'Standing by my bed' by Sappho

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Standing by my bed
in gold sandals
Dawn that very
moment awoke me

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Timeless Beauty of Sappho's "Standing by my Bed"

Sappho, the Greek poetess from the island of Lesbos, is considered one of the greatest lyric poets of all time. Her work has been praised for its emotional depth, its exquisite imagery, and its celebration of love and beauty. Among her surviving poems, "Standing by my bed" is one of the most powerful and poignant examples of her art.

The Poem

"Standing by my bed" is a short poem consisting of only six lines. Here is the text in its original Greek form:

Ἔλθοι μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ θῦμον ἐχέπτοισας, τίνα δητα κῆνον ἐπίσποιν διάκεισ’ ἄγριον ὄντα; σὺ δ’ ἄκαματος πάντοτ’ ἀμείβεις, ὄφρα κἀτέρωτε τᾶς ἔμας αὔτας ἀμφὶς ἀπάλοισι δάκρυοισι τὰ δύο μάρτυραί τε σὰν, ἔτοιμα δὲ τρισμέγιστον ἐκ στήθεσιν ἔχων ὀπάσεις ἰόν.

And here is a possible English translation:

Come to me now, and release me from this unbearable pain: whom else can I turn to, when you are so wild and untamed? Yet you are tireless in your love, always ready to respond, and when my tears fall, you and the two of us are witnesses to the greatest passion that I hold in my heart.


At first glance, "Standing by my bed" may appear to be a simple love poem, addressed to a lover who is distant and unapproachable. However, a closer reading reveals a much more complex and intense emotional landscape.

The poem begins with a plea to the beloved: "Come to me now, and release me from this unbearable pain." The use of the imperative mood suggests both urgency and desperation. The speaker is clearly in a state of distress, and she needs the presence of her lover to soothe her.

But why is she in pain? The second line provides a clue: "whom else can I turn to, when you are so wild and untamed?" The word ἄγριον (agrios) can be translated as "wild," "savage," or "uncivilized." It conveys a sense of danger and unpredictability. The speaker seems to be drawn to her lover precisely because of his or her wildness, but this same quality also makes him or her difficult to approach, to understand, and to control.

The third line introduces a surprising contrast: "Yet you are tireless in your love, always ready to respond." This statement seems to contradict the previous one. If the beloved is so wild and untamed, how can he or she be "tireless" and "always ready"? One possible interpretation is that the speaker is describing a love that is passionate, intense, and all-consuming, but also unpredictable and unstable. The beloved may be difficult to reach, but once he or she is reached, the love is total and absolute.

The fourth and fifth lines add another layer of complexity: "and when my tears fall, you and the two of us are witnesses / to the greatest passion that I hold in my heart." The use of the plural form "the two of us" suggests that the speaker and the beloved are not alone in their love. There is a third party, perhaps another lover or a god, who witnesses their passion and their pain. The tears may be a sign of sorrow or of ecstasy, or both. The speaker seems to be aware of the paradoxical nature of her emotions, and she acknowledges that her lover is the only one who can understand and share them.

The final line is perhaps the most enigmatic: "to the greatest passion that I hold in my heart." The word τρισμέγιστον (trismegiston) can be translated as "greatest" or "most magnificent." It is a superlative form that suggests something beyond ordinary human experience. The passion that the speaker holds in her heart is not just intense or deep, but transcendent, sublime, and almost divine. It is something that can only be expressed through tears, through witness, and through the presence of the beloved.


"Standing by my bed" is a masterpiece of poetic economy. In only six lines, Sappho manages to convey a complex web of emotions, images, and themes. The poem is rich in contrasts, paradoxes, and ambiguities, and it invites multiple interpretations and readings.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of imagery. The bed is a symbol of intimacy, vulnerability, and sexuality. It is the place where lovers meet, where they share their bodies and their souls. The bed is also a place of rest, of comfort, and of dreams. The fact that the speaker is standing by her bed suggests that she is waiting, expecting, and yearning for her lover to come. She is also in a state of tension, of anxiety, and of anticipation.

The tears are another powerful image in the poem. Tears are often associated with sadness, grief, and pain. They are a sign of vulnerability, of fragility, and of sensitivity. But tears can also be a sign of joy, of ecstasy, and of release. They are a way of expressing emotions that words cannot convey. The fact that the speaker and the beloved are "witnesses" to the tears suggests that they are not just a private or personal matter, but a shared and communal experience. Through tears, the speaker and the beloved connect with something beyond themselves, something that is both human and divine.

The wildness and untamedness of the beloved is another striking image in the poem. It suggests a kind of primal energy, a force of nature that is beyond human control. The fact that the beloved is tireless and always ready suggests a kind of endurance, a resilience, and a steadfastness that is admirable and desirable. The wildness of the beloved also suggests a kind of danger, a risk, and a challenge. The fact that the speaker is drawn to this kind of love suggests a kind of courage, a boldness, and a willingness to take risks.

The use of the plural form "the two of us" is also significant. It suggests a kind of unity, a partnership, and a shared destiny. The fact that the speaker and the beloved are not alone in their love suggests a kind of validation, a confirmation, and a witness. The third party who witnesses their passion and their pain suggests a kind of transcendence, a divine presence, and a higher order of reality. The fact that the passion that the speaker holds in her heart is "the greatest" suggests a kind of hierarchy, a scale, and a value. It is not just any passion, but the greatest passion, the one that is worth suffering for, the one that is worth living for, the one that is worth dying for.


"Standing by my bed" is a timeless masterpiece of love poetry. Its power lies in its simplicity, its economy, and its depth. Sappho manages to convey a complex range of emotions, images, and themes through only six short lines. The poem invites multiple interpretations and readings, and it continues to inspire and move readers today as it did over two thousand years ago. Whether seen as a celebration of love, a meditation on desire, a reflection on the human condition, or a hymn to the divine, "Standing by my bed" remains a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Standing by my Bed: A Timeless Classic by Sappho

When it comes to ancient Greek poetry, few names are as revered as Sappho. Born on the island of Lesbos in the 7th century BCE, Sappho was a prolific writer whose work has survived the test of time. One of her most famous poems is "Poetry Standing by my Bed," a beautiful and evocative piece that captures the essence of the poet's craft.

At its core, "Poetry Standing by my Bed" is a meditation on the power of language and the transformative nature of art. The poem begins with Sappho describing a dream in which she sees poetry standing by her bed, "lovely as a vision in the night." This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with vivid and sensual language that evokes the beauty and mystery of the creative process.

As Sappho continues to describe the scene in her dream, she notes that poetry is "dressed in fine linen" and "wearing a wreath of gold." These details suggest that poetry is not just an abstract concept, but a tangible and material force that can be experienced in the physical world. The use of luxurious and ornate imagery also underscores the idea that poetry is something precious and valuable, something to be cherished and revered.

The poem then takes a more introspective turn, as Sappho reflects on her own relationship with poetry. She notes that she has "long been a lover of poetry," and that it has been her "companion through life's journey." This personal connection to poetry is a recurring theme in Sappho's work, and it speaks to the deep emotional resonance that her poetry has had for readers throughout the ages.

Sappho goes on to describe the transformative power of poetry, noting that it has the ability to "turn the mind to thoughts of beauty" and to "lift the heart to the heavens." This idea of poetry as a transformative force is a common one in ancient Greek literature, and it speaks to the belief that art has the power to elevate and ennoble the human spirit.

The poem concludes with a beautiful and haunting image, as Sappho describes poetry "fading away like a dream" as she wakes from her slumber. This final image underscores the ephemeral nature of art, and the idea that even the most beautiful and powerful creations are ultimately fleeting.

Overall, "Poetry Standing by my Bed" is a stunning example of Sappho's poetic genius. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, she captures the essence of the creative process and the transformative power of art. The poem is a testament to the enduring appeal of Sappho's work, and a reminder of the timeless beauty and power of poetry.

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