The Sapphic Stanza is classic Aeolic verse and attributed to the poetess Sappho 6 BC, Greece. Plato so admired her that he spoke of her not as lyricist, poet but called her the 10th Muse. Her poems spoke of relationships and were marked by emotion. In a male dominated era she schooled and mentored women artists on the island of Lesbos and her writing has often been equated with woman-love. “Rather than addressing the gods or recounting epic narratives such as those of Homer, Sappho’s verses speak from one individual to another.” NPOPP.
Sappho’s work has often been referred to as fragments, because only two of her poems have survived in whole with the vast majority of her work surviving in fragments either from neglect, natural disasters, or possible censorship.
Sapphic Stanza is:
- quantitative verse, measuring long / short vowels. In English we transition to metric measure of stress / unstressed syllables which warps the rhythm a bit but brings it into context the English ear can hear. L= long s = short
- stanzaic, written in any number of quatrains. This evolved to a quatrain during the Renaissance period from the ancient variable 3 to 4 line stanzas. The quatrain is made up of 3 Sapphic lines followed by an Adonic line which is usually written as a parallel to L3.
Sapphic line = 11 syllables, trochaic with the central foot being a dactyl
Adonic line = 5 syllables, a dactyl followed by a trochee
(see below for more detail on these two components)
- The modern Sapphic scansion should look like this (Stressed or Long = L; unstressed or short = s )
Quantitative Verse (L=long syllable * s=short syllable)
with substituted spondee
- originally unrhymed, in the Middle Ages the stanza acquired rhyme, rhyme scheme abab. Because of the predominant use of trochee and dactyls the rhyme will generally be feminine or a 2 syllable rhyme with the last syllable unstressed.
- Adonic line is most often written as a parallel to a previous line. It is the last line of the Sapphic stanza. It is composed in 5 syllables, a dactyl followed by a trochee. It can also be found as a pattern for the refrain in song to honor Adonis, from which it derived its name.
“death has come near me.”
last line of Like the gods
. . . by Sappho 4th century BC
edited by Richmond Lattimore
Meaningless prattle. —jvg
- Sapphic line -Since the Renaissance period the Sapphic line has been recognized as being a 5 foot trochaic line with the central foot being a dactyl. Prior to the Renaissance period this 11 syllable trochaic pattern was known as the “lesser” Sapphic line and the Sapphic line was a combination of the lesser Sapphic line and an adonic line.After Renaissance Sapphic line Ls-Ls-Lss-Ls-Ls : Passion, lust, consumed our beginnings fully.
Prior to Renaissance Sapphic line Ls-Ls-Lss-Ls-Ls,- Lss Ls : greed to love? It happened deceptively, tricking emotions.
Apparently, the technical terms of “lesser” Sapphic and Sapphic lines have been corrupted over time.
My Thanks to Judi Van Gorder for the wonderful resource at PMO
I am restating the specifications for the 21st century English writing poets, knowing full well that academicians may insist we have corrupted Sappho’s use of long and short vowel sounds. A real poet might strive to make those sounds and the syllabic accents coincide, then none can argue.
A Sapphic Stanza is:
Stanzaic, consisting of any number of quatrains.
Syllabic, each stanza consisting 3 Sapphic Lines plus a Adonic line.
Metrical. The Sapphic lines being trochaic with the central foot being a dactyl (11 syllables), and The Adonic lines being a dactyl followed by a trochee (5 syllables)
Rhymed, the pattern being abab.
Quantitative Verse (Sapphic Stanza)
Seek out passion, write of the trials that poets
face, with no complaint but with guidance, using
items neither trite nor near dying, so it’s
true and amusing.
© Lawrencealot – April 17, 2014
In this example I have tried to make each accented syllable also use an English long vowel sound.