Sappho. A Monodrama.

A poem by Robert Southey


To leap from the promontory of LEUCADIA was believed by the Greeks to be a remedy for hopeless love, if the self-devoted victim escaped with life. Artemisia lost her life in the dangerous experiment: and Sappho is said thus to have perished, in attempting to cure her passion for Phaon.


(Scene the promontory of Leucadia.)

This is the spot:--'tis here Tradition says
That hopeless Love from this high towering rock
Leaps headlong to Oblivion or to Death.
Oh 'tis a giddy height! my dizzy head
Swims at the precipice--'tis death to fall!

Lie still, thou coward heart! this is no time
To shake with thy strong throbs the frame convuls'd.
To die,--to be at rest--oh pleasant thought!
Perchance to leap and live; the soul all still,
And the wild tempest of the passions husht
In one deep calm; the heart, no more diseas'd
By the quick ague fits of hope and fear,
Quietly cold!
Presiding Powers look down!
In vain to you I pour'd my earnest prayers,
In vain I sung your praises: chiefly thou
VENUS! ungrateful Goddess, whom my lyre
Hymn'd with such full devotion! Lesbian groves,
Witness how often at the languid hour
Of summer twilight, to the melting song
Ye gave your choral echoes! Grecian Maids
Who hear with downcast look and flushing cheek
That lay of love bear witness! and ye Youths,
Who hang enraptur'd on the empassion'd strain
Gazing with eloquent eye, even till the heart
Sinks in the deep delirium! and ye too
Shall witness, unborn Ages! to that song
Of warmest zeal; ah witness ye, how hard,
Her fate who hymn'd the votive hymn in vain!
Ungrateful Goddess! I have hung my lute
In yonder holy pile: my hand no more
Shall wake the melodies that fail'd to move
The heart of Phaon--yet when Rumour tells
How from Leucadia Sappho hurl'd her down
A self-devoted victim--he may melt
Too late in pity, obstinate to love.

Oh haunt his midnight dreams, black NEMESIS!
Whom,[1] self-conceiving in the inmost depths
Of CHAOS, blackest NIGHT long-labouring bore,
When the stern DESTINIES, her elder brood.
And shapeless DEATH, from that more monstrous birth
Leapt shuddering! haunt his slumbers, Nemesis,
Scorch with the fires of Phlegethon his heart,
Till helpless, hopeless, heaven-abandon'd wretch
He too shall seek beneath the unfathom'd deep
To hide him from thy fury.

How the sea
Far distant glitters as the sun-beams smile,
And gayly wanton o'er its heaving breast
Phoebus shines forth, nor wears one cloud to mourn
His votary's sorrows! God of Day shine on--
By Man despis'd, forsaken by the Gods,
I supplicate no more.

How many a day,
O pleasant Lesbos! in thy secret streams
Delighted have I plung'd, from the hot sun
Screen'd by the o'er-arching groves delightful shade,
And pillowed on the waters: now the waves
Shall chill me to repose.

Tremendous height!
Scarce to the brink will these rebellious limbs
Support me. Hark! how the rude deep below
Roars round the rugged base, as if it called
Its long-reluctant victim! I will come.
One leap, and all is over! The deep rest
Of Death, or tranquil Apathy's dead calm
Welcome alike to me. Away vain fears!
Phaon is cold, and why should Sappho live?
Phaon is cold, or with some fairer one--
Thought worse than death!

(She throws herself from the precipice.)

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