Ernest De Selincourt (ed.), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 2: Poems Founded on the Affections; Poems on the Naming of Places; Poems of the Fancy; Poems of the Imagination (Second Edition)

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Editor’s NoteIII.ALCÆUS TO SAPPHO

  • 1             How sweet, when crimson colours dart
  • 2             Across a breast of snow,
  • 3             To see that you are in the heart
  • 4             That beats and throbs below.
  • 5             All heaven is in a maiden's blush,
  • 6             In which the soul doth speak,
  • 7             That it was you who sent the flush
  • 8             Into the maiden's cheek.
  • 9             Large steadfast eyes! eyes gently rolled
  • 10             In shades of changing blue,
  • 11             How sweet are they, if they behold
  • 12             No dearer sight than you!
  • 13             And can a lip more richly glow,
  • 14             Or be more fair than this?
  • 15             The world will surely answer, No!
  • 16             I, SAPPHO, answer, Yes!
  • 17             Then grant one smile, tho' it should mean
  • 18             A thing of doubtful birth;
  • 19             That I may say these eyes have seen
  • 20             The fairest face on earth!

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Editor’s Note
p. 465. III. Alcæus to Sappho. Sent by Coleridge to Stuart in Oct. 1800, for inclusion in the Morning Post, where it appeared on Nov. 24; and included in editions of Coleridge's Poems. But W., in a letter to Coleridge from Goslar in 1798, refers to "How sweet when crimson colours etc." as a recent composition of his own, for which, he adds, "I do not care a farthing". It was thus written by W. at the same time as he was writing "Strange fits of passion", "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", and "Three years she grew"; and it is highly probable that it is a poem that he had rejected from the series of poems to Lucy. We do not know how far Coleridge rehandled it, but it is safe to assume that he is responsible for the title, and for the introduction of the name "Sappho" into the penultimate stanza.
In the first volume of this edition I failed to point out that W.'s juvenile poem Beauty and Moonlight is the original from which Coleridge developed his Lewti. The only important variant from Beauty and Moonlight in the first draft of Lewti is in Coleridge's substitution of "Tamaha's stream" for "Winander's stream", thus giving to the poem a remoteness of scene which is the first stage in its transformation into a ' ' Circassian Love Chant By a similar transformation the lines "How sweet when crimson colours etc.", which W. rightly deemed unworthy to be offered to "Lucy", were palmed off on readers of the Morning Post as the address of Alcaeus to Sappho.
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