He spoke; I only heard the morning sea
Singing against his happy ship, the keen
And straining joy of wind-awakened sails
And songs of mariners, and in myself
The precious pain of arms that held me fast.
They warmed the cold sea out of all my blood;
I slept, feeling his eyes above my sleep.
There on the ship with wines and olives laden,
Led by the stars to far invisible ports,
Egypt and islands of the inner seas,
Love came to me, and Cercolas was love.
Sappho II by Sara Teasdale