• Elina Arbo

IF NOT, WINTER: BOOK REVIEW

Mysterious, lyrical, and beautiful. 


Sappho is world-renowned and historically remarkable. It is believed that Sappho composed nine books consisting of lyrics, however, only one full poem survived. The rest of her work has been broken up into fragments as a result. While the structure of her poetry is not its original form, I believe that this poses an interesting opportunity to engage with a text differently, savoring each and every word. Sappho’s philosophies and documentations on love inform poetry as a whole genre in her work: If Not, Winter.

Remnants of the Iliad and the city of Troy consistently show up throughout her work. She takes these events and beautifies them outside of their context, describing emotions with fervor. For instance, the poet says “Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love.” Sappho manipulates war to mean something completely different: war is often associated with glory or gore, but rarely ever love. The themes present in her poetry highlight the unique perspectives she takes. 

And while Sappho’s poetry is nothing but beautiful, there are moments of confusion amidst it all. “I don’t know what to do,” she writes, “two states of mind in me”. Even in instances of extreme confusion, there is still a strong romanticist sentiment to everything she discusses. “I would not think to touch the sky with two arms” is another line that exemplifies her ambiguity, but that only adds to her beautiful and transcendental way of writing.

Fragility and mysticism dance between her words. Youth and beauty are intertwined in every bit of Sappho’s writings. Throughout the book, you will find her poetry accompanied by Greek translations of her work. Although I personally cannot read the original text, I think adding her poetry in her original language adds all the more authenticity to her form. As someone who cherishes their native tongue, I think it’s necessary for all poets to preserve and document their work in its most authentic form.


The disorganized remnants of Sappho’s writing make it seem like she composed her work knowing that it would become dismembered since the eloquence is still so apparent in her writing. If Not, Winter is a living testament of love and bliss, centuries upon centuries later.

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