Women & Poetry


Women & Poetry
by Soosan Khanoom

Being a woman and a poet have encouraged me to examine the subject of women and poetry. Poetry is an indescribable feeling which knows no consideration and it can’t be shy. It is one’s most inner thoughts. It is a dance of words and a painting of emotions. Throughout history women poets have been limited in this field and were mostly subjected to discriminations. Especially when it comes to the subjects such as love, sexuality and eroticism. Women were not allowed to express any of their natural desires yet alone to rhyme about them. In my search for a few women poets in history I came to the name “ Sappho “ the first known female poet ever. Here I am going to share some of my findings on her. I have more to share with you on other female poets and I am planning to blog on each one of them separately.


Sappho was born into an aristocratic family sometime around 600 BC in the island of Lesbos. Although she wrote nine books of poetry, very little of the corpus remained. She sadly jumped to her death from a rock into the sea because of her unrequited love of a younger man.

In expressing love to the point of her own nonexistence she writes:

"I More Than Envy Him"

He is a god in my eyes, that man, 

Given to sit in front of you 

And close to himself sweetly to hear 

The sound of you speaking.

Your magical laugh--this I swear-- 

Batters my heart--my breast astir-- 

My voice when I see you suddenly near 

Refuses to come.

My tongue breaks up and a delicate fire 

Runs through my flesh; I see not a thing 

With my eyes, and all that I hear In my earsis a hum.

The sweat runs down, a shuddering takes 

Me in every part and pale as the drying 

Grasses, then, I think I am near 

The moment of dying …

In Sappho's poetry love is passion, an inescapable power that moves at the will of the goddess; it is desire and sensual emotion .......

Every time I sleep with you

I dream I am a virgin....


Shining breast

Of sun


Please, do not ever

Untie me.....

Let me comfort you like prayer

Undress and relax over my sympathetic lips

My gently pulsing tongue and fingertips.....

Interesting enough, however, some of her love poems were addressed to women, from which she developed a reputation for lesbianism. The word lesbian itself is derived from the name of the island of Lesbos from which she came. But she is said to write from experiences of her own life as well as others. Due to this fact she may have had written her love poems addressed to women as a part of her writings that satisfies male writers by speaking through their experiences.

Furthermore, Allen in her book “ The Concept of Woman” explores claims about sex and gender identity of philosophers both men and women,including Sappho. She provides translations of some works by Sappho and works that have been written about her and analyses them regarding the issue of gender. She goes to great lengths to point out that because of philosophers such as Freud; Sappho’s work has been labeled as homosexual eroticism, when during Sappho’s lifetime such conduct was acceptable and professions of love for those of the same sex did not necessarily implicate sexual activity.

Unfortunately, Her work was not approved by Christian church due to its explicit eroticism. That is the main reason why most of it has not survived. They were subjected to destruction and almost all of her works were burned.

By the middle ages, the only Sappho's work that was still in existence was in quotations by other authors of her time. It wasn't until the nineteenth century, when archaeologists began to unearth Egyptian tombs that her work was re-discovered. Her poems had been scrawled onto pieces of papyrus that had been cut into strips and used to wrap mummies. The poems were pieced back together with much difficulty.

In one of Sappho's poems she stated, "someone in another time will remember us". It is almost prophetic considering the loss and recent re-birth of her work. It is a sad thing that so much has been lost of this elusive figure. Although we may never know the reality of Sappho, we will always have a taste of her in what remains of her poems.

Ages from now

People will speak

About our love and what it means

Although they may not recall our names

Plato was so touched by her poetry that he referred to her as the "tenth Muse". Sappho is said to have been the first published female poet and the first modern poet. She was indeed a 20th century woman living in the 6th century (B.C.) ……

She has an especial poetic honesty that allows us to return to the beginning of erotic love:

“I don’t know what I should do: two states of mind in me…

I’m in love! I‘m not in love!

I’m crazy! I’m not crazy!


more from Soosan Khanoom
Soosan Khanoom

Thank you dear Anahid

by Soosan Khanoom on

Thank you dear Anahid ..... 


Anahid Hojjati

Soosan Khanoom, thanks for an interesting blog

by Anahid Hojjati on

Soosan Khanoom, I enjoyed reading your blog and learned from it too. You wrote:"I have more to share with you on other female poets and I am planning to blog on each one of them separately."

Looking forward to your blogs about female poets.

Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

Dear Maryam and Yolanda thank you for taking your time and reading this blog. 

 Yolanda actually   research suggests that suicide rates are much higher among poets than among other literary writers and the general public, and that poets are more prone to depression ....

Some of the best poets in the world have sadly ended their lives with their own hands ...... 

Poetry for some indeed has its own dark side. 

Maryam Hojjat


by Maryam Hojjat on

for posting this blog & your research about this poetess. 



by yolanda on

Very interesting blog......Thank you for sharing!

So lesbian is derived from an island......interesting...

Apparently some of the poets and poetesses are very emotional and compulsive.....they kill themselves for love!