Bliss Carman and Poetic Archaeology

“The greatest joy in nature is the absence of man.” – Bliss Carman, Canadian poet.

During the course of his prolific career, Bliss Carman produced many splendid works, but one of his best efforts was the 1904 volume “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics,” in which he attempted to reconstruct the sensibility and style of Sappho from the few fragments of her poetry that have survived. This re-imagining proved to be hauntingly successful, as is evident in the selection below (“Sappho XXIII”), which is suffused with an elegiac melancholy.

“I Loved Thee, Atthis, in the Long Ago”

I loved thee, Atthis, in the long ago,
When the great oleanders were in flower
In the broad herded meadows full of sun.
And we would often at the fall of dusk
Wander together by the silver stream,
When the soft grass-heads were all wet with dew
And purple-misted in the fading light.
And joy I knew and sorrow at thy voice,
And the superb magnificence of love,—
The loneliness that saddens solitude,
And the sweet speech that makes it durable,—
The bitter longing and the keen desire,
The sweet companionship through quiet days
In the slow ample beauty of the world,
And the unutterable glad release
Within the temple of the holy night.
O Atthis, how I loved thee long ago
In that fair perished summer by the sea!

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