A Conversation with Sappho & Virginia Woolf
“I remember seeing something that someone’s teacher had said about writing,” I say, “It was something along the lines of: write like Sappho, in that if centuries later only fragments of your work are found, each fragment is the most beautiful thing they’ve ever read. Eventually, I started connecting that statement to you, Virginia. Every time I would see a random quote of yours, I would think that it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read.”
Virginia smiles. “Thank you. I think that’s one of the best compliments a writer can hear, that someone thinks any part of your work is one of the most beautiful things they’ve ever read.”
I say, “To be honest with you, I have to admit that I actually prefer your work in fragment form. Your full works are a little…a lot. It’s…very wordy.”
Sappho laughs, says, “I guess after my life’s work had been lost, I wanted to make sure nothing I wrote could ever be that fragmented again. But maybe I instinctively knew that my work was best as fragments.” She laughs. “But at least no one could ever accuse me of not writing a lot,” Virginia says. “I’d like to see them lose my work now.”
“I’ve been writing about archetypes recently. Sappho, to me you are the quintessential example of The Poet. Virginia, you’re The Writer to me. I know those sound so basic, but you’re one of the most inspiring poets and writers I think will ever exist, to me at least. Though I’m sure others define you more with other words. I also think those roles are so important to you.”
Sappho smiles coyly. Virginia blushes a little.
“Virginia, my favorite quote of yours is:
I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow. (The Waves)
Sappho, my favorite of yours is:
someone will remember us
even in another time. (If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho
I find it very suiting for you.”
“Is it conceited of me if I say I agree?” asks Sappho, now Virginia, now Sappho again.
“Not at all,” I answer. “It’s the truth after all. You know, I’ve actually been playing with the idea of merging those two quotes together, somehow, and getting it as a tattoo. But I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I want it.”
Sappho seems thrilled by this idea before Virginia’s Victorian sensibilities seem a little confused.
“Sappho, I wish that I knew more about you, so I could ask more relevant questions. But I also think that the mysteriousness that surrounds you suits you very well.”
Sappho says, “I do like it, honestly. I always like to make people wonder.” Virginia says, “I wish I had been able to keep that later on. I feel like people know far too much about me, now.” Sappho frowns as she says this, clearly upset.
“I’d like to thank you for coming today. You’re one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to writing. I want to someday write something, anything that if someone sees just a part of it, it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever read.”
I stand, hug Sappho, now Virginia. We say goodbye, and Sappho is back as she walks out the door.
Where did this come from? Well, it comes from my theory that Sappho and Virginia Woolf were the same person. When I was first thinking about writing this, I had a conversation with my husband about it that went like this:
Him (who really doesn’t know anything about either woman): So, you’re saying that Virginia Woolf created Sappho and everything we think she wrote?
Me: No, of course not, that’s ridiculous.
Him: Oh, okay tha-
Me: I’m obviously saying Sappho was reincarnated as Virginia Woolf.
So yes, my theory is that Sappho was reincarnated as Virginia Woolf. I cannot say for sure why I think this. All I have to go on is that both were (possibly) bisexual, though Sappho is more often thought to have been a lesbian, but there’s really nothing we know for sure about her. And that’s it. That’s the only possible connection between the two. And yet, something inside me links them together. It really may just have to do with the fact that I honestly prefer Woolf’s words as fragments and quotes. I loved the idea of having a conversation with the two, who are really just one woman, and the whole time they were seamlessly shifting between being one and then the other. What a fun, inspirational time that would be!
The Woolf quote above is from The Waves. This novel was also my vague inspiration for the writing style I used.
The Sappho quote is from If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. This is my absolute favorite translation of Sappho and I highly recommend it.