If Not, Winter

Fragments of Sappho

Introduced by Anne Carson

Translated by Anne Carson

Artwork by Jenny Holzer

Sappho’s complete surviving oeuvre is translated faithfully for the first time, by poet and renowned scholar Anne Carson, in this exquisite new Folio Society letterpress edition.



Anne Carson’s beautiful, brave and unadorned translation of Sappho’s complete surviving work is printed letterpress throughout to evoke the original papyrus fragments onto which the words were transcribed. In a careful consideration of the text, this large-format edition presents the English translation of each fragment facing the original ancient Greek, each page individually typeset so the spacing and breaks are precisely replicated.

‘Carson loves the spaces almost as much as the words ... a haunting translation’

  1. London Review of Books 

With just one complete poem surviving of the nine volumes Sappho is believed to have written, the presentation of her work requires careful consideration. Eschewing the scholarly or poeticising additions of previous translations, Carson instead respects the missing words, lines and stanzas by leaving blank spaces to represent them. The result is stark yet compelling and these partially completed poetry jigsaws are visually arresting as well as being technically accurate.

Production details

Bound in blocked cloth with inset letterpress printed label

Set in Aria Text and letterpress printed

416 pages

Colour frontispiece

Pictorial slipcase

Gilded page tops

Ribbon marker

10" x 7"

An ancient voice of female sensual enlightenment

‘For Carson, what matters is Sappho’s poetry, not her gender or her sexual orientation’ 

  1. London Review of Books

One of the great lyrical poets of ancient Greece, Sappho was a native speaker of the lesser-known Aeolic dialect. She lived on the island of Lesbos around 630BC but little more is known about her, bar snippets gleaned from ancient texts and the clues that litter her poetry – but what clues they are. Her soul-baring verse speaks of sensual desire, the pain of unrequited love and the joy of mutual affection, while her unselfconscious courtship of both male and female lovers has made her an icon for feminist literature. Indeed, her name and birthplace have both been adopted into the parlance of female homosexuality.

not one girl I think
            who looks on the light of the sun
                   will ever
                   have wisdom
                   like this

While interpreting her work in the 19th century, translators and writers ascribed derogatory terms to the poet, misconstruing sexual enlightenment for promiscuity, prostitution or sorcery. The snippets of her work were misappropriated and overwritten until it became almost impossible to find the genuine voice of Sappho.                     

Sappho gains a guardian with absolute integrity

‘A selfless, faithful, and boldly delicate achievement in which one of the more controversial writers of the moment has simply blown off some dust from Sappho’s crumbling oeuvre, turned it toward the rest of us, and said, Look

  1. Boston Review

Herself one of the greatest poets of her generation – and a highly respected classical scholar and translator – Carson is uniquely qualified to act as Sappho’s guardian. Fiercely protective of the work, her minimalist translation ensures the Greek lyricist remains the mistress of her verse, even where few words of individual poems have survived. Surrounded as it is by an expanse of white space in this stunning large-format edition, the verse is given ample room to breathe and allows for natural pauses for reflection. In fact, it is often in the sparsest poems, with their smattering of surviving words, that the reader will better appreciate the beauty and depth of Sappho’s work. Carson doesn’t interrupt Sappho; instead her scholarly introduction and meticulous notes add context and explanation, but the poetry remains unobscured and unadorned.

  you came and I was crazy for you

and you cooled my mind that burned with longing


Sappho was a musician who lived on the island of Lesbos from about 630 BC until her death no one knows when. She devoted her life to composing songs to be sung to the lyre’s accompaniment. Alexandrian scholars collected her songs in nine books, all of which are lost. Sappho was also a poet. Whether she was literate is not known but the words to her songs were written down during or soon after her lifetime and existed on papyrus by the end of the fifth century BC. Of the nine books of lyrics that Sappho composed, only one poem has survived complete. All the rest are fragments. [Biography by Anne Carson]


Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living. In her first book, Eros the Bittersweet (1986), she considered Sappho’s lyrics and argued that ‘mere space has power’. Her most recent poetry book is Float (2016) and her most recent translation is Bakkhai (2017), from Euripides’ The Bacchae.


Jenny Holzer has presented her astringent ideas, arguments and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions for more than 40 years, including at 7 World Trade Center, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Her medium, whether on a T-shirt, a plaque or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to her work’s delivery. Starting in the 1970s with her New York City posters and continuing through to light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has countered ignorance and violence with humour, kindness and courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the 1990 Venice Biennale, the 1996 World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award and the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011. She holds honorary degrees from Williams College, Rhode Island School of Design, The New School and Smith College. She lives and works in New York.


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