Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Song of Stacey's

Detail from 'Sappho and Alcaeus', by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1881) - via Shawnlipowski at Wikimedia Commons - public domain

"He never said he was a God..."

He never said he was a God: not that man, not that man,
Who caught the grey world like a boy’s ball,
And pitched it back, laughing, to you –
You, the pale flame before the dawn came.
Incomparable, fairest and best ,
Can you not warm me now?

They howl how they are Gods – all those lads, all those lads,
Who catch up our cities like glass lamps,
And smash them in flames on the stone –
Those boys with the parts of strong men.
I change my circle for a sphere of rule.
Will you not bring my cup?

I should think myself a Goddess – this old girl, this old girl –
If I caught your grey glance like a lover,
And pitched myself into your flame.
I would throw off the world like a worn dress.
Incomparable, phantom and lost,
You have put your damn foot through my lyre!


In the Kateverse, this is Joan Greycote's translation of a famous poem of antiquity: one of the last songs composed by the legendary Stateira Hetaira - much later dubbed 'Stacey the Singer' - during her brief tenure as tyrant of the Vesper Isles.

In our world, Stateira was mostly inspired by Sappho, though they are not really all that alike; and this poem, by one of the great Mytilenian's most famous compositions. Here is the burning original, with a whole firework-show of translations.

The tune, like most of Stateira's and all of Sappho's, has been lost; which first is fortunate from my point of view as the author, since I am certainly not competent to compose even a shadow of it.

The lady being addressed is Incomparable Cleïs, consort of Stateira's friend and sponsor, all-conquering Emperor Cassander.

In our world, Sappho's mother and daughter are both supposed to have been called Cleïs. In the Kateverse, 'Stacey' and 'Cleyse' are not related nor even, in life, particularly close; and the missing muse is at least a generation Stateira's senior. But as the shades and bloody clouds close in, the poet remembers a young girl's vision of Aphrodite come down to joke and dance with the throng, in days of terror and delight when all things good or evil seemed possible, and not the long murdering night only.

Joan Greycote was probably an associate of Rogatyn de Ville, who more or less answers to our Villon.

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