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Sapphic Metre, Sapphics

SAPPHIC METRE, SAPPHICS, an ancient form of quantitative verse, named after the Aeolian poetess Sappho, who is supposed to have invented it, and who certainly used it with unequalled skill. A sapphic line consists of five equal beats, of which the central one alone is of three syllables, while the others consist of two each. The original Greek sapphic was of this type:

| \ASpov' I tB&var' \ 'A<t>po | Sira The sapphic strophe consists of three of these lines followed by an adonic, thus:

Horace adopted, and slightly adapted, this form of verse, for some of his most engaging metrical effects. The Greek poets had permitted the caesura to come where it would, but Horace, to give solidity to the form, introduced the practice of usually ending a word on the fifth syllable :

jam satis terris nivis atque dirae, the second half of the sapphic leaping off, as it were, with a long syllable which connects it with the first half. This is a typical example of the Latin sapphic strophe :

Inte|ger vi|tae scelerjisque | purus non e|get Maur|is jacu|lis ne|que arcu, nee ve|nena|tis gravi|da sa|gittis, Fusee, pharletra.

Before the days of Horace, Catullus had used this form in Latin, and afterwards sapphics were introduced by the pseudo-Seneca into his tragedies. In the middle ages the sapphic strophe was frequently employed in the Latin hymns, especially by Gregory the Great. Later on, considerable laxity was introduced, and a dactyl was frequently substituted for the first trochee; this quite destroys the true character of the measure. It makes it a more easy metre, however, for those who write modern accentuated verse. We see a loose but effective specimen of it in the famous Needy knife | grinder! | whither I are you | going ? Rough is the | road, your | wheel is | out of | order. But nearer to the effect of the antique verse would be:

Needy | grinder! | whither oh! | are you | going? Rough the | road ; your | destitute | wheel is | broken, although this certainly does not suit English versification so well. English sapphics were written by the Elizabethan poet, Thomas Campion (q.v.) , and by William Cowper. Mr Swinburne has attempted to create the effect of the ancient Aeolian metre in a daring and brilliant stanza. Sapphics have been written more successfujly in German than in any other modern language. The earliest original German poem in the form is said to be an anonymous hymn to St Mary Magdalene, dated 1500. Voss kept strictly to the metrical scheme of the Latin in his famous translation of the Odes of Horace (1806), and among German poets who have cultivated sapphics are to be mentioned Klopstock, Platen, Hamerling and Geibel.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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