Greece Yesterday and Today Modern Greek Literature Nick Kontaridis Prose The Short Story Novelette Novel Poetry Epic Poem Lyric Poetry The Sonette The Elegy The Language Question The demotic The Katharevousa Modern Greek Literature The Romantic School
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The Short Story
The Language Question
Modern Greek Literature
The Romantic School
The School of the Ionian Islands
The New School of Athens
Rhigas Pherraios, Dionysios Solomos, Kostis Palamas, Myrtiotissa, Melissanthi, Zoe Kareli, Angelos Sikelianos, C. Kavafis, N. Kazantzakis, George Seferis, Odysseus Elitis, Yannis Ritsos.Modern Greek Literature – Review
The War Hymn
“How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children
Turned from the world to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents
Our friends, our children and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
Than forty years of slavery!”
Epigram to Psara
On Psara’s blackened, charred stone
Glory silently walks all alone
mediating her sons’ noble deeds,
and wears a wreath on her hair
made of such few scattered weeds
on the desolate earth left to spare.
After a little while
I could not really tell,
Whether it was a sail
Or the sea’s foamy swell.
After kerchief and canvas
On the sea were lost,
Her friends shed a few tears
And I shed the most.
I don’t lament the boat,
The sail I don’t lament,
But I lament Xanthula
That far from us she went.
I don’tlament the boat,
The sail I don’t lament,
But I lament Xanthula
With hair golden-pale.
The Little Blonde Girl (Xanthoula)
At eventide I saw her,
The little girl golden-tressed,
When she took a boat
To go far to the West.
Its snow-white sail,
Swollen by the winds,
Was like a dove frail
With outspread wings.
The friends were standing by,
In joy, or in grief,
And she waved good-bye
With her white kerchief.
I stopped to see her greeting,
Her warm farewell,
Till in the distance fleeting
She was hidden by the swell.
To Mr. George De Rossi
When you come back to your father’s,
You’ll see only his tombstone,
Before which I write you, alone,
On this first day of May.
Our May flowers we will scatter
On his kind, innocent breast,
For tonight he went to rest
In Christ’s warm embrace.
He was clam, still, and quiet
Till the last hour, and peaceful,
Just as now he looks gleeful,
His soul having flown from him.
Yet, a moment before flying
Toward heaven’s realms up high,
He waved gently with a sigh
As if for a final blessing.
Such a figure full of beauty
At once a question brings:
“If this creature is an angel,
Why is she lacking wings?”
I had spoken this way
When before my very sight,
Other girls appeared clad
In the moon’s silvery light.
Holding hands they danced together,
All of them pretty and smart,
Each one trying with fervor
To win my poor heart.
Then I heard your lips say,
As you were addressing me:
“Do you like them? Tell me pray!”
And I said, “How ugly to see!”
My soul, goddess of beauty,
Listen to what I’ve dreamed:
With you I was one night,
All to me so slendid seemed.
We two walked together
In a garden of small size,
All the stars shone brightly
And on them you kept your eyes.
I was asking them, “Stars say
If there among you lies
One that shines from above
Like my lovely lady’s eyes?
Say whether you ever saw
On others such pretty hair?
Such an arm, such a limb,
An angelic vision fair?
With faces tired and drawn.
My soul, this was my vision.
It is now up to you
To remembr me and make
This sweet dream come true.
The Dream (con.)
Then a truly angelic smile
Shone on your fair face,
That methought I espied
The sky open in embrace.
And then I took you aside
By a rosebush in bloom,
Slowly I let my head hide
Into your snow-white arms.
Every kiss you gave me,
Dear soul, with sweetness,
Made a new rose appear
On the bush, with swiftness.
They were aborning all night,
Till the early light of dawn
Which found us looking pale
Here the sky is everywhere, on all sides shines the sun, and something like the
honey of Hymettus is all around; out of the marble grow lilies unwithering;
divine Mount Pentelicon flashes, begetter of an Olympus.
The digging axe stumbles on beauty; in her boson Clybele holds gods, not
mortals; when the shafts of twilight strike her, Athens gushes violet blood.
Here are the temples and the groves of the sacred olive, and in the slowly
shifting crowd, like a caterpillar on a white flower,
a host of deathless relics live and reign with myriad souls; the spirit flashes
even in the earth; I feel it wrestling with the darkness in me.
On the grave on which the Black Horseman takes you, be careful not toaccept anything from his hand;And, if you feel thirsty, do not drink the water of oblivion in the world below, my poor plucked spearmint!Do not drink, lest you forgot us fully, forever; leave marks so as not to lose the way,And being light and small like a swallow, with no warrior’s weapons clashing round your waist,See how you can trick the Sultan of the Night; slip away gently, secretly, and fly to us up to here;Come back to this empty house, O our precious boy; turn into a breath of wind, and give us a sweet kiss.
Ancient immortal spirit, pure father of beauty, of greatness and
of truth, descend, be revealed as lightning here within the glory
of your own earth and sky at running and wrestling and at
throwing illuminate in the noble Agons' momentum and crown
with the unfading branch and make the body worthy and ironlike.
Planes, sees and mountains shine with you like a white-and-purple
great temple, and hurries at the temple here, your pilgrim every nation,
o ancient, immortal Spirit.
I love you. I can say nothing deeper, more simple or greater.
Here, before your feet, I scatter, full of longing, the rich-petalled
blossom of my life.
O, my swarm of bees! Suck from it sweet, the pure perfume of my hart!
See, I offer you my two hands, clasped for you to lean your head softly upon.
And my hart is dancing, is all envy, and begs to be, like them, a pillow for your head.
And for a bed, my love, take the whole of me, extinguish upon me the flame of your fire.
While I, close to you, hear life flowing away to the beat of your heart …
I love you. What more, my precious love, can I tell you that is deeper, more simple, or greater?
Melissanthi, pseudonym of Hebe Skandhalakis, was born in in 1910. She received her diplomas from various institutes in Athens for the study of English, French, and German, and has since translated much from these languages, in particular from Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. Author of nine books of poetry and a play for children, she received the award of the Athens Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1936 for Return to the Prodigal, and the Palamas Award in 1946 for Lyrical Confession. An essentially lyrical poet, she suffered a religious crisis and turned to an expression of metaphysical agony which nonetheless emphasizes her belief in man and his ability to realize his basic goodness and love.
Every time I sinned a door half opened, and the angels
who in my virtue had never found me beautiful,
tipped over the full amphora of their flower souls;
every time I sinned, it was as though a door had opened,
and tears of sweet compassion dripped among the grasses.
But if the sword of my remorse chased me from heaven,
every time I sinned a door half opened, and though men
thought me most ugly, the angels thought me beautiful.
All the weighed on her bronze shield,our words, our footsteps,and our most deeply hidden thoughts.Nothing can be lost,not a secret tear, not a leaf of a tree,not a single raindrop on the grass.
Her holy Night fills up with sacrilegious ears and eyes.The slaughter of the innocence steams in the meadows- where the mirror of the moon has been misted over-ransom for the profane guiltof knowing and existing.Poets Melissanthi (1910- )Ancient Shipwrecked Cities
Zoe Kareli the sister of Nikos Pendzikis, was born on July 22 (August 4), 1901 in
Thessaloniki, and received the education of a girl of good family according to her class
and period by being tutored in English, German, French and Italian, in singing and
drawing. Widiwed in 1953, she spent a year and a half with one of her two sons in
Australia. She has translated Eliot’s Familly Reunion and The Coctail Party, and has
herself written poetic drama.
She shared the Second State Prize in Poetry in 1955, was awarded the Palmes
Academique by france’s Ministry of Education in 1959, won the First State Prize in
Poetry in 1978. Karelli has been remarkably consistent in her existentialist attitude.
Whatever she has written has been a quest for a way out of man’s modern impasse, for
redemption from the feeling that the soul has been ravaged and devastated, that a
promise for justice has been broken. The fate of modern man, she believes, is to live in
a constant but creative doubt-not a passive and enervating doubt, but one that, by
indicating the duality of man’s struggle, takes on existentialist value. Her themes
become concernedwith the split personality of the person of sensibility tormented to
filnd his integrity and to create centers of continuity. The tone of her poetry, in
consequence, has neither the resilience of feminity nor the inflexibility of masculinity
but conbines the passionate turmoil of feminine sensilbility with the tough abstraction
of masculine thought.
To begin life anew?
It isn’t a matter of most beauteous
And ecstatic youth, not even one
Of man’s significant wisdom.
Spitit and essense, the complete presence,
Reality and fantasy side by side.
At times crystal or like pearl,mother-of-pearl, precious ivoryor opal with misty colorsdrifting toward azure.All these were materials that become shapes,erotic shapes of whatever existswithin time.
The shape, receptacle of time,enclosed it erotically,an offering to time,expectation and acceptance both,that form which is an embrace of time,the singular shape he wrought
Out of his own essence,his own imagination.
But as his material handcaressed the final shape afterward,he understood the materiality of timeas his own handtogether with the shapeand the precious, erotic materialwere transformed into the diaphanous meaning of time.All together,but particularly he.Poets-Zoe KareliWorker in the Workshops of Time
Angelos Sikelianos was born in 1880 in Lefkas, one of the Ionian islands, and died in Athens in 1951. For many years he roamed throughout the length and breadth of Greece, confirming his knowledge andmastery of Greek tradition and the demotic tongue. The central action of his life was the formation of the Delphic Festivals in 1927 and 1930. Ath Delphi, where the Amphictyonic Council (the first League of Nations) used to meet, Sikelianos hoped to found a cosmic center where, through a dedication to a religious view of life without dogms, the nations of the world might meet to insure peace and justice. Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Suppliantswere lavisly mounted, Olympic contests were held on the heights of Mt. Parnassos, Byzantine music was played, Greek demotic songs were delivered and danced, and an international university was planned. The author of nine books of poetry and of seven poetic dramas, Sikelianos was a poet in the grand tradition, a Years-like figure, a prophet and seer, a man of high vision and noble actions, one who had assimilated the cultural traditions of his own nationand those of the modern world, a revolutionary democrat and mystic who acted beyond the particular political creeds and religious faiths of the world. His vision was pantheistic and panhellenic, and his poetry, with its wide rhetorical sweep and unequaled command of language, encompassed both the lyric (of which he was a modern master), the philosophic poem, and in his later years, the poetic drama.
Blazing, laughing, warm, the moon watched over the
vineyards, and the sun was still parching the bushes,
as it set in the dead calmness. The angry grass was
heavily sweating milk in the warm stillness; and you
could hear the grape-pickers whistle among the
young vines that climbed up the many wide steps of
the hillside; the robins were shaking their wings on
the river’s banks; the heat-haze spread over the
moon a spider-web kerchief.
Constantine Kavafis was born in Constantinopole in 1963 and died in Alexandria in 1933. Except for three years in England, two years in Constantinopole, a few months each in Paris and Athens, he spent his entire life in the Alexandria he loved, employed for twenty years as a common clerk in the Department of Irrigation. He wrote only three or four poems a year, published some of them in broadsheets for private use, and not until he was forty-one d he bring out his first book, a slim volume of only fourteen poems not for sale, reissued five years later with the addition of only seven poems. His main work, collected after his death, totals some forty-six erotic, some forty-one contemplative, and some sixty-seven historical poems. Written on a demotic base, but with a mixture strangely his own from Ancient, Byzantine, and Medieval Greek, his poems (often with Hellenistic setting) are brief, neither emotional nor lyrical, but dramatic, narrative, objective, realistic, a recounting of facts and episodes in a tone of voice which is dry, precise, deliberately prosaic and, above all, ironic-the undisputed founder and master of modern Greek poetry, and one of the first poets of the modern world .
When you set out on the voyage to Ithaca,
pray that your journey may be long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Of the Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
and of furious Poseidon, do not be afraid,
for such on your journey you shall never meet
if your thought remain lofty, if a select
emotion imbue your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
and furious Poseidon you will never meet
unless you drag them with you in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.
Pray that your journey may be long,
that many may those summer morning be
when with what pleasure, what pleasure, what
untold delight you enter harbors for the first time seen;
that you stop at Phoenician market places
to procure the godly merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony
and voluptuous perfumes of every kind,
as lavish an amount of voluptuous perfumes as you
that you venture on to many Egyptian cities
to learn and yet again to learn from the sages.Poets Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
But you must always keep Ithaca in mind.
The arrival there is your predestination.
Yet do not by any means hasten your voyage.
Let it best endure for many years,
until grown old at length you anchor at your island
rich with all you have acquired on the way,
having never expected Ithaca would give you riches.
Ithaca has given you the lovely voyage.
Without her you would not have ventured on the way.
She has nothing more to give to you now.
Poor though you may find her, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Now that you have become so wise, so full of experience,
you will have understood the meaning of an Ithaca.
You said, “I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city shall be found better than this.
Each one of my endeavors is condemned by fate;
my heart lies buried like a corpse.
How long now in this is withering shall my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I gaze,
I see here only the black ruins of my life
where I have spent so many years, worn thin and fallen to ruins.”
New places you shall never find, you’ll
not find other seas.
The city still shall follow you. You’ll wander still
in the same streets, you’ll roam in the same neighborhoods,
in these same houses you’ll turn gray.
You’ll always arrive at this same city. Don’t hope for somewhere else;
no ship for you exists, no road exists.
Just as you’ve ruined your life here, in this
small corner of earth, you’ve worn it thin the whole world round.Poets Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
And if you cannot make your life as you want it,
as least try this
as much as you can: do not disgrace it
in the crowding contact with the world,
in the many movements and all the talk.
Do not disgrace it by taking it,
dragging it around often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationships and associations,
till it becomes like an alien burdensome life.
Honor to those who in their lives
are committed and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
but with pity and compassion too;
generous whenever they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they are able;
always speaking the truth,
but without rancor for those who lie.
And they merit greater honor
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and in the end the Medes will go through.Poets Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
At the back of the noisy café
bent over a table sits an old man;
a newspaper in front of him, without company.
And in the scorn of his miserable old age
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, and the power of the word, and good looks.
He knows he has aged much; he feels it, he sees it.
And yet the time he was young seems
like yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.
And he ponders how Prudence deceived him;
and how he always trusted her -- what a folly! --
that liar who said: "Tomorrow. There is ample time."
He remembers the impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless wisdom.
...But from so much thinking and remembering
the old man gets dizzy. And falls asleep
bent over the café table.Poets Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
The young poet Evmenes complained one day to Theocritus:
"I've been writing for two years now and I've composed only one idyll.
It's my single completed work. I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry is tall,
extremely tall; and from this first step I'm standing on now I'll never climb
any higher." Theocritus retorted: "Words like that are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step should make you happy and proud. To have reached this
point is no small achievement: what you've done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step is a long way above the ordinary world. To stand on this step
you must be in your own right a member of the city of ideas. And it's a hard, unusual
thing to be enrolled as a citizen of that city. Its councils are full of Legislators no
charlatan can fool. To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you've done already is a wonderful thing."Poets Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heracleion, Crete, in 1883, and died in
Feiburg, Germany, in 1957. He studied law at the University of Athens,
philosophy under Henri Bergson at the College de France, and literature
and art in Germany and Italy.In 1919 he served briefly in the Ministry of
Public Welfare, and in 1947 he was appointed Director of Translations
from the Classics for UNESCO. The greatest man of letters of modern
Greece, Kazantzakis wrote some nine novels (of which Zorba the Greek,
The Greek Passion, /freedom or Death, The Last Temptation of Christ, St.
Francis, and The Rock Garden are available in English), five books of
travel, sixteen poetic dramas, three philosophical treatises (including The
Saviors of God: Spiritual Excersises, availlable in English translation by
Kimon Friar), and his great epical poem of 33,333 lines, The Odyssey: A
Modern Sequel, hailed unanimously as a world masterpiece immediately
on its American publication in a translation by Kimon friar. In addition, he
was thranslated into modern Greek Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante’s
Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and
innumerable other books.
O Sun, my quick coquetting eye, my red-haired hound,
sniff out all quarries that I love, give them swift chase,
tell me all that you've seen on earth, all that you've heard,
and I shall pass them through my entrails' secret forge
till slowly, with profound caresses, play and laughter,
stones, water, fire, and earth shall be transformed to spirit
and the mud-winged and heavy soul, freed of its flesh,
shall like a flame serene ascend and fade in sun.PoetsNikos Kazantzakis(1883-1957)
And you abandon your fortune to the suitors
and do not dare utter a word in protest!
They’re after your mother like a dogs in heat,
and you stare at the sea, and expect the
hands of an old man to come and save you!
Do you want to be like him? Then buckle
his sword and go to the palace to kill!
Ah, if he were to put his foot here again
your island would shake with terror,
and the suitors would keep quiet like deer
that have scented a lion’s breath;
and they would pay with black blood
For their ignoble and most indecent feasts!
Greetings to you, my Lords; where are you going?
The doors are barred, and in my wide courts,
O bridegrooms, in the wedding’s about to begin!
Eh you woman, go crouch in the corner,
take care-an arrow may wound you,
lady, in tumult of the massacre!-
I’m Odysseus, and my faithful bow
has recognized me, it dances in my hand
and the string sings like a swallow full of joy!
And in my tight grip death shines calm,
like a thunderbolt in a just man’s hand!PoetsNikos Kazantzakis(1883-1957)
George Seferis, pseudonym of George Seferiadhis, was born in Smyrna in 1900
and in 1926 entered the Ministry of Foregn Affairs. He was formerly the Royal
Greek Embassador to England. In 1961 he was awarded the William Foule
Poetry Prize in England, and in 1963 the Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of
eight books of poetry and two of critical essays, he is a poet of evocative
symbols and metaphysical distinctions who has superbly translated Eliot’s The
Waste Land and other poems. All of his mature poetry is written in a free verse
of great sinuousness, rhythmical yet modulated, which never rises in tone or
diction beyond the “conversation between intellectual men”, as Ezra Pound has
it. His is a poetry of understandmentand hesitation, dealing with recurring themes
of expatriation and the disintegration of the modern world. His poetry is
brooming and contemplative, precise yet subtle in thought ang image. He has
often attempted to define what Greece is as a “state of being”. Yet in the center
of each poem is the poet himself, looking back into the mythological past of his
country and her symbols, retracting her history, and telling a story which has the
independent validity of imaginative finction.
Don’t talk to me about the nightingale or the lark or the little wagtailinscribing figures with his tail in the light;I don’t know much about housesI know they have their own nature, nothing else.New at first, like babieswho play in gardens with the tassels of the sun,they embroider coloured shutters and shinning doors over the day.When the architect’s finished, they change,they frown or smile or even grow resentfulwith those who stayed behind, with those who went awaywith others who’d come back if they couldor others who disappeared, now that the world’s become an endless hotel.PoetsGeorge Seferis (1900-1971)The House Near the Sea
The horses on the threshing-floorsgallop and sweatupon scattered bodies.All are going thereand that woman whomyou saw beautiful, in a momentis bending, can endure no longer, has knelt.The millstones are grinding them alland all become stars.
Eve of the longest day.Poets - George Seferis Summer Solstice
All have visionsyet no one will admit it;They go thinking they’re alone.The large rosehad always been thereby your side deeply in sleepyours and unknown.But only now that your lips’ve touched iton the outermost leaveshave you felt the dancer’s dense weightfalling into the river of time-the dreadful splash.Don’t waste the breath this respitehas granted you.
Odysseus Elytis, pseudonym for Odysseus Alepoudhelis, was born in Hracleion, Crete in 1912, of a well-known industrial family, and studied law and political science at the University of Athens. In the period between 1940 and 1941 he served as a second lieutenant on the Albanian front in the Greek-Italian war. In 1938 he represented Greece at the eleventh International Congress of Writers at Geneva, and in 1950 at the first International Congress of Art Critics in Paris. He has spent many years in France and several months touring the United States in 1961 under the auspices of the State Department. The author of five books of poetry, his work marks the joyous return to nature, to summer and the sea, to the blaze of the noonday sun over the aegean, to the praise of adolexcence and its sentiments. His second book was entitled Sun the First, as one might refer to the emperor. Though his poetry is rhythmical in effect, he is more interested in the plastic use of language and imagery, both of which still reflect his earlier preoccupation with surrealism. His experience on the Albanian front during the war brought greater depth and sobriety to his poetry and resulted in one of the best elegies written about the war. He was awarded the State Award in Poetry in 1960 for Worthy It Is.
LoveIts songand the horizons of its voyageand the sound of its longingon its wettest rock the bridewaits for a ship.
Loveits shipand the nonchalance of its windsand the jib sail of its hopeon the lightest of waves an islandcradles the arrival.
Playtings, the watersin their shadowy flowspeak with their kisses about the dawnthat beginshorizoning--PoetsOdysseus Elytis (1912- )Aegean
The northwest wind bestows the sailto the seathe hair’s caressin the insouciance of its dreamdew-cool—
Waves in the lightrevive the eyeswhere life sails towardsthe recognitionlife—
The surf a kiss on its caressed sand-LoveThe gull bestows its blue libertyto the horizonwaves come and gofoamy answer in the shell’s ear.
Who carried away the blonde and sunburnt girl?The sea-breeze with its transparent breathtilts dream’s sailfar outlove murmurs its promise--SurfPoetsOdysseus Elytis (1912- )Aegean
Yiannis Ritsos, was borne in Monemvasia, a town of Peloponnesos, in 1909, fell ill at the age of eighteen months of tuberculosis and spent many years in various sanatoriums. His heritage is a tragic one, for both his mother and elder brother died of tuberculosis and his father and sister died insane. Because of his left-wing activities, he spent the years 1948-52 in various detention camps in Greece. The author of twenty-three books of poetry, three volumes of Collected Poems (1961-64), of two plays and a poem for dance, he won the State Award in Poetry for 1956 for Moonlight sonata.
Let me come with you. What a moon there is tonight!
The moon is kind – it won’t show that my hair turned white.
The moon will turn my hair to gold again. You wouldn’t understand.
Let me come with you.
When there’s a moon the shadows in the house grow larger,
invisible hands draw the curtains, a ghostly finger writes forgotten words in the
dust on the piano – I don’t want to hear them. Hush.
Let me come with you a little farther down, as far as the brickyard wall,
to the point where the road turns and the city appears concrete and airy,
whitewashed with moonlight, so indifferent and insubstantial so positive, like
metaphysics, that finally you can believe you exist and do not exist,
that you never existed, that time with its destruction never existed.
Let me come with you.Poets Yiannis Ritsos
These trees cannot adjust to lesser sky,these stones cannot adjust beneath the tread of strangers,these faces cannot adjust unless they feel the sun,these hearts cannot adjust unless they live in justice.
This landscape is as harsh as silence,it hugs to its breast the scorching stones,clasps in its light the orphaned olive trees and vineyards,clenches its teeth. There is no water. Light only.Roads vanish in light and the shadow of the sheepfold is made or iron.
Trees, rivers, and voices have turned to stone in the sun’s quicklime.Roots trip on marble. Dust-covered lentisk shrubs.Mules and rocks. All panting. There is no water.All are parched. For years now. All chew a morsel of sky to choke down their bitterness.Poets - Yiannis Ritsos
Nikos Gatsos was born in a small village in Arcadia and took his degree from the School of Letters at the University of Athens. From early childhood he grew up in the heroic traditions of his countryside, made vivid for him by the ballads and folksongs of the region. He is the author of only one longish poem, Amorgos, but it has had a disproportionate influence among the writers of his generation. In Amorgos, the practice of surrealism, the rhythms of the Bible, and the traditions of Greek folk ballads were combined for the first time in a strange, arresting, and elegiac manner. Profoundly influenced by the Ionian philosopher Heracleitos, Gatsos believes that the essence of life and art is to be found in nothing static, but in an eternal flux. In the brooding long lines of his Iamentations, however, there is always to be found the sprig of basil or rosemary, symbols of hope and resurrection, joyful melancholy.
With their country tied to their sails and their oars hung on the wind
The shipwrecked slept tamely like dead beasts on a bedding of sponges
But the eyes of seaweed are turned toward the sea
Hoping the South Wind will bring them back with their lateen sails newly painted
For one lost elephant is always worth much more than two quivering breasts of a girl
Only if the roofs of deserted chapels should light up with the caprice of the Evening star
Only if birds should ripple amid the masts of the lemon trees
With the firm white flurry of lively footsteps
Will the winds come, the bodies of swans that remained immaculate, unmoving and tender
Amid the streamrollers of shops and the cyclones of vegetable gardens
When the eyes of women turned to coal and the hearts of the chestnut hawkers were broken
When the harvest was done and the hopes of crickets began
And indeed this is why, my brave young men, with kisses, wine, and leaves on your mouths
I would want you to stride naked along the riversides
Nikiphoros Vrettakos, born in Sparta in 1911, worked as a common laborer in Athens until he was given a post in the Ministry of Labor. The author of twenty-one books of poetry, he is a pure singing voice, writing spontaneously without much attention to form, impelled by an almost naïve religious devotion and a deep sentiment for the ills of down trodden humanity. His hatred of injustice and his desire to better the world often leads him to moralize in the midst of song. Christian and democratic in his views, he believes and asserts in his poetry that art must be expression of love and goodness, that these form the beauty of civilization as a higher ordering of human relations, a kind of divine law, a “deathlessness of art”. He has twice won the State Award for Poetry: in 1940 for the Grimaces of Man, and in 1956 for poems, 1929-1951.
An almond tree with you beside it.But when did you two blossom?Standing by the windowI look at you and weep.
My eyes can’t bear suchmirth. God, give meall the cisterns of heavenand I’ll fill them for you.
Love is in my heart like an almond tree branchin a glass of water. The sun caresses itand is filled with birds.The best nightingale utters your name.
The Strange Presence
As if God had molded you out of unused earth,light and water, you are beautiful,strangely so.
Your hands resemblean assembled people mediatingupon your breast. Your neck is a columnsupporting a frieze. Your laugha piece camp. The sun alightson your upright forehead, strangely.
Your hair is a tamed storm. And your eyes arethe wisdom of silence, the harmony of the storm,the “love one another”.Poets Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
There is no solitude where a man isdigging or whistling or washing his hands.There is no solitude where a treestirs its leaves. Where an anonymousinsect finds a flower and sits,where a brook is reflecting a star,where holding his mother’s breastwith his blissful little lips openan infant sleeps, there is no solitude
Without you doveswouldn’t find water.
Without you Godwouldn’t switch on the light in his fountains.
An apple tree sows its blossomsin the wind; in your apronyou bring water from the skythe glow of wheat, and above youa moon of sparrowsPoets Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
Love is the mountainand the night with its stars.Love is the seaand the day with its sun.And the little sparksthat fly from the chimneyof the house and the eyesof the little bird even thoseare love.
If I Were
If I were to offer you a lilyI would be addinga stemto the Evening Star.Poets Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
For miracles and a flood is the time,of commemorative lamps the rosy flames;and, Lefkosia, the twilight framesyour sky like a fate sublime.
Your castles were filled by an ancient tale,much as for flowers the bees of springblessings and perfumes bringsuch as the prayers of a maiden unveil.
Come, empty the jug, stranger-friend,filled with the rosy-grape wish.Cyprus’ pride is the stead.
As if for a beautiful archaic head,o friend, the hymn for our isle finish,that’s blooming, no longer wilted by conquerors’ tread.
Petros Sophas Resolution
You’ve gathered all the patiencefrom the beggars’ traysand have tied it a knot in your handkerchief.You’ve sat so many timesat the threshold of Springhearing but the same dirge.You were looking at the skyfor hours on end so many nightswith no star filling your palm.What are you still waiting for?Take the beggar’s empty traysand make them a tambourine.Take a sound from the dirge of Springand make the song of Tomorrow.Tighten your empty handand strike to open your way.Poems from Greek Cyprian Poets
Let’s say that now we are first facing the light of the world,that our ships never set sail for troyand the Mycenean kings didn’t go hunting lions,for the artisans to engrave their golden memories on the metal immortality.Let’s say that the Persians haven’t yet cometo ask for our landand the buzzards at marathon haven’t counted their bodiesand the shells in the sea of Salamishaven’t clung to the sunken triremes;
That Pheidias’ handsare the tiny hands of this newborn baby awaited by the unwrought marbles of our country.
Let’s say that the masterpieces of Aeschylus and Sophoclesare still these bright sparks
In the eyes of the youth who passes by;that the golden age is that fair wheatwe sow in sweat with the vision of Threshing;that the leaves of this wild tree we are now graftingwill some day shine like silverat the flowering of Platonic thought.Let’s say that now we are first facing the light of the worldand let’s say only that the others call us Greeks.Poems from Greek Cyprian PoetsYiannis K. Papadopoulos
Do not wonder, passerbyin the meaningless pathways of life.Only lead the footsteps there,where the night pours the holy lightand the stars never cease to shine.
Have the thread of truthas your trustful guide,quickly feel what the world is,what purpose you have in life.
Destroy images of ruined gods,raise the big idea,become its standard-bearer and go to openthat unravels itself to you.
Do not wonder, passerby,in the meaningless pathways of life.Only lead your footsteps therewhere a man becomes a man.
Do not Cry
Do not cry over lost joys,migratory birds,that have flown away from you… Somewhere,somewhere life blossomswith more beautiful flowers.If storms throw youon to deserted seashoresa thousand times over,do not cry.The storms ragewill quickly pass.If the night’s darknessengulfs feathered dreams,do not cry.Somewhere,somewhere the sun will risewith brighter sunshine.Poets Nikolaos Kontaridis
It is not easy
To take a paintbrush
And draw a man.
The deepness of his soul.
To add passion
To his life.
With persistence, gather
Of his dreams.
Yellow rose petals of a stripped blossom
That lose themselves and disappear
In the abyss of time.
A migratory breath,
A feather in the wind,
A bird without a voice
In a barren desert.
I eagerly wait
For the flight of my soul
In an endless domain
Without an end.
There and only there
The winds will silence,
The storms will cease
And life will journey
To the eternally open sea.Poets Nikolaos Kontaridis
We, who were once children
And created imaginary words
Palaces and towers in dreams
We, who partook the experience
Of our ancestors
And courageously we sought
Everything worthy and great
We, who wore the lion’s skin
Who made our heart of steel
Who filled our existence with anxieties
Who took long journeys
We, who the bitter taste of life
And became wise
With the gray temples
We, who are the children of our fathers
The fathers of our children
Drops of rain
As our fathers demanded it
As our children will demand it.