Thermopylae (Hades’ Gate)

At Hades’ Gate they stood in wait
They knew the Persian host was great
A million strong was Xerxes’ throng
The Spartan men all knew their fate

“One hundred plus to each of us”
Were odds that they did not discuss
Their force was small but they stood tall
At Hades’ Gate they made no fuss

With sword and shield they held the field
For seven days they did not yield
With spear and bow they slew their foe
Perhaps their fate was not so sealed!

But out of dread one lone Greek fled
Into the Persian camp and said
“Spare me today, I know a way”
And to a different path he led

Without a sound the foe went ’round
And thus the Spartan army found
The Persian horde, like water poured
It covered ev’ry inch of ground

There is no doubt it was a rout
The Greeks though fought with wild shout
Until, tis said, they all were dead
Scarlet the ground from blood spilled out

Thermopylae, the poets say
Was more than tragic loss that day
The bards all sing, their voices ring
Of heroes headed Hades’ way

Perhaps there’s a good reason that their aren’t a lot of English poets writing Sapphic poetry…

If you ever think it a good idea,
you should think most carefully. English language
sapphics will present you a rather daunting
metrical challenge.


Sapphic poems are named after the Greek poet Sappho.  (c. 630-570 BC).  Her poems utilized a meter that worked quite nicely in Greek (based on long and short consonants in Greek), but not so well in English.  As English does not utilize long and short consonants, English sapphic poetry is based on stressed and unstressed consonants.  The technical details of a sapphic poem are as follows:

A sapphic poem is any number of 4 line stanzas.  Lines 1-3 each have two trochees, a dactyl, and two more trochees (a trochee is a metrical foot of one stressed, and one unstressed syllable.  A dactyl is one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed).  In other words, each of the first three lines have a XxXxXxxXxXx form (where X is a strong beat, and x is unstressed).  The 4th line is a dactyl and a trochee, so XxxXx.  If you try speaking in this pattern, you’ll notice quite quickly that most English phrases do not conform to this pattern