Carolyn Kizer’s “For Sappho: After Sappho” is a remarkable free-verse narrative that addresses the parallel relationships of a poet and her muse and the similarly creative bond between a mother and her daughter. The speaker, “Aphrodite,” mourns the death of the poet, “Sappho,” whose works celebrated the goddess both as an inspirational “mother” and as a loved muse. Like several of Kizer’s earlier poems, “For Sappho: After Sappho” uses the reader’s familiarity with the mythological goddess of love and the historically obscure poetess to address societal problems with female sexual creativity (both physical and literary).
As if starting her verse from the middle of her thoughts, the goddess details the beginning of her bond with Sappho in a paean to the poetess. She speaks intimately to her worshiper, addressing her directly from the first section where “[she] sang eloquently/ for my pleasure/ before I knew/ [if she were] girl or boy.” The lesbian poet “sang” her verse (which celebrated love and Aphrodite) no differently than would a male poet, but her loving poetic tributes to the goddess drew attention to her different gender: “not sister not lover.” The relationship, that of woman to woman, promised to be a difficult one fraught with the uncertainties of either the mother/daughter or the homosexual love-bond.
As a poet, Sappho drew her inspiration from the love-goddess initially as an infant daughter...
(The entire section is 570 words.)