Sappho, “I confess / I love that which caresses me”

Love should have warmth, Sappho says guiltily. I confess / I love that which caresses me.

Why voice any regret? Basic relationship advice, advice any one of us would readily give: Watch how a potential partner treats everyone around them, not just you. In other words, being friendly, warm, observant of manners and rules should be consistent behavior. Someone worthy of your love should cherish life and those around them. They should be open to intimacy as a part of this. A “caress” speaks to those expectations more than an isolated action, and one shouldn’t feel guilty for having high standards, right?

I confess / I love that which caresses me
Sappho (tr. Mary Barnard)

I confess

I love that
which caresses
me. I believe

Love has his
share in the
Sun’s brilliance
and virtue.

But Sappho does express guilt. Maybe she thinks herself easily manipulated—the feeling someone cares can be confused with excitement and vice versa. Getting a relationship, for most of us, does seem to depend on this game of “hard to get.” The less you’re around, the rarer your presence and touch, the more you are sought after. I can’t help but think that the logic of “hard to get” weaponizes absence, making the presence of a beloved too much a matter of excitement.

Sappho presses ahead. She’s not afraid to love despite the thought that how she loves could use improvement. I believe / Love has his share in the Sun’s brilliance and virtue. The Sun merely sheds light on things, letting them be brilliant and virtuous. It caresses gently, from a distance. When we see, we keep things at a distance—we don’t immediately grab and devour them.

Love is this beholding, not just continual presence or continual touch. That doesn’t mean more a more sensual approach is a terrible thing. It does mean a certain warmth—a desire to caress, not just be caressed—is at play.

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