(c. 600 BCE / Greece)

On What Is Best - Poem by Sappho

Some celebrate the beauty
of knights, or infantry,
or billowing flotillas
at battle on the sea.
Warfare has its glory,
but I place far above
these military splendors
the one thing that you love.

For proof of this contention
examine history:
we all remember Helen,
who left her family,
her child, and royal husband,
to take a stranger's hand:
her beauty had no equal,
but bowed to love's command.

As love then is the power
that none can disobey,
so too my thoughts must follow
my darling far away:
the sparkle of her laughter
would give me greater joy
than all the bronze-clad heroes

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Translated by JON CORELiS

Comments about On What Is Best by Sappho

  • (2/23/2018 7:43:00 PM)

    The madness of warfare, the absurdity of praising armies and military display.
    There is no beauty, no love, no sense, nothing praiseworthy in battle
    Love on the other hand has everything. All praiseworthy are comprised in love
    I got carried away reading this poem. It is truly beautiful and full of wisdom.
    (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
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  • (10/21/2016 8:46:00 AM)

    The translaor has put in stuff of his own which we could do wothout. (Report) Reply

  • Chinedu Dike (9/2/2016 2:36:00 AM)

    Lovely depiction of mighty feeling and spiritual experience of love elegantly brought forth with conviction. (Report) Reply

  • (9/4/2015 8:47:00 AM)

    .............beautifully said, there's no power stronger ★ (Report) Reply

  • Rajnish Manga (1/2/2015 12:11:00 AM)

    The power of love is far stronger than the power of all armies. It is a beauty of a poem which I would like to read again and again. (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2015 11:50:00 PM)

    Interestin poem (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2015 9:44:00 AM)

    Exemplary poem on love and it is beautiful too. (Report) Reply

  • Pranab K Chakraborty (1/1/2015 6:33:00 AM)

    Actually battle and love, love for battle or battling love or battle for love.....two poles are different but always they misguide civilians as the otherside of moon. Sapho's equation demonstrated in this writing rather too easy to draw a straightline and obviously incomplete by various logic to come to a conclusion. (Report) Reply

  • Gajanan Mishra (1/1/2015 4:12:00 AM)

    Beautiful love, Really love is supreme. (Report) Reply

  • Aftab Alam Khursheed (1/1/2015 1:58:00 AM)

    The sparkle of her laughter would give me greater joy very nice thanks (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2010 10:38:00 AM)

    The following is a translation by Josephine Balmer -

    Some an army of horsemen, some an army on foot
    and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
    on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
    ever you desire:

    and it is possible to make this perfectly clear
    to all; for the woman who far surpassed all others
    in her beauty, Helen, left her husband-
    the best of all men -

    behind and sailed far away to Troy; she did not spare
    a single thought for her child nor for her dear parents
    but the goddess of love led her astray

    reminds me now of Anactoria
    although far away.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2010 10:14:00 AM)

    Whether or not God is love in this draycart of a poem by a poet who lived and died centuries before Christianity I leave to the scholars! The translation posted here is probably as good as one can expect given time and circumstance. The poem is indeed economical in its use of language and imagery. From the glory of war in such epic poetry as Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY, alluded to in the second stanza by the reference to Troy and Helen, the symbol of beauty and sexual attraction throughout literature to the present. The speaker's darling far away may be her daughter if we consider the speaker to be the woman who lived in Lesbos and was married and had a daughter, or the speaker is fictional and is addressing one of the young girls to whom Sappho taught music and poetry and the devotion to the goddess of erotic love and marriage! (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2010 7:16:00 AM)

    Love conquers all, since GOD is love. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (1/1/2010 5:53:00 AM)

    Surely the original cannot have been as bad as this translation. It clumps along like a drayhorse. There's a line missing from the third verse. (Report) Reply

  • Emma Adamyan (1/1/2010 2:54:00 AM)

    I surely don`t know Creek, but the English version says it`s fantastic poem and translation. I can only guess, that love was supposed to bring only joy and happiness, i mean a true love from God... so, if it makes a woman to leave her husband and... child! to hold a stranger`s hand... i think it`s not love, but true punishment (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (1/1/2010 1:03:00 AM)

    Indeed there is nothing fair or foul both in war and love. But love is supreme power over war and life in the world! (Report) Reply

  • (1/1/2006 10:51:00 AM)

    Beautfully written great imagery stucture and form.
    Thank You for sharing
    Carole Cookie Arnold
    (Report) Reply

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# 461 poem on top 500 Poems

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Read poems about / on: history, husband, family, laughter, beauty, remember, power, child, joy, sea, love, hero, children

Poem Submitted: Thursday, November 27, 2003

Poem Edited: Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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