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Friday, 23 September 2011 00:00

Please Describe the Sapphic Meter

Written by 

poet sappho


Dear Sappho,

Is there really a poetry meter named after you? Could you please describe that style and explain a little bit about the various terms regarding your poetry form and technique? It seems specific but I can’t put my finger on the precise form. Thank you. I am a lifelong huge fan and admirer of your poetry.

Sincerely, Poetry Lover

Dear Poetry Lover,

Actually, I wrote in many meters and Styles. But I am noted for the Sapphic Verse or Ode and that seems to be the final verdict. Therefore, I will briefly define the motif. It is far less poetic to explain it than to simply do it. If I had to write today inside these specific parameters and rules, I would probably lose all interest in the verse and concentrate instead on the blissful ethereal aspects of feeling the poetry instead of actually writing it. Personally, I think poetry should flow like music and from a clear light heart.

The Sapphic stanza

We have 4 lines. Three lines with 11 syllables and the last one has five. Three long lines, One short line. Sounds; long short long short long short short long short long long. Take this 4 times and the last line is 5 syllables. Long short short long short.

Using “-“ for a long syllable, “u” for a short and “x” for an “anceps” (or free syllable):

- u - x - u u - u - -

- u - x - u u - u - -

- u - x - u u - u - -

- u u - u

Dictionary definition: Sapphic Verse is a hendecasyllabic line (eleven syllables) with a very specialized rhythmical structure.

It is used in the Sapphic stanza that consists of three hendecasyllabic lines and a fourth line, known as the adonic line, which has five syllables.

After the odes of the Greek lyric poet, Sappho, a verse of eleven syllables in five feet, of which the first, fourth and fifth are trochees, the second a spondee, and the third a dactyl. The Sapphic strophe consists of three Sapphic verses followed by an Adonic. Here is an example:

Hymn to Aphrodite

Glittering-Minded deathless Aphrodite,

I beg you, Zeus’s daughter, weaver of snares,

Don’t shatter my heart with fierce

Pain, goddess,


But come now, if ever before

You heard my voice, far off, and listened,

And left your father’s golden house,

And came,


Yoking your chariot. Lovely the swift

Sparrows that brought you over black earth

A whirring of wings through mid-air

Down the sky.


They came. And you, sacred one,

Smiling with deathless face, asking

What now, while I suffer: why now

I cry out to you, again:


What now I desire above all in my

Mad heart. ‘Whom now, shall I persuade

To admit you again to her love,

Sappho, who wrongs you now?


If she runs now she’ll follow later,

If she refuses gifts she’ll give them.

If she loves not, now, she’ll soon

Love against her will.’


Come to me now, then, free me

From aching care, and win me

All my heart longs to win. You,

Be my friend.

Yawn. Bring in the dancing girls, I fear we have bored the muses over their ability to bear syllables.

Be Inspired,



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