Sappho begins right away in line one by saying, “I have a beautiful child…” with the verb “have” indicating that the mother has the possession of her daughter. Typically if someone is said to “possess” or “own” someone else, we immediately think of a slave or indentured servant, who is bound to a master that commands him or her. Obviously, this is not the type of possessive relationship being described here. Sappho looks at her daughter not as a thing to be used, but instead as a precious object of deep affection, as evidenced by the descriptor “beautiful.” It is a common saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this certainly seems to be the case here. The fact that the girl is her offspring seems to make her by default beautiful to Sappho, as “have” is the antecedent. “Child,” too, is a word of significance here. It is not nearly as harsh or common as some of its near-synonyms like “kid” or “youngster.” Child is a specific word most often used in affection; indicative of deeper relationship between the speaker and the young person. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine Mr. Wilson referencing Dennis the Menace as “That pesky ...
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... Sappho has put the most attractive elements of her poetry in the forefront, making the description of her maternal bond appear more logical by having an ordered poem.
Sappho has put to words a relationship of astonishing importance to her life; that between herself and her precious daughter. Through this fragment of poetry, we see just how important and dear Kleis was to her heart. It is something that could be said true of most mothers towards their daughters, from Eve on down through the centuries, even unto the present day. While it might be thought that the only constant on this earth is change; here, in the arms of a woman, is found something everlasting as a child and its mother take part the time-honored act of love.
Sappho. “My Daughter.” Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho. Trans. Willis Barnstone. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2006.
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