Poochigian Sappho in the Gold Mine


Random Act of Poetry, 06/06
June 6th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

From Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments
a new translation of Sappho by Aaron Poochigian
Like a gale smiting an oak
on mountainous terrain,
Eros, with a stroke,
shattered my brain.

I was delighted by Aaron Poochigian’s new translation (Penguin Classics, 2009) of Sappho’s poems and fragments. Inventive, light, and playful, they are the most refreshing translations of Sappho I’ve ever come across. Sappho’s fragments on Eros, the primal force of attraction, are among my favorites, and the one I’ve chosen to quote demonstrates well Poochigian’s approach.
A standard translation will use the abstraction “heart,” “soul” or “mind” in this fragment, i.e. “Now Eros shakes my soul, a wind on the mountain overwhelming the oaks.” But Poochigian dares to use “brain,” a viscerally concrete word, one relatively free of sentiment. Its use in the last line, combined with the word “shattered,” is so subtle, so unexpected, that we almost miss the incongruity – what would it mean for the “brain,” that mass of soft tissue inside our skulls, to be “shattered” like a a brittle object? And for Eros to be the perpetrator? This is a poem that enacts its content: for a brief moment, our brains are shattered by the force of the words, its play on denotation and connotation.
Needless to say, Stung with Desire is highly recommended.