Jealousy

He must feel blooded with the spirit of a god
to sit opposite you and listen, and reply,
to your talk, your laughter, your touching,
breath-held silences. But what I feel, sitting here
and watching you, so stops my heart and binds
my tongue that I can't think what I might say
to breach the aureole around you there.
It's as if someone with flint and stone had sparked
a fire that kindled the flesh along my arms
and smothered me in its smoke-blind rush.
Paler than summer grass, it seems
I am already dead, or little short of dying.

by Sappho

Comments (25)

A great poem where sadness of tears is also seen there. Having limited knowledge about the great poet and her poems the following comment of Respected readers john Richter referred in detail which transformed the mind in such meaningful ways of understanding of the poem and the circumstances that lead to writing the poem which is very informative. The depressive mood in the old days of the poet and the reasons all are read and opened the window of understanding the poem in a different mood which I think that this is not a simple poem in four lines but wonderful creativity came from the mind of the poet.
Life moves as it is.
I think she is referring to fake emotions - that speech and tears can be constructed on whim to act a part, to feign a cause or emotion. But true sadness, sadness that exists as only that, leaves a body unable to even interact. I think understanding Emily's poems can be difficult, but knowing that she was extremely emotional and exceptionally loving to those who opened their hearts to her can help that understanding. Emily made many loving friends while studying as a young woman and became despondant, (probably clinically depressed) over their deaths one by one as she became older. In the end she became a complete hermit - incapable or refusing interaction with almost all others. Knowing that makes this poem as clear as a bell to me and is just another window into her beautifully loving soul.
Loved the contrast of speech/tears with prank/trick and parliament/nerve implications. Yes when the heart is light and care free we can occasionally seem to float but Emily is correct, if our heart is weighted down with the heaviest fright sometimes we cannot move and the heart in dire straights is incapable of motion. This poem is beautifully succinct 10+ for a brevity of delightful insight concisely conveyed :)
Miss Emily always surprises me with each new poem of hers that I read. I don't always understand them, certainly upon first reading, but like this one they almost always communicate with me - something I'm glad to have heard. Two aspects of this one caught me - and moved me - even in my first impressions. (1) The sounds of her words: obviously she always takes pleasure in their sounds. Her half rhymes (nerve, move) , her ballad or hymn stanza (ABCB,4.3.4.3) , her dashes for slight pauses, especially the alliteration, consonance, and assonance (e.g., Prank/Parliament, Heart/heaviest, Prank/trick, Speech/tears/heaviest, Parliament/heart) , and the play on words (move=elicit motion vs. move=go somewhere) - all these gave me pleasure long before I took the time to list them for myself consciously. (2) Her juxtaposition of opposites of one kind or another. 'But' turns out to be the key word in the poem, demanding that we see the contrast between the pranks and tricks of the first two lines and the 'heaviest freight' of the second; i.e., between the somewhat superficial and the definitely profound. One can go on finding contrasts: the overt (speech/tears) and the unspoken (heart and 'move'): the positive and negative (is/is and doesn't) , the direct statements of the first two lines vs. the subtle implications of the second two. Lovely. And having said all this, I suspect my understanding is still superficial (itself a prank or trick) , not the depth that will emerge with successive readings (the heaviest freight, yet to come) . Thank you, PH, for choosing such a delightful work as the poem of the day. the prank and trick of the first two lines
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