In Sappho's poem "With His Venom," how is figurative language used?

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In this poem, the speaker uses a metaphor, a comparison of two unalike things where one is said to be the other, to compare "Love" to a snake. She describes its "venom [as] / irresistible / and bittersweet." The word bittersweet is an oxymoron , a combination of contradictory...

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In this poem, the speaker uses a metaphor, a comparison of two unalike things where one is said to be the other, to compare "Love" to a snake. She describes its "venom [as] / irresistible / and bittersweet." The word bittersweet is an oxymoron, a combination of contradictory or incongruent words, which helps to draw attention to the contradictory nature of Love's effects in the poem. It is "irresistible" and yet also "strikes . . . down" the speaker. It is both positive and negative in connotation, lovely and destructive. She extends the comparison, discussing Love's venom as something that "loosen[s] / . . . limbs"; in other words, it makes one weaker rather than stronger and seems distinctly dangerous. This is the overwhelming impression created by the poem's figurative language: that love is incredibly attractive and impossible to resist and yet is dreadful and menacing at the same time.

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Sappho uses paradox to describe the love that exists between her and her lover. It is at once both "bittersweet" and "irresistible." The speaker clearly understands that this love brings great emotional pain and suffering, yet at the same time finds it impossible to resist. Like poison, this man's love acts as a "loosener of limbs," in much the same way as a drop of hemlock, commonly used in Ancient Greece as a method of execution. (As in the death of Socrates, for example.)

Love is supposed to be a source of joy and pleasure, and yet paradoxically it also has the capacity to strike you down, just like the deadly sting of a poisonous snake. In a few short lines, Sappho beautifully captures the paradoxical nature of love, with all its joys and pains.

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Ancient Greek poet Sappho uses personification and metaphor to describe love in her short poem "With His Venom." Personification is a kind of metaphor in which an inanimate object or concept is given human or animal qualities. In this instance, love is ascribed consciousness and action similar to those of a reptile. Love has "irresistible," "bittersweet" venom that it uses to "strik[e]" the speaker of the poem down. This is a depiction of love as something violent and all-consuming. Sappho also employs simile, a comparison using like or as, in her explicit description of "Love // reptile-like."

Stylistically, the poem could be described as minimalist and stark. Only seven lines long, and with no line of more than three words, Sappho manages to convey her meaning in impressively little space.

Depending on the translator, love might instead be translated as Eros, the Greek god of love.

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Sappho's poem uses the primary metaphor of a reptile to represent love.  "The loosener of limbs" is seen as a subterranean force, something that is stealth in how it "strikes down" its victims.  Sappho's trademark of "intense, stark emotions" is present in the poem.  The figurative language shows love to be a force from which there can be little preemption and little escape.  This is confirmed by the opening description of the venom, itself, as "irresistible and bittersweet."  The brevity of the poem, and the fact that it is all figurative language, helps to bring forth Sappho's idea that love is a personalized experience, something that cannot be restrained by society.  The "power of love within the individual heart" is a part of the experience that is brought out in the poem, and something towards which the poetess holds a great deal of respect.

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