In the patriarchal sonnet “Sappho Discovers her Passion”, the sonnet avoids cliché by beginning like a love poem in the beginning then turning into a love lost. By doing so, the speaker admits that she has a passion for her absent lover but also realizes that he has denied her.
The first quartet is a blazon, which signals a love poem, the speaker notices Phaon’s “beauteous eyes” and also recounts how it makes her feel both physically and emotionally. The thought of him makes her erase all other thoughts in her mind, her ability to avoid the sensation withers away, and her “chilled breast in throbbing tumults rise”. This is a typical blazon in which praises the absent lover and describes how the lover makes the speaker feels.
In the next quartet, however, the volta indicates that although she has a clear passion for this lover, all of her efforts to win his love have been neglected. The volta, “Mute, on the ground my lyre neglected lies, signifies that she tried to lure her lover to her by using her music capabilities but in doing so, she could not see the truth. This blindness is also noted in the end-stopped seventh and eighth lines “My down-cast looks, my faltering lips betray, that stung by hopeless passion,-Sappho dies!” Here she realizes that all of her efforts have been for nothing because her lover does not share the same passion that she has.
In the last sestet, the speaker is depressed and is coming to terms with her loss. She is actually very dramatic and often relates the creatures and places in Greek mythology such as “the bank of the Cypress” and “maids” such as nymphs to express where she needs to go and who she needs to help her recover from this tragic realization.
As a whole, this sonnet avoids the typical clichéd “love sonnet” by revealing that the speaker’s passion was not enough for her lover.