Before beginning this poem, Healy included a dedication. She wrote:
This indicates that the writer was interested in the work of classical Greek lyric poet Sappho and was thinking about her while writing. As one begins reading, it seems likely the “you” to whom the speaker is directing their words is Sappho.
The Greek poet is known for her lyric poetry, much of which alludes to her sexuality. Little is known about her life, but she was a prolific poet, writing around 10,000 lines of verse during her lifetime.
Explore The Lyric in a Time of War
‘The Lyric in a Time of War’ by Eloise Klein Healy is a powerful poem that uses simple language to speak about writing and war.
The poem is directed at Sappho and dedicated to an admiration of the Greek poet’s work and an analysis of how the author feels connected to her throughout time. The poet wants to create verse that’s similarly powerful to what Sappho wrote but never wants to usurp her position. She feels a connection across time and space with this person (and perhaps with writers in general) and this is something that gives her comfort in times of war.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of writing, connection, and war. Through a few simple lines of verse, the poet contemplates her connection with Greek lyric poet Sappho and how writing provides a place of refuge in connection during “terrible times.”
Structure and Form
‘The Lyric in a Time of War’ by Eloise Klein Healy is a four-stanza poem divided into three tercets or sets of three lines and one final single-line stanza. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. There are a few examples of repetition and half-rhyme that give the poem a feeling of structure, though. For instance, the poet’s use of anaphora (explored in the Literary Devices section below) and “wanting” and “loving” in the first two stanzas.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “let” begins the first three stanzas.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “let” and “loving” in line one of the second stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Let my music be found wanting / in comparison.”
- Allusion: a reference to something not directly described within the text. In this case, the poet is alluding to the writing of Greek lyric poet Sappho.
Let my music be found wanting
to yours (as it must)
In the first stanza of ‘The Lyric in a Time of War,’ the poet begins by addressing her “music” and that of the person to whom she dedicated her poem—Sappho. She’s comparing herself to the beautiful verses composed by the Greek lyric poet and hopes that her “music” is always “found wanting” compared to Sappho’s.
This is an interesting suggestion. It clearly implies the poet’s admiration for Sappho’s verse and opinion that no one’s “music,” or poetry, should ever be better. Stanza with the phrase “as it must” and parentheses. This further solidifies the strength of the writer’s opinion regarding the importance of Sappho’s poetry.
let me be found loving
extravagantly the beautiful
While the poet wants her verse to rank below Sappho’s, and ensure that the Greek poet’s writing is always well respected, she would like to be “found loving / extravagantly the beautiful.” She wants to be remembered for loving the “beautiful” extravagantly, she says. She wants to convey love and passion in the same way or with the same amount of feeling and impact that Sappho did in her poetry.
Again, the poet uses a short statement in parentheses in this stanza. This time “(as you were)” is a personal address to Sappho, acknowledging how she wants to model her writing.
let me find you
The third stanza is the last tercet or stanza of three lines. Here, she hopes that poetry remains a connection that the two have, throughout her life, across time. As someone devoted to Sappho’s writing style and subject matter, she hopes that she can always “find you” (meaning Sappho) within her writing.
It’s a means of connecting the two across time. This is particularly true, it seems (at least in the speaker’s mind) if she manages to “be found loving” in the same way Sappho is.
in these terrible times
The poem ends with an allusion to the poet’s contemporary moment. Her connection throughout time, through art (specifically Sapphic-style poetry) to the past, is maintaining her (and will do so for the foreseeable future, she hopes) in these “terrible times.”
It’s unclear exactly which “terrible times” the poet was writing about. But, she could be thinking about a contemporary conflict, like a war (as is referenced in the title), an economically turbulent period, and more.
The tone is reverential and appreciative. The speaker uses simple language to admire Sappho’s writing and her place in history. She values the connection one can share through the medium of writing with someone from the past.
The message is that writing can result in a connection between people throughout time and that by utilizing similar stylistic elements and subjects, one might feel even more connected. This may create a feeling of peace and comfort in “a time of war.”
The purpose is to celebrate Sappho’s writing while also analyzing what the poet wants to accomplish independently. Her intentions, the feel connected to Sappho’s writing during a dark time for the world, are simple.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related pieces. For example:
- ‘To Sappho’ by Sara Teasdale – speaks on the beauty of the past as seen from a tainted future that has lost its joy and magic.
- ‘One Girl’ by Sappho – is a beautiful and moving poem. In the two short stanzas, readers can explore imagery Sappho relates to marriage and the loss of freedom for a young woman.
- ‘A Woman Speaks’ by Audre Lorde – focuses on both the inconsistencies in how black women are viewed and her own battle to define her identity outside of society’s norms.