Some say a host of horsemen, and others say a host of foot-soldiers, and yet others say a host of ships is the most beautiful thing o[n] the black earth. But I say it is whatever anyone loves. And it is entirely easy to make this comprehensible to everyone: for she who far surpassed humans in beauty, Helen, left the [b]est husband [of all? by much?] behind and went sailing to Troy, and she remembered her child and her own dear parents not at all; instead, [Eros? Aphrodite?] led her astray . . . for . . . lightly . . . reminds me of Anactoria, who i[s not] here. I would wish to see her lovely step and the brilliant sparkle of her face, rather than the chariots of the Lydians and [foot-soldiers] fighting in armor.
Some say an army a-horse, and some afoot,
and some aboard black ships is the most splendid thing
in this world’s darkness — me, just that it’s this: what-
ever you lust for.
A handy way to make this comprehensible
to everyone: one altogether super-
human in splendor — Helena — a man —
best of them all —
she left behind and went to Troia sailing —
and not her child and not her own dear parents
recalled her —
Lust diverted her instead.
. . .
. . . . .
. . . lightly . . .
. . . . makes me recall Anactoria —
that she’s not here.
And her — that lust-inspiring step — I’d want
to see the light that flashes in her face
more than the Lydian chariots and the armored
Although the author and the poem are born in the same instant (the author is not an author until he is the author of something), the former is always for the sake of the latter. We have authors so we can have poems (or plays, or novels, or whatever); we do not have poems so we can have authors.
It is therefore fallacious to judge a poem by how well it expresses the author’s intentions; we should instead judge an author by the success or failure of his poems.
In order for the poem to be a successful poem, it must be successful at something other than expressing the author’s intention.
The successful expression of the author’s intention may assist the poem in achieving this something else, or it may hinder it, or it may have no effect at all.
Perhaps it is objected: But surely someone must intend that the poem achieve this something else.
I say: Maybe, maybe not. We desire this something else; it is why we have poems, and we have authors in order to have poems. How it is that it comes about — whether because the author intends it or for some other reason — is immaterial.
Here’s a Sappho fragment (22), with Anne Carson’s translation:
Various-minded deathless Aphrodite,
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I beseech you:
Neither with surfeit nor with sorrow break,
Mistress, my spirit.
No: come here, if ever othertimes
far off you heard this voice of mine
and listened: leaving father’s house
you came, your golden
chariot yoked, and beautiful the doves
that swiftly brought you ’round the black earth,
constantly whirling wings, from heaven through
the air between us —
at once they reached me. You, O Blessed,
a smile on your immortal visage,
asked what I’d suffered yet again, why yet
again I called you,
what most of all I wished would happen to me
in my mad spirit: “Whom shall I yet again
persuade to bring you back to her affections?
Who, Sappho, wrongs you?
For even if she flees, soon she’ll give chase;
the gifts she won’t accept — she’ll offer them;
and if she does not love you, soon she’ll love
Come to me now, too; free me from my grievous
cares, and accomplish for me all the things
my soul longs to accomplish; you yourself
be my companion.
Of course, the other people who are perfectly comfortable with the word “meter” are generative linguists. They are the great exception: one can practically divide the whole field down the middle, and discover that, by and large, literary scholars would rather speak of “rhythm” and linguists of “meter.” Furthermore: have they not already gone as far as I suggested? “Metrical phonology” takes the essential binarism that characterizes the systems of versification we most commonly call “meter,” and extends it even to higher levels of organization. It turns out, according to such theorists, that the apparent complexity of rhythm we encounter is just the result of higher levels of the same binary stressed/unstressed opposition — which is to say: meter precedes rhythm; rhythm is just one of its effects. Meter even as traditionally delimited turns out to be ultimately quite congenial to them, because they are already comitted to an underlying binarity.
ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
[⸏]τω τις ἔραται·
πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι (5)
π]άντι τ[ο]ῦ̣τ’, ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκέ̣θ̣ο̣ι̣σ̣α
κ̣άλ̣λο̣ς̣ [ἀνθ]ρ̣ώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
[⸏]τ̣ὸν̣ [ ].στον
κ̣αλλ[ίποι]σ̣’ ἔβα ’ς Τροΐαν πλέοι̣[σα
κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων (10)
π̣ά[μπαν] ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν
[ ]αμπτον γὰρ [
[ ]… κούφως τ[ ]οη.[.]ν̣
..]μ̣ε̣ νῦν Ἀνακτορί[ας ὀ]ν̣έ̣μναι- (15)
σ’ οὐ ] παρεοίσας,
τᾶ]ς <κ>ε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα †κανοπλοισι
⸏[ μ]άχεντας. (20)