Sappho is a compost occasion

We found as a class three things compost does. One, there’s a breaking down of old forms, cauliflower leaves corn cobs egg shells radish greens, they begin to lose the walls that bound them as what they were. Two, there’s a blending and a merging, as the elements released in the breakdown start to wander in search of new figurations. (See mandibles in Empedokles, the clinamen of Lucretius, the fact that matter does wander, that’s its nature, that is nature.) Three, something’s nourished, as nutrients released by the breakdown and rearranged in the blending become the constituents of new forms, new ways of being life.

And found all three at work Carson’s translations of Sappho in If Not, Winter. Just one for now (all things in their times). The first line of the one poem of hers we have whole, called often her “Hymn to Aphrodite,” in the Greek is

Ποικίλοφρον ἀθανάτ Ἀφρόδιτα

Transliterated that is, I think, I have no Greek,

Poikilophron athanat’ Aphrodita

And translated word for word,

Spangle-minded deathless Aphrodite

One character is in question. Where Carson reads phi (φ), others read theta (θ), and that one difference, between a sphere crossed vertically and an ellipse crossed horizontally, is a difference between poikilophron, mind, and poikilothron, throne. Is it the mind of Aphrodite, or the chair she sits in, that’s glinting, variegated, subtle, ambiguous, changeful?

What makes this compost is that the two readings coexist. A word Sappho wrote, or had written, was made by time two words, jostling. We can never get rid of one of the other. Time’s co-author of the poem.

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind

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I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

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