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Responses to American Poetry

The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.


Tatiani Rapatzikou 
(Associate Professor, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Advisor and initiative co-ordinator


Angela Candly


Emotional Wisdom, Beyond Worldly Vision

Pictures are imprinted on our memory unconsciously. No matter how long they sleep in past moments, a present moment is enough to stir up old memories and retrieve pictures from the shed of our personal time. Charles-Auguste Mengin’s Sappho appears so provocative at first glance that it cannot be easily disremembered. Yet, Mengin has never been a celebrated artist while the portrait painting has been exhibited to the Manchester City Art Gallery since 1884 without much notice, underscoring the margins of the mainstream culture from which it is derived. Sappho’s sharp look follows the eye of the gazer at every turn, an impassionate, moody romantic artist, distant from Greece’s light and purity, sunshine and rationality, the physical embodiment of a dangerous passion, where Sappho loved and sang, as Simon Goldhill pinpoints (70). Engaging in the translation project1 of H.D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho, I became acquainted with H.D.’s notion of Sappho, as well as noticed a number of similarities between her narrative and Mengin’s painting.

Both H.D. and Mengin stripe Sappho of any earthly elements portraying her as a spirit, consumed with the earthly passion and mystery that embellish her poetic genius. The dark colors of the painting match perfectly with H.D.’s concept of the emotional wisdom of imperfection. For instance, Sappho’s image leaning on the rock from which she fell echoes H.D.’s phrase “perfect rock shelves and layers of rock, which flowers by some chance may grow, but which endure when the staunch blossoms have perished . . . not flowers at all, but an island” (58), akin to the background of the painting which recalls Lesvos, the island of her origin.

“Sappho’s Solid Ground” is a poetic amalgam of the verbal and visual elements that prevail in H.D.’s The Wise Sappho and Mengin’s Sappho as well as fragments of my own perception of Sappho and our common homeland, Lesvos. The aesthetic and emotional character of the poem is an intentional reference to Imagism, embedded in an ancient Greek pagan ritual. In particular, the poem constitutes an invocation to Sappho as the high priestess of poetry, a congregation’s act of worship in order to draw emotionally flourished inspiration. The poem celebrates Sappho, the wise poetess, in what could be regarded as an ethereal prayer, as well as it signifies the open dialogue between H.D. and Mengin, similar to Sappho’s infinite dialogue with eternity; its primal aim is to capture the reader’s emotion rather than attention.

Sappho emerges as the Solid Ground of Greece in the poem, inspired by H.D.’s phrase: “This is her strength—Sappho of Mytilene was a Greek” (63). She embodies the notion of the Greek muse that gives birth to beauty, glorifying humanity as she is depicted in Mengin’s painting with bare breasts that allude to motherhood and a lyre in her hand which alludes to poetic creativity respectively, that is, procreation and creation in one poetic figure. She faces eternity without being anxious about her mortal end, which in her case is the movement to an adjacent place, that of the spiritual world, her universal poetic topos. In Mengin’s visual representation, H.D.’s concept of Sappho’s indifference finds an equivalent, with her gaze playing the most significant role. Sappho is not indifferent towards the world or humans though; she is indifferent towards fears that torment common mortals, such as death, earthly treasures, and social contexts. Since she masters a “craft never surpassed in literature” (Doolittle 63) she has nothing to be perturbed about.

In Mengin’s painting, the unspecified time coincides with Sappho’s otherworldly self. Likewise, in the poem she is portrayed timeless as well, devoid of any institutionalized marks. Being a great lover of ancient beauty shipwrecked in the modern world, as H.D. puts it (67), I wish to picture Sappho as the beyond of our worldly life, as a poetic presence comprehensible only through the senses.



Doolittle, Hilda. Notes on Thought and Vision: the Wise Sappho. City Lights Books, 1982.
Goldhill, Simon. Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity. Princeton UP, 2011.
Mengin, Charles-Auguste. Sappho. 1877. Manchester City Art Gallery,

                © Poeticanet

1 The collective translation project of H.D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision and the Wise Sappho was completed under the supervision of Dr. Liana Sakelliou whom I dearly acknowledge.