SAPHO TO PHILÆNIS
Where is that holy fire, which Verse is said
To have? is that inchanting force decai'd?
Verse that drawes Natures workes, from Natures law,
Thee, her best worke, to her worke cannot draw.
Have my teares quench'd my old Poetique fire;
Why quench'd they not as well, that of desire?
Thoughts, my mindes creatures, often are with thee,
But I, their maker, want their libertie.
Onely thine image, in my heart, doth sit,
But that is waxe, and fires environ it.
My fires have driven, thine have drawne it hence;
And I am rob'd of Picture, Heart, and Sense.
Dwells with me still mine irksome Memory,
Which, both to keepe, and lose, grieves equally.
That tells me'how faire thou art: Thou art so faire,
As, gods, when gods to thee I doe compare,
Are grac'd thereby; And to make blinde men see,
What things gods are, I say they'are like to thee.
For, if we justly call each silly man
A litle world, What shall we call thee then?
Thou art not soft, and cleare, and strait, and faire,
As Down, as Stars, Cedars, and Lillies are,
But thy right hand, and cheek, and eye, only
Are like thy other hand, and cheek, and eye.
Such was my Phao awhile, but shall be never,
As thou, wast, art, and, oh, maist be ever.
Here lovers sweare in their Idolatrie,
That I am such; but Griefe discolors me.
And yet I grieve the lesse, lest Griefe remove
My beauty, and make me'unworthy of thy love.
Plaies some soft boy with thee, oh there wants yet
A mutuall feeling which should sweeten it.
His chinne, a thorny hairy unevennesse
Doth threaten, and some daily change possesse.
Thy body is a naturall Paradise,
In whose selfe, unmanur'd, all pleasure lies,
Nor needs perfection; why shouldst thou then
Admit the tillage of a harsh rough man?
Men leave behind them that which their sin showes,
And are as theeves trac'd, which rob when it snows.
But of our dallyance no more signes there are,
Than fishes leave in streames, or Birds in aire.
And betweene us all sweetnesse may be had;
All, all that Nature yields, or Art can adde.
My two lips, eyes, thighs, differ from thy two,
But so, as thine from one another doe;
And, oh, no more; the likenesse being such,
Why should they not alike in all parts touch?
Hand to strange hand, lippe to lippe none denies;
Why should they brest to brest, or thighs to thighs?
Likenesse begets such strange selfe flatterie,
That touching my selfe, all seemes done to thee.
My selfe I embrace, and mine owne hands I kisse,
And amorously thanke my selfe for this.
Me, in my glasse, I call thee; But alas,
When I would kisse, teares dimme mine eyes, and glasse.
O cure this loving madnesse, and restore
Me to mee; thee, my halfe, my all, my more.
So may thy cheekes red outweare scarlet dye,
And their white, whitenesse of the Galaxy,
So may thy mighty, amazing beauty move
Envy'in all women, and in all men, love,
And so be change, and sicknesse, farre from thee,
As thou by comming neere, keep'st them from me.
I learned of this poem in a review of The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall, edited by Terry Castle (1,110pp, Columbia). The review is by Margaret Reynolds in The Guardian and is dated 2003.12.13. Reynolds writes:
John Donne is another writer who knew about the perverseness of desire. His "Sapho to Philaenis" (1633) is one of the most mistressly and sexy poems ever to have been discreetly erased from the canon: "Hand to strange hand, lip to lip none denies; / Why should they breast to breast, or thighs to thighs? / Likeness begets such strange self flattery, / That touching myself, all seems done to thee."
I found the full text of the poem offered as a literary quiz [stale link]. One was to guess the name of the poet. I found the poem itself nowhere else on the web.
I have edited the text to agree with The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, edited, with an introduction by Charles M. Coffin (New York: Random House, Modern Library, 1952). In a note, Coffin says he reproduces the text of John Hayward (Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, London, 1929).