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DARK METAL AND LIGHT HELLENIC POETRY II

Posted on Jun 12, 2017 | 0 comments

GATSOS2

 

 

 IN THIS WEBPAGE WE CONTINUE WITH METAL MUSIC AND HELLENIC POETRY OF TWO POETS BORN IN THE SECOND DECADE OF THE 20th CENTURY.

THESE ARE, TAKIS SINOPOULOS AND NIKOS GATSOS.

 

 


 

Nox Arcana: Night of the Wolf

 

 

 


 

1. TAKIS SINOPOULOS (1917-1981)

 

Greece’s Poet-Chronicler Takis Sinopoulos (1917-81): An Interview

 (by E. D. KARAMPETSOS & DONALD D. MADDOX)

 

Takis Sinopoulos was born in 1917 in the Peloponnesian village of Aghoulitsa, near Pirgos. He was the foremost of the postwar Greek poets, the generation succeeding that of Nobel laure-ates George Seferis (see BA 42:2, pp. 190-198) and Odysseus Elytis (see BA 49:4, pp. 629-716 and WLT 54:2, pp. 189-201). In 1940, when the Italians attacked Greece, Sinopoulos was a medical student. Mobilized, he worked in a hospital in Corinth until the fighting ended and he could resume his studies. During the Civil War (1946-49) he served as a doctor with the Greek army. As Sinopoulos himself explains, he saw so many people die that death became an obsession. Together with the ghosts of old acquaintances and former passions, this obsession haunts his poetry. His first volume of poetry, “No Man’s Land,” was published in 1951 and was followed by seventeen more; these have been collected into two volumes published by Ermis in Athens. Much of Sinopoulos’s poetry was rendered into English during the 1970s. Death/east (1975) was the first of several works trans lated by John Stathatos and published by Oasis Books; others are Stones (1980), The Grey Light (1981) and, in collaboration with Wire Press, Selected Poems (1981). In 1979 the Ohio State University Press published Landscape of Death, an anthology of Sinopoulos’s poems translated and introduced by Kimon Friar (see WLT 54:2, p. 321).

The interview took place on 23 September 1980 in Sinopoulos’s Pirgos office. At first glance, with his bushy moustache, ruddy complexion and blue eyes, Sinopoulos seemed typecast for the film role of a British officer; but as he took a deep drag from one of the many cigarettes he would smoke that afternoon and started talking, the impression changed. The two hours of taped conversations, recorded between visits by patients, took three and a half hours to accumulate.

No appointment was necessary for the patients who walked through the open door to be greeted with a mixture of gruff kindness and humor. A grandmother with back problems winced every time he made her laugh and provoked new pain. She carried with her a plastic bag filled with prescriptions from doctors she had previously consulted. She had been taking the medicine according to whim and the amount of pain she felt. Since nothing seemed to help, she wanted Sinopoulos to prescribe something else. He tried to persuade her to take only some of the medicines she already had in a more rational way. When she complained that the pain got worse every time she picked up her working daughter’s baby, Sinopoulos advised her to let him cry. “All the men in this country have been spoiled because Greek women insist on picking them up when they cry,” he shouted as she left. Then he picked up where he had been interrupted, and the interview resumed. His office and the adjoining rooms were lined with shelves containing medical and literary works. On the walls hung the poet’s abstract art. On the floors, chairs and tables sat tall stacks of books, periodicals and en-velopes. Many had been sent by friends and aspiring writers who hoped for a comment or a word of encouragement. Sinopoulos, depressed by his declining health, had been unable to glance at them. The day before Easter 1981, shortly before he was to leave for England as the main guest of the Cambridge International Poetry Festival, Sinopoulos died.

Q: Initially, your poems were hard to understand because we found them so unusual, and because of their length. They seem, however, to have a sort of cumulative effect, reminding me of a long poem by Eluard, “Poesie ininterrompue.”

TS: Yes, possibly, but I don’t think Eluard had any particular influence on me. More accurately, I would look for my roots in that type of poem, maybe in the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, which – in some way – uses characters and relates a little story.

Q: That impresses me because Poe is not a great influence in American poetry. Most of his influence comes by way of Baudelaire’s translations, which influenced the French and so many others.

TS: Yes, I too have read Poe in translation – French, mainly Greek. Despite that, in my early poems – primarily my first book – there is an atmosphere, an indeterminate climate of Edgar Allan Poe. Not, of course, that I’ve taken an awful lot from Poe, because I obviously lack entirely, let’s say, Poe’s “space.” I move in contemporary space, but I have taken a lot from Poe’s oneiric, fantastic quality.

Q: Concerning dreams, in your poems we find the dream, delusion, nightmare, hallucination.

TS: All these exist in my poems; now one, now the other: visions, hallucinations, particularly the dream.

Q: Are you trying to exorcise the dream, or to approach it like the surrealists, who try to confront it, to connect it with reality?

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TS : Not to exorcise it. I just try to write it down in my own way; but because my way of writing it down is not fragmented the way a dream is fragmented, with unrelated things and personages scattered randomly through its space, I try to put things in an order. Naturally, I can only write about dreams I remember when I wake. They are usually morning dreams, which are clearer, more accessible. So let’s say I record the illogical dream in a logical manner. That’s how I would put it. The spiritual development of the poem as it is further elaborated may finally have no particular relation to the original dream and its useless embellish- ment; but the impetus is always, particularly in the early volumes, the dream.

Q: Death and dream are often linked. Kimon Friar says you are obsessed with death. Ionesco claims his works are an attempt to accustom himself to death in order to live more humanly. Does that relate to your work?

TS: I don’t know if I do that. In any case, death initially enters my work with a dual nature. One arises from my work as a doctor, whether I want it or not. Basically, I see many dead people. Some die in my hands; others are found dead; still others I watch gradually waste away. On the other hand, there’s death in war, where I watch the wounded dying, or those who have been killed, and so on. Thus, in a sense, my whole life has been marked by such deaths; and because my temperament is that of a pacifist – I am against war, against violence and against killing, but I have no political stance – as a human being, I can’t endure it. I have lived between these two Symplegades all my life: those who died of sickness or sudden death in my private life, and the war dead – those fallen in the Albanian War and the German Occupation, those who died of hunger in the streets of Athens, the victims of war and of guerrilla fighting, the dead of December 1944-January 1945 in the continuation of the heroic December events. All these things – add, of course, dead relatives – have created a continuous space filled with dead people, leading me to write somewhere in one of my books, “The Chronicle, ” that I have become a regular cemetery and that one day I must be done with these dead people. I don’t try to exorcise death, because as a doctor I know death is unavoidable; and I don’t try to purchase life through death, because I’m not afraid of death. Nor am I, at the same time, dis-mayed enough with life to try for another by meditating, in some way, on the nightmare of death. No, I regard these things as completely natural and inescapable phenomena.

Naturally, with my sensitivity and experience, I am pained by the wretched state of humanity – that we should have constant wars and millions of dead. Wars never stop – world wars, local wars, left and right. In a way, all these things burden me; moreover, I have a guilty conscience for all those deaths. I am myself guilty of those deaths – I believe I didn’t do enough as a person, didn’t do my duty, to ward off this evil. Of course, I did even more than I was able, but I was never satisfied and have never been able to quiet my feelings of guilt toward that human suffering.

Q: Parallel to the theme of death, there seems to be a very strong sense of the erotic, the libido, in your poetry. Death is everywhere, but it seems, in a way, to contain its opposite.

TS: Yes, but before we pursue that subject, let me say a few more words on the theme of death. My last two books – that is, works which have come out as books- “The Chart” and “The Book of Night,” especially the former, are works with a very strong sense of death. Here, of course, we are dealing with something different from what came before, from other deaths I described earlier. I experienced a serious crisis as a result of my own illness. I was in danger several times, near death, in and out of the hospital two or three times; and I also suffered what I would call a “psychological crisis” between 1974 and 1979. An ugly psychological crisis

I reached a state of depression, which of course revealed itself in “The Chart” and “The Book of Night,” but which, at the same time, man- ifested itself in a revulsion against any form of writing and reading. I felt the futility of trying, of struggling to conquer, let’s say, “new heights.” I reached a point where I couldn’t even answer my correspondence. Various poets, mainly young ones, were sending hundreds of books, and I couldn’t an-swer, even to say “Thank you.” Often I couldn’t even open the envelope to see whose book it was – even to read a single poem. Do you understand? I’m still fight-ing it. A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, told me this is what we call “depression.” You don’t take medicine, nothing at all, and you struggle to break the cycle yourself and get beyond the anguish that is torturing you. After three whole years, of course, in the mean time, I had written “The Book of Night” – in any event, from the end of 1977 until the end of 1979 I was a wreck. I began to recover only in 1980, slowly; and I wrote that collection of poetry, Politis, which, according to friends, is perhaps the best work I’ve done till now. That is, it is a further conquest, beyond my previous accomplishment. Those things wore me out and were quite important  because this was the sense not of someone else’s death, but of my own future death. Fear wasn’t the overriding force. It was, rather, the sense that death is coming, and since it’s coming, what’s the point of desiring more? Thus the depresssion, the cessation of every kind of work. Today, at least I can talk. If you had requested a written in- terview, I would never have been able to give it to you; I would never have been able to sit down and write on paper what I’m saying to you. Orally, however, even if muddled, I can articulate certain things to you. Do you understand?

Well, now we can go on to the question of Eros you raised earlier. The erotic element is supreme in my poetry. In my youthful poetry it was self-evident it speaks clearly about love, about erotic bodies, the sea, suns, et cetera. Later, after I had undergone my first experience of war and had begun to write my serious poetry, Eros was never absent; but it had enter second level and is always heard as a secondary theme. Nowhere is it in first place, except possibly in a book called “Helen. ” There you find a sort of erotic outpouring, but it isn’t eroticism. At least, I would say, it isn’t realistic eroticism – rather an ideal picture of love than of eroticism itself. Eroticism is also found in “Mid- point,” sometimes manifest, sometimes hidden, and in the other books, including “The Song of Ioanna and Konstandhinos.” This large volume about a couple is basically founded on human relationships, which in turn are based on sexual relationships. How two people meet, fall in love, come together, marry and, finally, how their ties are slowly worn away by the years until they separate. So the entire gamut of sexual experience and its various levels is described. The erotic element is in other books, in all the poems. Though I told you that it isn’t always the governing theme for me, I would still say I’m an erotic poet.

Q: I didn’t mean that exactly, but rather that I felt, with all the horror and all the death, there is always a saving eroticism that draws you away from death and makes you feel like a living being, that makes you carry on even though others have died, in spite of night- mares.

TS: I don’t know if Eros plays that role, saving life from death. Eros also has a destructive side in the sense that death and Eros are intertwined. Eros doesn’t help you escape from death and regain life. On the contrary, it pushes you into confrontation with death, into acquaintance with death, or into a catastrophe through death. I’m basically pessimistic about the duration, meaning and weight of the erotic relation between two people, especially when the relationship is not a simple transient one of five, ten, twenty days or of one year, et cetera, but is a complement, lasting for years. Things change completely in this case; we have nothing to do or say about such things. It becomes a simple matter of cohabitation, of interdependence, of mutual esteem, living together under conditions of tenderness, of almost – I would say – brotherly or comradely love, the need for another’s presence because you have become accustomed to having another presence in your house, to speak with, to make love with. But love is finally something extremely enfeebled; it is no longer love. It becomes merely a habit, a completely automatic act. You no longer feel that erot ic joy you have when you first meet a woman.

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Q: Something else that interests me is the apparent analogy between the poet and the “informer ” that runs through your later poems. Is that based on a particular experience?

TS: No. I don’t have any particular experience, and I don’t think the reference to the informer is extended in my poetry. It’s only in “The Chronicle. ” There I mention a certain informer, a certain traitor. In the others – “The Book of Night,” for example – there are betrayals, but they are everyday human betrayals, of acquaintances, of friends or former friends, of women, et cetera. That’s what there is. They have no relation to informers. Only in “The Chronicle.” In Death/east, which refers again to that historical period, I don’t think you can find it. I don’t remember.

Q: Could it be that your sense of guilt for those who died has a partial responsibility, even though, as you said before, you did everything you could?

TS : No, it’s not related. However, it might be related to our fears during the dictatorship, when our lives were in the hands of informers. We had organized a group that resisted the Colonels vigorously, and, of course, we feared an informer. We suspected that an informer from the security police had burrowed into our group. We learned later, for example, that the security police knew everything that happened at our meetings. They knew when we met, what was said and so on, as if there had been a microphone in the room where we were talking or a person who followed and reported everything that was said. So the idea of the traitor, the informer, could have entered my work through that.


 

MOONSORROW : Suden Tunti

 

 


Q: Let’s move on to some more technical questions about the poems themselves. Could you give us a rough description of the rhythmic principle behind your later poems?

TS : Yes . The later poems and the earlier ones follow a single rhythmic principle. I would say “rhythmic principle” in the musical sense. Many poems function as though an underlying musical motif were operating beneath the superstructure, a musical motif, or many motifs – maybe I should say “a musical composition.” One sees it in the early books such as “The Songs,” and in later ones such as “In the Singular,” which divides into five movements. After a fashion, we have a musical division – they follow a musical principle. There is also a rhythmic principle based on Greek meters of the old versification. There are, in many of my poems (scattered of course), fifteen-syllable lines, as well as a rhythm I would call iambic. Most of my poems – the last word of the poem, that is – are accented on either the ultimate or antepenultimate syllable. Rarely will you find a word accented on the penultimate syllable. There is always a break in the verse, a place where the line is divided. Even in my long-lined poems there are invisible, intervening breaks that divide their rhythm in reading. So the poem’s rhythm is created by the reading. There is a pause at the division, the poem continues, then another division farther down, the voice pauses, we take a new breath and go at it again. That’s what happens.

Q: Can you explain how all your poems are linked? How do the early ones differ from the later ones?

TS: I don’t think they differ very much. They differ mainly in the versification, the creation of the line, in the organization of the poem. At first, many of my poems had a surface content that I developed for the length of the poem. This I would call the dramatic foundation of the poem – there are characters in it, characters who speak or don’t speak to one another but who, in any case, exist in the poem. Later, little by little, I did away with the surface plane of the poem. I shattered the levels of the poem, put in fragments of various small narrative lines and extended the narrative structure through an entire book. For example, “The Song of Ioanna and Konstandhinos” is both a collection of poems and, at the same time, a novel. It is written in verse, dialogue, monologue and prose without anyone’s been able to say it is a prose work. It’s all poetry, regardless of the form in which it was written – even in the form of meditations, aphorisms or something else. The book that followed “Ioanna and Konstandhinos,” “The Poetry of Poetry,” is a small collection of words about poetry which are, at times, small lyric poems; at others, meditations on poetry written in the form of lyrics. They are not written the way an essayist or a critic writes. Here the rhythmic principle and the musical base I spoke of before are always functioning.

Little by little, after the dictatorship [i.e., 1974], I started writing poems with long versets. Deathfeast, for example, has poems written with three, four, two, three, four and five versets, which consist of two, three, four and five lines, each one a single verset – as are, more or less, the versets of Claudel. Claudel has done the same thing – not, of course, to the same extent. . . . You will find his versets are enormous, huge, and they go on, like a second verse, in another line, and so on. But I’m starting to exaggerate. Quite frequently I ended up with, say, five lines. Later, when I brought out “The Chronicle” in 1975, it was again a thematic poem, but written altogether as a book. It was a sort of historical chronicle of Greece between 1940 and 1974, but some poems were written in melodious verses, others in a kind of note on the poem, and still others as poems in themselves. In the last section, the part written in 1973-74 about the Polytechnic, there were both poems and prose poems. I used disparate elements, but that was the subject, the continuing resistance of the Greek people to oppression – whether from the Germans, the Greek establishment or the dictators. Within all this, there is the movement of many personages; there is an action. The action is never presented in the first person; it is referred to only indirectly. There are stories of people briefly recorded or represented by a single brush- stroke, with two lines – stories of people, characteriza tions, images and everything else. So there is a difference between these and the early poems, but that difference doesn’t lie in what I would call their “musical scoring” or underpinnings – rather in the versifica- tion itself. Their music always remains the same; the same rhythmic principle underlies all the poems.

Q: Your poetry seems to evolve toward a prose format from a more or less conventional verse arrange- ment. If this is anywhere close to the truth, do you think you’ve gained or lost anything in the transition?

TS: Yes, listen. To start with, I don’t know whether I’ve gained or lost anything substantial in that regard. What concerned me most was my own inner impulse not to remain in the same unchanging poetic forms – that is, not to write poems in the same manner as in the beginning and repeat, in a way, the same things with some inner renewal, like many other poets. Their versification is external, monotonous, the same thing from beginning to end, but they still manage to renew themselves internally in some way. I wanted renewals This corresponding with an advance, a movement forward, and that desire led me to this thought: in recent years, we’ve ceased to be able to talk about different kinds of writing – that is, separately about poetry, separately about prose, separately about the prose poem, sepa- rately about thought, meditation, whatever else. We can use all of them. It suffices for them to submit to the dominion of the poet, or to the dominion of writing in general. All these things are called “writing.” More than anything else, the language, not the kind of writing, determines the development and value of the poem you are making.

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Q: We’ve been reading the poetry of Embiricos. Even though his poems seem completely different – because he has left behind the usual limits of form – we came to the conclusion that all his poems are basically the same. He differs only in the sense that instead of writing a sonnet or something like that, he writes an Embiricos poem, and every poem is like his signature. We have the impression you do something similar.

TS: No. I think what you say holds for Embiricos. What you recognize as Embiricos – without a signature – is his language. Language reveals the identity of the poet. If you read a text from a distance, without a signature, or if some reader at a lecture recites a poem to an audience and everyone shouts from below that it is Embiricos’s or Seferis’s or Elytis’s, it means they know, they have learned the language of each one. There is no other differentiation, no other mark by which you can distinguish one from the other. The language is the only mark. Besides, in The Grey Light, published in the June issue of Politis [Citizen], there is a sort of return to the old versification, to brevity, to succinctness, to fragmented images with broken thought, with the dream element – all those things mixed together, but small, brief, more or less like the earlier verse.

Q: You have said you use surrealist materials in your own poems. Do you think the disparate elements of surrealism require a stronger principle of regularity to maintain cohesion than do other forms?

TS: I use surrealist materials, but I don’t cut out anything. Quite simply, I use dreams and dream set- tings, the landscape of visions. That’s the only use I make – and, possibly, the material of the absurd. But beyond that, I use all these things in a logical manner. This puts me in direct opposition to surrealism, which never makes logical use of its elements but simply records them as they are. There is no such thing in my work. The relation to surrealism – to which, I should add, I am in opposition, profound opposition, especially to Greek surrealism – ends there. Many times I have taken certain absurd elements, dream elements, this or that, which, in my opinion, does not mean there is a relation between my work and theirs. Now, I want you to pay attention here. Embiricos, with the passage of time, jabandoned surrealism, the first surrealism, and proceeded to a second level of surrealism in which the fireworks, the absurd, oneiric, automatic writing gave way – particularly the automatic writing, which completely disappeared. He ended up writing in a completely rational fashion, a strange thing for a person who began with totally incomprehensible poems.

Q: That’s exactly why we asked the question. We find that Embiricos’s last poems are regular, have acquired a form which is repeated in every poem.

TS : Yes, extremely regular; almost the form, I would say, of a classical poem or of something comparable to other poetic schools. Certainly in his last poems, those written during the final twenty years, Embiricos had gone beyond surrealism in its original form – up to 1945, let’s say. From there, things began to evolve, as they evolved with Elytis too. Both poets sense them- selves losing the ground from beneath their feet. They couldn’t talk about or play the madman in such times, because here in Greece, after World War II, with the partisans, with the events in the Middle East, with the concentration camps, with the killing, with the hunger, with the death, a new consciousness began to take form in the people. They began to realize something stank in this country. That’s why most of them joined EAM [the Greek Liberation Front]. Eighty percent of the Greek population supported EAM, either openly or covertly. Well, the Greek surrealists – I don’t know why, for it’s their business – in bringing the movement to Greece, brought only one side of surrealism: the esthetic side. They didn’t even touch the revolution- ary, social element of surrealism, an important aspect in France, either because the surrealists here were from upper-middle-class families and couldn’t be bothered with such subjects, or because the Metaxas dictatorship [1936-40] put an end to every kind of display that had to do with social problems. Only after 1940 did consciences gradually begin to awaken again – a little with Elytis, a little with Embiricos. Okay. Basically with these two – not at all with Egonopoulos, because he’s still conducting a monologue, even today; nothing disturbs his conscience. So Elytis’s Axion Esti, written between 1956 and 1957, has elements from the Albanian War, the German Occupation and the resistance – elements, that is, which wouldn’t have been put in his poetry before 1940.

Q: Well, we’ve exhausted our prepared questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say? Anything we’ve left out?

TS: There is one subject: the question of Greek historic space or intellectual space and how I dealt with it in my poetry. I enlisted in 1940, or rather 1941. The Greek-Italian War in Albania started in 1940. 1 enlisted later because I was still a last-year medical student. At first I served with various small medical units. Later I became an assistant surgeon, and they sent me to Larissa. That was in the summer of 1945. In the spring of 1946, the guerrilla war started. Naturally, the army mobilized, and I went along, wherever my batallion was sent. Somehow I managed to survive, beginning as a doctor at Loutraki, where the wounded were sent from the border and the Greek-Italian War- there weren’t many – and, later, surviving the entire Ger- man Occupation, the Italo-German Occupation, the December 1944 events and the Civil War of 1946-49. 1 was discharged in 1949.

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After my discharge, I came to Athens, set up a medical practice and lived through the decade of 1950- 60, the organization of a government of the Right and the right-wing terror. After that, of course, came the dictatorship. In other words, life wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. I was active in all these things. I took part in the resistance against the dictatorship. All this has entered my poetry – that is, the historical, the geographic and, at the same time, the social space of that period in Greece permeates my work. My first books were moti- vated by a climate of existential anguish. At that time Europe was dominated by an atmosphere of existential mysticism, as found in Sartre, Camus, et cetera. Existentialism, as a philosophy, was in fashion then; here in Greece we had our own existentialist poetry. Add to that what I’ve already said about my own poetry’s rhythmic principles and symbolic method. Well, then, the poem was that existential anguish. Within all that, however, in the poems, there were explicit references to the guerrilla war, the Albanian War and the events in general I experienced at that time. For example, one poem from “Midpoint,” “Deathfeast for Elpenor,” is a scene in the form of a dream that I experienced as a doctor with an army batallion in Larissa in 1946. Also, a poem from “Night and Counterpoint,” “The Survivor” – a section which Mikis Theodorakis has set to music, a fine symphonic poem – comes out of the guerrilla war and is, in a way, guilt. I mean, naturally, that the guilt of a person who has survived the manslaughter emerges from the poem. After that, all the poems are nothing more than the memory and report of the events and circumstances of the Civil War and of the dictatorship – that is, Stones, Deathfeast, “The Chronicle” and part of “The Book of Night.” In “The Book of Night” I return to existential situations, but among them still are numerous references to the war and the dictatorship.

I’ve been characterized as a sort of poet-chronicler of a certain moment in Greece, something no other poet has done so obviously and so systematically, since I return again and again to the same things, renewing my material. I think this is a significant trait both in my first books and in subsequent ones. Of course, it’s there in “Midpoint,” a little in “The Songs,” in “Midpoint II” and, swathed in symbol and allegory, also in the volume “Night and Counterpoint,” where I speak clearly in the poem “The Survivor.” Later, it is found in all the post-dictatorship collections: Stones, Death- feast, “The Chronicle” and “The Book of Night.” “The Chart” is an exception because it contains purely per- sonal experiences, though parts of it still recall concen- tration camps, wars, arrests, killings, etcetera. These, then, are the elements necessary to help a reader understand my poetry.

One subject we perhaps didn’t develop is that of Ezra Pound, whom, as I told you [we had touched briefly and unproductively on Pound earlier], I read in Greek and French translations. I was profoundly influenced by Pound’s writing and his technique. As I was telling a friend of mine who is writing a study of “The Songs,” the basic difference between us – excluding the question of stature, which was never raised – is that I organize a poem and, most basic, that I give it a beginning, a middle and an end, whereas with Pound a poem is, let us say, a continuous flow. My relation to Pound ends with the first books. Afterward I tried to make myself independent of Pound and Eliot and any other poet. To a certain extent I was influenced by Pierre-Jean Jouve, a great poet. The poem “Helen,” for instance, is a transcription, a “meta- write,” of his short poem “Helene.” I turned it into an entire book, but it was based on Jouve’s style. I also want to acknowledge Eliot’s tremendous in- fluence on me, basically with The Waste Land. The “wasteland” theme and Eliot’s style became almost an obsession with me. Even in so recent a work as Death- feast one can find an occasional little phrase that recalls Eliot. It may have escaped me without my wanting it; it may have become a sort of hidden memory, without my being conscious of it, my memory working un- derground and bringing to the surface – again, without my being aware of it – verses from Eliot.

Finally, there is our own poet, George Seferis. Seferis was a crucial figure in Greek poetry. He influenced people a great deal, and, naturally – favorably, most favorably – he influenced me, not openly, but as a human example of a writer and a stance. His erudition, his essays, his poetry brought a new epoch.

SALONIKA,  TAKISSINOPOULOSINTERVIEW

World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 3, Varia Issue (Summer, 1983), pp. 403-408


 

 

 

 


 

DECAPITATED (KROSNO, POLAND) : Homo Sum

 

 


 

 

Takis Sinopoulos. Landscape of Death: The Selected Poems ofTdkis Sinopoulos. Kimon Friar, ed. & tr. Columbus, Oh. Ohio State University Press. 1979. xlvii + 288 pages, ill. $25.

Great institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art occasionally honor single painters with retrospective exhibits that spread the artist’s full career out before our eyes and then guide us by means of explanatory placards in each gallery, recorded lectures and a definitive catalogue. What the ample staffs of these institutions accom- plish for painters Kimon Friar accomplishes for poets – single-handedly. Now we can enjoy his latest, a Sinopoulos retrospective that offers representative “canvases ‘ (with Greek and English on facing pages), explanatory notes, an extended introductory lecture and, in effect, a memorial catalogue all in one finely-produced volume constituting yet another wing of the Friar Museum of Modern Greek Poetry.

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Our enjoyment, however, is mixed with sorrow, for Sinopoulos is the poet par excellence of the horrendous decade of the 1940s, writing from personal experience gained during his service as an army doctor during the Occupation and Civil War. His Greece is “a black infection on the map,” with “garbage dumps, black-robed mothers wailing” and “chil- dren / holding a hatchet, a knife, an axe.” It is above all a Greece of dead friends and the poet’s own guilt at having survived. The corpses possess but one hope: to be remem- bered in Sinopoulos’s poems. They are the “speechless men who sought identity cards” from the poet while he, in turn, counted “how much death was left over for him before and after every poem. ” Yet the poems of this “landscape of death” do not simply memorialize; they also cleanse to some degree. Having pleaded for the “dawn of words,” one protagonist feels “washed … by the fruit-bearing sun of poets.” If anything is to heal Greece’s black infection, it is the creativity residing even in Sinopoulos’s despair.

Our retrospective shows how importunate the poet’s nightmare has been. As late as 1973 we find him still lament- ing the friends he lost, still seeing “the back the gun aimed at, . . . the blood-drenched shirt.” But the assembled works of three decades also show interesting changes in technique: lengthening of the line into verse-paragraphs, absorption of modernism, surrealism, the new-wave cinema. The lan- guage remains crisp and syntactical throughout, with an incantatory strength faithfully rendered in Friar’s transla- tions. We have here a major artist displayed to a wide public in exemplary fashion.

Peter Bien Dartmouth College

World Literature Today, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Spring, 1980), p. 321

 


 

DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT (BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA) : Juular

 


[…]

In Takis Sinopoulos women are the angels of some distant hope of some warmth in the midst of so much killing. They appear with their beautiful names—Magda, Maria, Ioanna—and stand like beacons surrounded by desolation and accompanied by ghosts. Being
ghosts themselves, haunting and haunted, they are creatures who intensify the absurdity of life and death.

 […]

Sex Roles in Modern Greek Poetry
Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke
Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 1, Number 1, May 1983, pp. 141-155

 

TAKIS SINOPOULOS

THE BURNING MAN

Look, he’s entered the fire! said someone from the crowd.

We quickly turned our eyes. It was indeed he

who turned away his face when

we talked to him.

And now he’s burning. But he doesn’t call out for help.

I hesitate.

I think of approaching. Of touching him with my hand.

I am by nature a man easily astonished.

But who is he who in his pride is being consumed?

Doesn’t his mortal body, at least, pain him?

The land here is dark. And difficult. I’m afraid,

Don’t poke into someone else’s fire, I’ve been told.

Yet there he was, burning alone, utterly alone.

And the more he faded away, the more his face glowed.

He was turning into a sun.

In our time, even as in past times,

some are found in the fire, and some applaud.

 


 

 

Syrian refugee burn himself in Greece

 

 

 

[…]

Her death came a week after a 58-year-old businessman tried to commit suicide by setting himself alight while sitting in his car outside a tax office in Bologna in northern Italy.

He was apparently protesting against the rejection of his appeal against a claim for unpaid tax.

The fire left him in a critical state and he was rushed to hospital for treatment of extensive burns all over his body.

A day later a 27-year-old Moroccan immigrant set himself on fire in protest at not being paid for four months.

The construction worker doused himself in petrol outside the town hall of Verona, also in northern Italy. He too was treated in hospital for extreme burns.

His self-immolation was a “symptom of the utter exasperation felt by the weakest employees,” said Vincenzo Scudiere from the CGIL trade union, Italy’s largest.

The technocrat government of Mario Monti, the prime minister, is attempting to force through an ambitious package of spending cuts and reforms to balance the budget by 2013 and stem fears that Italy could go the way of Greece.

Unions and workers have objected to the package of pension reforms, tax increases and changes to employment contracts and have threatened to hold protests and strikes. TELEGRAPH

 

A combination photograph shows a man setting himself on fire outside a bank branch in Thessaloniki in northern Greece September 16, 2011.

The 55-year old man had entered the bank and asked for a renegotiation of his overdue loan payments on his home and business, according to police, which he could not pay, but was refused by the bank.

Shocking Photos of Greek Man Setting Himself on Fire


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 TAKIS SINOPOULOS

THE RAIN

I was there, beyond the lamp, in half

the circle, invalidated, almost existing,

perhaps outdistanced by time, between

the momentary and the eternal.

It was not a dream,

nor a hallucination in a healthy habitation. I heard

the noise. I remember the door forcefully opening

and the wind rushing in from the fields, a restless

messenger, strangely confidential. In

the room an inexplicable warmth reigned. And now as though somewhere far

away

it had begun to rain, an increasing rain that swiftly

approached my window. Suddenly it was

as though I awoke, as though I arose from an imaginative decay

and shouted, terrified at the destruction I guessed at,

shouted with all my strength that you might hear from the room

beneath:

Ioanna, rise, come quickly, the house has filled with rain.

Take the lamp in your hands, run, descend.

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Trees and soil, profit and plunder, all are taken by the waters

and vanish, all vanish.

And you heard me?how strange.

And you descended unprotected, surrendering yourself to danger,

covered only

by your hair. I heard your scream as you dwindled away

in the night. The night swept you away. And when the light,

a vast light from on high, suddenly flooded the earth,

then I too descended and took to the fields, running.

And there, in the mud, amid the grass, I confronted,

black, long, completely black, your cinderous body,

as you had fallen prone, groaning and screaming,

while the rain, swirling in a whirlwind continuously,

fell on you relentessly, densely, in a cataract.

Chicago Review, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Aug., 1969), pp. 16-17

 


 

KING DUDE (SEATTLE, USA):  my beloved ghost


For the cry is gone round , ?

Isaiah, XV, 8

Dry and unharvested, the month of June blazed

on this height, on luminous fields;

I do not speak of katharsis, it was a fixed stare

at the ambiguous which now can no longer be named.

And though I tried with prudence to give

my body wholly to deep forgetfulness,

an insistent and irritating voice poured

into my hearing and enslaved it.

What, I asked myself, is this summons

that so sweetly floods me like intoxication wholly

and whips my blood which had settled quietly

into a numbness acquired with struggle and pain?

And as I longed to rise, a hand touched

my shoulder lightly and moved me to deep agitation.

I could see no shape; but the enigma

of this presence which now kept me captive

awoke within me something human until a thirst,

primitive and ungoverned, rushed into my channels again

and forcefully beat on my sealed doors.

Domineering memories, maenad-mad memories

shouted with fury within me,

and my entire unsuspicious substance shook and groaned

with sudden fever.

And then I stood erect

and opened wide my sleepy eyes and saw

the pride of my body in a victorious flowering,

and all around me the delusion?that which I named delusion?

in a new and daring elevation?an experience of my senses.

First came Skila, unquiet fawn,

moving under the red apple trees,

noiselessly looking at whatever had remained of her body

after such thoughtless squandering, her whole being

a fiery pulse, untraceable aroma;

and she held her body and offered it

to the senses, a fragile and rare flower.

Erect in my eyes’ center, flesh, only flesh,

her voluptuous joints completely naked, Skila

sought to express that which was inexpressible,

a deep-rooted shuddering, and spoke with warm

triumphant allusions of her body.

The words which could not be spoken burned her like a torch.

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Then Alma of the black gaze,

the enigmatic smile, a slender cypress tree,

completely disembodied by passion and constant wear.

We huddled together for love, and our words

made warmly fragrant the void of sleep;

Alma was only a body, a transparent body,

and we overbrimmed and sweated dreadfully,

and when the loud drum beats were heard

in the morning forests,  Alma became frightened

and turned suddenly, and her cry was heard

as though someone were falling from the third storey

on the bare rocks below.

And Laura last of all. We entwined naked

on the salty beach; the sea burned out flesh.

That we might acquire frenzied bodies

we surrendered ourselves to empty fever.

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Then Laura vanished, everything vanished. And now behold me here,

naked on this height in the blazing field.

And I said: It is time for me to go, for memory had become

in the ungoverned body an implacable fire!

And as I struggled to find my obscure Beginning,

 not a single ending illumined my body.

Illusion encircled me? that which I named illusion?

and the enigma? the cry, the bodiless cry?

in successive circles equal to the most horrible,

the most absolute pain, signified death

or the return from death, and its strength,

awakening that it might never vanish, surpassed

forever the barrier which was being raised

by the supreme sensation.

 Chicago Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Dec., 1969), pp. 85-87

 


ARCH ENEMY (HALMSTAD, SWEDEN): Revolution Begins

 


2. NIKOS GATSOS (1912-1985)

 

However you may try, Nikos Gatsos (1912-85) cannot be caught. He is continually present, without bothering at all about the present, and with a faintly daemonic, magnetic power, he continues to influence all the particles moving in the sphere of Greek letters. The individual shape that he had from the beginning and that he preserves with a remarkable consistency up till now permits him to practice poetry less with words than with a magical persuasion to alter his surrounding reality, as when Jacques Vache was brooding the egg of modern poetry until Andre Breton and his friends hatched it open.

*

It is difficult, I believe, for Nikos Gatsos to be properly situated in the history of our literature. He epito-mizes it from having so thoroughly assimilated it, with something left over: that little bit of superiority that bothers us, like the athlete who lets us beat him for no other reason than simple generosity. Literally and metaphorically look now: this is his main characteristic To toss out the window (just for the joy of the generous gesture) attributes which others would deposit to collect interest for life. But he could see life only as a game. A game perhaps tragic and futile – but a game nonetheless. And he continues to gamble with the certainty that he will lose (even when he holds four aces), aiming at another kind of satisfaction: to challenge fortune, not only in the putting together of words, but also in the combination of conditions of the soul that occur on a second or third level and remain forever invisible to others.

*

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His secretiveness is both a trap and a defense. Be- fore you realize – attempting a deeper approach – that you have taken the wrong road, you are already captive. So we are all his captives beneath the light of the great, terrific intelligence he possesses. And this is his second characteristic quality. Because his lack – if one wants to see it thus – compared to us who have written five or ten books, is not that he wrote only one or two, but that he didn’t have our “power of self-deception” to write more. The great intelligence with which he illu- mines so abundantly his visual field sets ever more distinct the bounds which man can never go beyond. And the poet’s Paradise, composed of crucial truths and perfections, alas, lies beyond. This Paradise we once set out to conquer.

*

In these years Athens had neither water nor free education. It had, however, a Fokionos Negri Street, in primitive condition, with many sounds of water and much hidden greenery. Thereabouts, a little after midnight, you could meet Nikos Gatsos and stroll with him, discussing poetry, till dawn. And of course, if it was Saturday, he was already in Monday. Thus in- explicably and fully prepared he had arrived here at age eighteen from Asea in Arcadia. With a full pack: with Eliots and Lorcas, Kafkas and Sartres. Not to mention of course the folk tradition circulating in his blood which arose behind each of his judgments, each reaction, whenever the right button was pressed. How many cigarettes and coffees were consumed later, a little farther on, at the end of Spetsos Street where his little house was; how many exhausting late nights succeeded one another in the years of August 4th or of the German Occupation or of the Civil War, with endless taking down and putting back of volumes of Solomos and Cavafy, Valery and Eluard. Perhaps without that crowd of enthusiastic young men, who weighed their passion for poetry in a goldsmith’s scales and not at all for political purposes, the modern poetry movement would not have secretly connected with the underground veins crisscrossing tradition and raising to the surface images from the collective unconscious, from the Morea, the islands, Macedonia, all unknown to foreign colleagues who had as cultural inheritance at their disposal the uniform of barely five or six centuries.

*

It seems you must keep poetry at a distance, if you want to see it come near you on its own, like cats or women. The “philological animals” of course stick their faces right into it and never cease licking themselves. But it is doubtful whether a chemist would ever discover the divine vision in their saliva. The Truth (reality?) is always found next to meaning, as magic is always found next to the text that expresses it. Hereabouts, with such a way of perception (which you either suspect, and so you get the green you need even from blue and yellow, or else remain forever out of the game), Nikos Gatsos and I met. The colors have not faded to this day.

*

Next to toiling for his living, it is strange that some- times man insists on looking for something still more. And the more unnecessary the reason that impels him seems, the more incomprehensible we find this phenomenon. And this may be, perhaps, his only mark of nobility. I have seen Nikos Gatsos force a premieres post- ponement and stay up till dawn for one word. Not even a word from a poem, but from a plays simple dialogue destined to last a few seconds. What can such persistence mean? Conscientiousness? Meticulousness? Sense of responsibility? Mania for perfection? You investigate the ground of Dionysios Solomos in order to find the secret. And to explain his small body of writing.

*

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Personally, I have reached the conclusion that poetic talent does not exist. There is simply a “right sense of language.” And so how can we judge Nikos Gatsos by Amorgos and by his translations? Yet, if a magician could transplant to all contemporary Greeks “what makes sense” and “what doesn’t make sense,” as it emerges from that little poetry collection, as well as what goes and what doesn’t go in our language, as it emerges from the works of poetry he translated, then we could see what and how much his contribution is. But we were merely taught the demotic language and tradition. Bit by bit and with much effort. But he found them already within himself with the songs of his ancestors, and he assimilated them with his mother’s milk, as Solomos would have said. Even in the song lyrics he wrote for a living (and also for finding a functioning humble art preferable to a high art gather- ing dust on the shelf) his virtues appear, in most cases, almost integral, although on a different scale. And if I may be permitted to say so, some of the lyrics he wrote for Manos Hadjidakis’s Mythology and for Christodoulos Halaris’s Drosoulitis, and recently for Stavros Xarhakos’s Rebetiko surpass by far some of our grandiose contemporary works of poetry, and they teach what the visibility of our modern tradition, the organic functioning of rhyme, and the ethos of Greek mean. * When you don’t count merely for number, the pro- portions of the world appear different, if not – at least phenomenally – inverted. He who is familiar with the elusive does not doubt this. He presupposes such a reality as natural and moves through it comfortably. This is what Nikos Gatsos did for years, and he remained incorrigible: I mean he never tried to get rid of logically incomprehensible habits in order to agree with what the “common perception ” is. Fortunately so. Millions of ingenious persons lose their identity “on the way.” Why? Is it worth so much not to be thought badly of by fools that you lay your intelligence at their feet? And anyway, what intelligence? Here we speak of poetics – which scares away all the bourgeoisie and some revolutionaries who burnt up everything except their conventionality, even when they think they rejected this along with their hideous neckties. How to speak of the past without being suspected of nostalgia has not yet been discovered. But it is one thing to shoulder time and bear it with your wrinkles, and another thing to move back and forth in it, with the ease that only poetry allows. If we continue to remain alive, I believe, it is due to the self-worth of certain moments that we subconsciously choose and reconnect, creating a second flow, in which deterioration does not advance and stones do not get mossy. From this viewpoint, I give back my wrinkles and keep my soul at an edge of verse, or of melody, or of a luminous girl’s smile. I got close to Nikos Gatsos, and journeyed together with him, because he too, behind the smiles and melodies, heard the voice that speaks out even on the eve of death and above the tempests.

Athens, 1986, ODYSSEUS ELYTIS, Translated from the Greek By Jeffrey Carson Czestaw

World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Winter, 1988), pp. 32-34

 


 

GORGOTROTH (SUNNFJORD, NORWAY): Sign of an Open Eye

 


Sienkiewicz wrote historically. In 1941, in the face of horrifying devastation caused by indiscriminate aerial bombings by the Germans, the modern Greek poet Nikos Gatsos wrote from the immediate knowledge of someone who had witnessed the obliteration of a Greek village. He, too, went directly to the famous engraving and dedicated his poem, Death and the Knight, “To the memory of Duirer.

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” As I behold you motionless

Traveling through the ages with the steed of Akritas

and the lance of Saint George,

I would place at your side

These dark forms that shall attend you eternally

Until one day you too will vanish with them forever

Until you become a fire again in the great Chance

that gave you birth,

I would place at your side A

bitter-orange tree from the snow covered meadows

of the moon

And would unfold before you the veil of an evening

With the red Heart of Scorpio singing of youth

With the River of the Heaven pouring into August

And with the North Star weeping and growing cold;

I would place pasture lands,

Streams that once watered the lilies of Germany,

And I would deck this iron you wear

With a sprig of basil and a spray of rosemary

With the weapons of Plapoutas and the sabers of Nikitaras.

But I who saw your descendants tearing

The sky of my country like birds, one drawn in

And saw the cypresses of the Morea grow silent

There on the plain of Nafplion

Before the ready embrace of the wounded sea

Where the centuries battled with the crosses

of gallantry

Shall now place at your side

The embittered eyes of a child

And the closed eyelids

In the mud and blood of Holland.

This black land

Shall one day grow green again.

The iron hand of GOtz will overturn the carts

It will load them with sheaves of barley and rye

And in the dark forests with their dead loves

There where time has turned a virginal leaf to stone

On breasts where a rosetree trembled, hung with tears,

A silent star shall shine like a spring daisy.

But you shall remain motionless

Traveling through the ages with the steed of Akritas

and the lance of Saint George

A restless hunter from the generation of heroes

With these dark forms that shall attend you eternally

Until one day you too will vanish with them forever

Until you become a fire again in the great Chance

that gave you birth

Until in river caverns shall resound again

The heavy hammers of patience

Not for rings or swords

But for shares and plows.

[trans. by Kimon Friar]

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BEHEMOTH (GDANSK, POLAND): The Satanist

 


Written during the German-Italian occupation, this poem adds an ironic and denunciatory variation to the literature stemming from Duirer’s work. The transposition is not faithful like Jarrell’s, horrific like Hugo’s, admonitory however firm like Borges’, or accusatory like that of Sienkiewicz. Gatsos’ denunciation is bitter. As a member of the “Generation of 1930,” he was around thirty at the time; he shuddered at the many atrocities, including the saturation or carpet bombing of the village. The impression made by the abysmal suffering must have been poignant, because apart from many lyrics of popular music and bouzouki wrote only three serious poems, and his most moning among them is Death and the Knight.

A few words of background may be advisable situate the poem literarily. The generation of 1930 poets, divorcing itself from the the affectations of previous styles of expression, created a new, frugal idiom, using the living demotic tongue honed to purity and leanness, and devoid of the historical embellishments commonly used by other worthy poets like Constantine Cavafis and Andreas Kalvos. The most eloquent new exponent of the new aesthetic was George Seferis, whose books of poems, Turning Point and Logbook of 1931 and 1940 respectively, struck a note of torment, of tragic decay, certainly of anxiety and apprehension. As it turned out, it was a prophetic apprehension of  what we know happened in Europe and elsewhere between 1939 and 1945, and one which, by being so rooted in Greek soil “with the monuments and contemporary sorrow” as we read in The King ofAsine15 [Logbook, 1940]), may share some of the universal existential attitudes common in the 1940s, but remains too personal and “Hellenic” to share all of them. But Gatsos them. However, as Linos Politis observes, (16) but Seferis anxiety is without panic and a sense of courage comes through. The poem, The Thrush (1944), using the name of a ship sunk by the Germans in the harbor of the island of Poros, reflects philosophically, through the use of symbols, on the mysteries of life sides like two of the same coin, and on the dual nature of light whose other profile is darkness. Light and Day he describes in The Thrush “angelic and black.” These modes echo in Gatsos’ poem by virtue of the “dark forms” and the “fire,” the “dark “shin[ing] star.”

Such echoes suggest how much Seferis and Gatsos have in common. Through their mastery of “the demotic plest, most uncompromising form”,” they share stylistic concerns; through their symbolic relationship between imagery related to the French symbolist movement of the previous century, they share stylistic concerns; and through their sense of a symbiotic relationship between myth and actuality together with the philosophical anguish with which they viewed their traditional and rich birthright as Greeks they they share spiritual concerns. Gatsos recognized this shared sensibility when in 1963 he dedicated a poem, Old-Fashioned Balllad, to George Seferis: “Time flows into time … then you came by and carved a fountain / for the old shipwrecked sailing man…Resurrection is long in coming . . . but on dream’s balcony I walk.”

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But whereas Seferis’ language is restrained in handling personal emotions, Gatsos’ is not. Poignant expressive images convert a personally-felt drama into tragedy. Aesthetically, if we think of Andre Breton’s Manifeste du Surrebalisme of 1924, the poem Death and the Knight betrays elements of Surrealism that surprisingly made their way into Greece in 1935 with Andreas Embirikos’ The Blast Furnace. To a large extent, this consisted in automatic writing, writing that releases from the subconscious a number of logically disconnected images to produce not a meaning but a sensation.(18) Yet, in the Duirer-inspired poem, Gatsos reacts so profoundly to the German air-strikes that discernible meaning perforates the surrealistic sensation. This does not happen, for example, in his most famous, most discussed, most controversial and hermetic poem, Amorghos (1943), a tender, elegiac lament, with dazzling and fantastic images, in search of an evanescent beauty. Amorghos is lyrical and abstruse to the core; it invites hermeneutical decoding.

Death and the Knight is not like Amorghos. It speaks directly to the Teutonic rider whose apparel reminds Gatsos momentarily of two Christian referents: the horse of the tenth-century Byzantine hero Vasilios Dhiyenis Akritas,(19) and the lance or sword of the third-century martyr from Cappadocia, St. George. Duirer’s engraving portrays him “motionless,” but, as we have noted, his meaning has been “traveling through the ages” (Panofsky speaks of a “moving monument”[I 154]) from the Renaissance to our century when the Knight’s descendants have subjected Gatsos’ compatriots to unseemly suffering. The “dark forms” of Death and the Devil at his side will “attend [him] eternally” until such ugliness is gone and light returns. As suggested, this sounds like a variation of Seferis’ double nature of light: first, “angelic” or Christian originally in Duirer’s concept, then “black” in the context of the Occupation, and eventually bright turning motif of “fire,” as it relates to purging.

In the manner of automatic writing, Gatsos nature images of tormenting nostalgia, beginning anges and embracing in a dark “veil of an what might be but, alas, is now “weeping unpromising like the contaminated streams that state, “watered the lilies of Germany.” In poet would make healthy or nurturing the knight’s nous armor with “a sprig of basil and a spray herbs in Greek cuisine, to be sure, but more hope and resurrection. And, less lyrically would conjure up the weapons of two Greek War of Independence, Plapoutas and Nikitaras, in their idealism than Duirer’s knight in his barbarism.

39[1]

The surrealistic touches stop here. War and Surrealism’s dream. Gatsos was too personally involved not to demand more specificity of himself Amorghos, written shortly after Death and the images of terror taken from the Occupation, to its Heraclitean inspiration from the idea that but all flows and nothing abides. Within this work, “Amorghos” can afford to juxtapose two worlds, that of occupational terror and that There, in Amorghos, images more lyrical than ows, youth-singing, and autumnal rivers Knight” convey a little more hope. There blossoming branches, an evening star, flowers, like swans, musical sounds from bagpipes and foamed sea, diamonds, the morning songs the final verse, “many precious stones in are, too, what Kimon Friar describes as “delirious like those to be found in a canvas by Hyeronimus birds, foliage vomits tears, devils mount dogs,” theme of the poem is the presence of evil and world, “counterpointed with a wistful, compassionate tive evocation of hope” (Friar 81-2).


CIGARRETES AFTER SEX (TEXAS, USA): Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby

 

 


But, as in the title Death and the Knight where to precede “Knight,” the reality of evil and destruction makes Gatsos more specific and concrete when the poetic modulates to the political perception of

your descendants tearing

The sky of my country like birds

introduced by the defiant phrase “But I who saw … there on the plain of Nafplion.”(20) At this point, whatever was surrealistic in  his verses becomes expressionistic. The tormenting nostalgia of the earlier what-might-be collapses like the “cypresses of the MOREA… before … the wounded sea” (where “gallantry” nobler than the German shined), and yields to the “eyes of a child,” eyelids embittered and closed, “In the mud and blood of Holland.” Here emerges a preambulary comment on later Nazi crimes in Greece to be sure, but also an ironic reminder that Duirer’s engraving was inspired by Erasmus of Rotterdam’s ideal Christian knight. (21) Here in the poem, the “black” turns briefly “angelic”:

This black land

Shall one day see green again.

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And green is the hue of hope, say refoliation. The original “fire,” in the form of the admirable Germanic hero GOtz,(22) Will provide nourishment, like outgrowths of the basil and rosemary: “barley and rye” in juxtaposition to the stoney vegetation of that dark forest “where time has turned,” where Duirer’s knight’s hour-glass has run its course. Now perhaps there is a trembling “rosetree,” a “silent star,” shining expressionistically “like a spring daisy.”

Now that Gatsos has deplored oppression, he feels it appropriate to recollect the poetic journey: he repeats musically the opening refrain of the motionless traveler, the steed of Akritas, the lance of St. George, the dark forms that become fire again. And the world, through forebearing “patience,” will disavow the divinities of Germanic mythology, the Nibelungs, who forge “rings and swords” in their caverns along the Rhine River, and it will convert them instead into green “shares and plows” along the lines of Isaiah (2:4) in the Bible. We probably have a right to surmise that Duirer intended his engraving to express the universal message of Christian truth, and, without minimizing its universality, we may also see Gatsos’ conversion of it into a personal message of human experience as equally plausible within the immediate historical context. If this method seems subversive, in that it undermines the artist’s original intent, so be it. Such is the nature and vitality of art. But more than the other poets reviewed here, Gatsos modernizing the message of Sienkiewicz, transcends immediate reality. For ultimately, his message concerns not Teutonic knights or Stuka bombers but more broadly the potential evil in man. And the point is made symbolically universal through direct, demotic verses. A certain reverberation of undertones and undertones does make the reader glimpse elusive meanings, as Friar says of Seferis (71), but as the imagery becomes more and more gloomy the message becomes clearer and clearer. Yet a small faith protects Gatsos-as it had not protected Kostas  Karyotakis (23)-from despair and nihilism. The image of “the spring daisy” acquires more moving significance.


BLUENECK (BRISTOL, UK): Lilitu

 

 


Five years before Gatsos’ poem, the first publicly decried saturation bombing in history leveled the ancient capital of the Basques in northern Spain during that country’s Civil War.(24) The grim and wanton destruction wrought on innocent human beings induced Pablo Picasso to paint his renowned Guernica in 1937 for the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the Paris International Exposition.(25) In associating the Gatsos poem with the Picasso painting, it may look as if I were shifting from a phenomenological exegesis to an impressionistic inference, except for the fact that the spiritual relationship between the poem and this painting is quite tangible. The poet may or may not have taken a first-hand cue from the painter (only four years separate their works), but their mutual emotional and moral experiences do not make the resemblances unexpected. That Gatsos, who visited France often, was unaware of Guernica would be hard to believe, especially since he admired Garcia Lorca who decried the slaughter (and some of whose plays he was to translate), and since Picasso’s painting, seminal in its impact, was immediately broadcast throughout the artistic world. But such speculation is not the point. For in both works we may discern a surprising number of analogous details, sufficient, in fact, to allow us to say that conscious refiguration of Duirer’s engraving, it is also a subscious reformulation of Picasso’s painting.

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Similarities, both superficial and pronounced, abound. Guernica and Death and the Knight imprecate against the destruction of life and damn the sight of a blood-washed homeland. Neither work aims for objective distancing, in that the specifically hateful events rained upon the people of Greece and of Spain are addressed with an emotion that is overt and palpable-more implosive in the poet and more explosive in the painter, but equally distressing. Both artists, like Seferis, are weighed down by a sense of hopelessness   and despair which, judging by a sparse seeding of heeds to the contrary (like the daisy, as I have already suggested), they seem to refuse to accept. Both manipulate not a series of occurrences, but a series of powerful metaphors. Although, by the very nature of their different modes of expression, linguistic description lacks the immediacy of graphic representation, both succeed equally in demonstrating an ugly drama of cruelty, anguish and terror. Both renditions are literally dark. Regardless of Gatsos’ images of fire, a citrus tree, a red Heart of Scorpio, and lilies, all of which in no way create color tonalities, the dominant chromatic mood is “This black land” (hopefully “to grow green again” that “unfolds … the veil of an evening.” Gatsos rejects the colored palette of lyric poets, much the way Picasso rejects the techniques of perspective, color, and dimensional  chiaroskouro which would give the canvas an illusion of three-dimensional depth) by composing an illustration with nothing but blacks, whites, and  grays (hence its two-dimensionality).

Analogical meanings emerge from this refusal of coloration  feelings of stark tragedy that the use of colors would have made  less poignant-and thus a dramatic tone is established. Here in Picasso, flattened, two-dimensional forms  and spaces bespeak muted terror. Symbols, consequently, inform our viewing, dirrecting our understanding toward savagery and injustice. Picasso’s is a prophetic vision in 1937 of what happens to Gatsos’ village 1941. Without reaching epic proportions, but perhaps more dire because of this, a feeling akin to tragic legend implants itself in the woeful reality of the two towns. As Philip Yenawine notes appropriately, in Guernica we face, not the heroism of Homer’s  Iliad, but the desolated despair of Euripides’ Trojan Women. (26) In the general context of Greek tragedy, what come to mind are the condemning words delivered by Athena, denouncing what the Furies have wrought, in AEschylus’ Eumenides:

that ravenous horror,

Its hideous roar [when]

[…]

the dust drink[s] up

The dark of the people’s blood

[…]

Slaughter for slaughter and ruin

Raging over the town

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DARKTHRONE (KOLBTON, NORWAY): Quintessence

 


 

If Duirer tries to portray meaning, enticed by Erasmus’ vie of Christian virtus, Picasso tries to portray being, “the slaughter for for slaughter” of Civil War fratricide, through figures of terrifying eloquence, both for what they stand for symbolically and for what they are narratively.(27) By way of similarities, Duirer’s, Picasso’s, and Gatsos’ works are dominated by transcendent Christian symbols and immanent moral values. The levels blend, such is, to be sure, the nature of allegory, ancient and suffering generated by war has always provided emotional, conceptual and formal themes for ethical and aesthetic expression, because pictorial and poetic structures say a great deal more than socio-political essays in that they create great allegories whose messages reach beyond contingency. (28)

[…]

Similarly, twisted faces and screaming mouths would suggest, as in the poem, a humanity that suffers and a humaneness that has been mutilated.

[…]

Or that Picasso’s wildly singing bird on the left, shrieking its message of atrocity reminds us of Gatsos’ “singing of youth,” but more likely, in its wildness, of the bombing “birds” that flattened the village. These birds, such a comparison would suggest, are hardly symbolic doves for they hover in the darkness.

[…]

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Yet, ultimately, a sense of struggling hope prevails when we discern one focal, important detail. We note that at bottom  center the dead freedom-fighter’s hand still clutches a broken sword. And with this image, I conclude my parallel. For with utmost expressionistic force, however surrealistically programmed, Picasso suggests what Gatsos would have liked to hear: a continuing energy echoing from the work, “the heavy hammers of patience” that will replace the Nibelungs’ “rings and swords” “with Isaiah’s “shares and plows.” This green hope, like a momentary glimpse of beauty in Seferis’ poem Mythistorima where  a girl plucks a daisy, is the “spring daisy” in Gatsos’ Death and the Knight, which is in turn the daisy silently growing out of the  sword-clutching hand in Picasso’s Guernica. The humble moral image is the seminal link between Greek poet and Spanish painter. Death and rebirth: the bloom, not unlike the modest broom plant  in Leopardi’s famous poem La ginestra in its human relevance is, the only consolation they can offer in a derelict and agrieved world.

[..]

Whatever the weird use of words and shapes in today’s aesthetics, we still recognize human reality through them, as they speak to us with anguished pathos of our perennial hope for renewal.

University ofCalifornia, Rivers

 Refractions of a Knight: Nikos Gatsos in Relation to Dürer and Picasso
Author(s): Jean-Pierre Barricelli
Source: South Atlantic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 43-64

 


 

IMMORTAL (BERGEN, NORWAY): ALL SHALL FALL

 


 

Nikos Gatsos and the Greek Folk Tradition: A Hermeneutic Study. By George I. Thanopoulos. Athens: Graphopress, 2009. 219 pp.€23.00 (pbk). ISBN 978-960-6764-04-02

A portrait of Gatsos, as inspired by tradition and yet not imprisoned by nostalgia, is drawn by George Thanopoulos in his hermeneutic study Nikos Gatsos and the Greek Folk Tradition.

Nikos Gatsos (1911-92), the last surrealist poet of the first generation of Greek surrealists, is one of the most prominent and popular modern Greek poets. As Thanopoulos asserts, Gatsos’s poems are full of Greece; nevertheless, this relationship has only sparingly been specifically explored. Therefore, Thanopoulos’s work constitutes a timely and valuable literary contribution, in examining the affinities between Greek folk tradition,

[…]

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Reviewed Work(s): Nikos Gatsos and the Greek Folk Tradition: A Hermeneutic Study byGeorge I. Thanopoulos

Review by: Amilla Maria Anthi Kastrinou Theodoropoulou

Source: Folklore, Vol. 122, No. 2 (August 2011), pp. 218-220

Amilla Maria Anthi Kastrinou Theodoropoulou, Durham University, UK,

 


GROOVE ARMADA (LONDON, ENGLAND): Think Twice

 

 


ELEGY

By NIKOS GATSOS translated by KONSTANTINOS LARDAS translated by KONSTANTINOS LARDAS

In flame of 0 your eye surely once smiled serene the Lord

Surely to eye-flame spring swamped heart as pearl swarms

Now as you hallowed sleep

On frozen fields where the clemaitis

Wound to embalm enmarbled wings of pigeons

Young children of endurance

I would you might appear one night a swollen cloud

Stars’ blood the leaf of myrtle

GATSOS1

For surely once on your chaste forehead I discerned white snow

White snow of lambs of lilies But ah you swept through life like surging tear of sea

Like summer flame like flaying kerchief in swift May

Though you had once been unto her her dark her amaranthine wave

Her caustic stone Her youngest swallow in estranging wood

Flameless to coolest dawn starless to spring

Warm heart sprung now to the unknown

To snarled teeth of other shore

To frozen children of wild cherry and of seal. 134

Author(s): Nikos Gatsos and Konstantinos Lardas

Source: The Antioch Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Special Greek Issue (Spring, 1965), p. 134

 

 


 

ELUVEITIE (ZYRICH, SWITZERLAND) : The Call Of The Mountains

 

 


 

Nikos Gatsos Part II from AMORGOS

They tell of the mountains how they tremble and of the fir tree’s fury

When night gnaws at the nails of slates that gnomes might enter

When Hell sucks in the foaming turbulence of torrents

When the hairline of the pepper tree becomes the North Wind’s scuffle.

Only the oxen of the Achaeans amid the fat meadows of Thessaly

Browse, vigorous and strong, under the etemal sun that stares upon them

They eat grass, celery, leaves of the poplar, they drink the clear

water of brooks

They smell the sweat of the earth and then fall heavily under the shade of willows to sleep.

Cast off the dead, said Heracleitus, and saw the heavens grow pale

And saw two small cyclamen kissing each other in the mire

And himself fell down on the hospitable earth to kiss his own dead body

Like the wolf who comes down from the woods to look upon the dead dog and to weep.

What good is the raindrop to me that shines on your forehead?

I know on your lips the thunder has written its name

I know in your eyes an eagle has built its nest But here on the sodden bank there is one path only

One deceiving path only, and you must pass it by

You must steep yourself in blood before time overtakes you

And cross over to find your companions again

Flowers birds deer To find another ocean another tenderness

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To take the horses of Achilles by the reins And not remain speechless, scolding the river

Pelting the river with stones like the mother of Kitso

For even you will be lost and your beauty shall wither.

Among the branches of an osier I see the shirt of your childhood drying

Take it, the flag of life, to make a shroud for death

And may your heart not weaken

And may your tears fall not upon this implacable earth

As once on the icy waste rolled the tear of a penguin

Grief is no consolation Life will be everywhere the same, a flute of serpents in a land of ghosts

A song of thieves in a fragrant forest

The knife-blade of sorrow in the cheeks of hope

The anxiety of spring in the innermost heart of an owlet

Unless a plough be found and a keen-edged scythe in a joyful hand

Unless there blossom only

A bit of grain for the holidays, a little wine for remembrance,

a little water for the dust.

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Part II from “Amorgos”

Author(s): Nikos Gatsos and Kimon Friar

Source: Poetry, Vol. 78, No. 3 (Jun., 1951), pp. 177-179

Published by: Poetry Foundation

 

 


 

DARK FUNERAL (STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN): Nail Them To The Cross

 


 

NIKOS GATSOS translated by translated by EDMUND KEELEY AMORGOS

Dedication: To a Green Star The eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men if they have barbarian souls Heraclitus (Diels, Die Fragm. der Vorsokr., B. I07, tr. by Kathleen Freeman)

 

I With their country bound to the sails and their oars hung on the wind

The shipwrecked voyagers slept tamely like dead beasts in sheets  of sponge

Yet the seaweed’s eyes are turned toward the sea, vigilant,

Hoping the South Wind will bring them back with their lateen rigs freshly painted,

For a lost elephant is always of greater value than a girl’s breasts stirring,

Suffice it that in the mountains the roofs of deserted chapels light up with the whim of the evening star,

That the birds flutter in the masts of the lemon tree With the steady white pulse of this new striding;

And then the winds will come, bodies of swans that remained spotless, tender, motionless

When steam-rollers leveled the shops, cyclones ravaged the gardens,

When women’s eyes turned coals and the hearts of the chestnut vendors broke,

When the harvesting was done and the crickets’ hopes began.

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And so that is why you too, my brave lads, with wine, kisses and leaves on your lips,

Why I would have you enter the rivers naked

And sing wildly of the Barbary Coast as the woodcutter pursues his mastic tree,

As the viper slithers through fields of barley,

Her eyes proud, full of anger,

As lightning threshes youth.

And don’t laugh and don’t cry and don’t rejoice

Don’t gird your loins uselessly, as though about to plant plain trees

Don’t impersonate DESTINY

Because the golden eagle is not a closed drawer,

Nor a plum-tree tear, nor a water-lily smile,

Nor a dove’s undershirt, nor a sultan’s mandolin,

Nor a silk kerchief for the head of a whale. It is the sea’s saw carving gulls,

It is the carpenter’s pillow rough with shavings, the beggar’s crude clock,

The tongued fire in a blacksmith’s shop that mocks the priests’ wives and lulls the lilies to sleep

It is the Turks’ wedding procession, the Aborigines’ feast,

The Hungarians’ mountain refuige

Where the hazel trees secretly meet in autumn:

They see the wise storks dyeing their eggs black

And then they too cry

They burn their nightgowns and wear the duck’s petticoat

They lay down stars for kings to tread

With their silver amulets, the crown, the purple,

They scatter rosemary on garden beds

So the mice can cross to another cellar

And enter other churches to devour the sacred altars,

And the owls, my lads,

The owls are howling

And the dead nuns are rising to dance

With tambourines, drums, and violins, with bagpipes and lutes,

With banners and censers, with herbs and magic veils,

With the bear’s breeches in the fozen valley,

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They eat the marten’s mushrooms

They play heads and tails for St. John’s ring and the Black Man’s florins

They ridicule the witches

They cut off a priest’s beard with the cutlass of Kolokotr6ni

They wash themselves in vapors of incense,

And afterwards, chanting slowly, they enter the earth again and are silent

As waves are silent, as the cuckoo at daybreak, as lamplight at evening.

So now, in a deep jar the grape withers, and in the bell tower of a fig tree the apple turns yellow A

nd so, wearing a gaudy tie, Under the tent of a vine arbor, summer breathes heavily

So, all naked, among the white cherry trees, sleeps my young love,

A girl unfading like an almond branch,

Her head on her elbow, her palm on her most private coin,

On its morning warmth, when slowly slowly like a thief

Through the window of spring, the morning star steals in to wake her.

 


 

THE WHITE BIRCH (OSLO NORWAY): Breathe

 

 


 

II*

They say the mountains tremble and the fir-trees rage

When night gnaws the tile-pins to let in the Kallikaintzari

When hell gulps down the torrents’ foaming toil

Or when the groomed hair ofthe pepper-tree becomes the North Wind’s plaything.

[* An earlier version of this section and of the one that follows appeared in Six Poets of Modern Greece, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard and published by Alfred A. Knopf (i96i)]

Only Achaean cattle graze vigorous and strong

On abundant fields in Thessaly beneath an ageless, watching sun

They eat green grass and celery, leaves of the poplar tree, they drink clear water in the troughs

They smell the sweat of the earth and then fall heavily to sleep the shade of the willow tree.

Cast out the dead said Heraclitus yet he too saw the sky turn pale

Saw two small cyclamens kissing in the mud

And as the wolf comes down from the forests to see the dog’s carcass and weep,

He too fell to kiss his own dead body on the hospitable soil.

What good to me the bead that glistens on your forehead?

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I know the lightning wrote its name upon your lips

I know an eagle built its nest within your eyes

But here on this damp bank there is one way only

One deceptive way yet you must take it

You must plunge into blood before time forestalls you,

Cross over opposite to find your companions again

Flowers birds deer To find another sea, another tenderness,

To take Achilles’ horses by the reins Instead of sitting dumb scolding the river

Stoning the river like the mother of Kitso

Because you too will be lost and your beauty will have aged.

I see your childhood shirt drying on the branches of a willow

Take it, this flag of life, to shroud your death

And may your heart not fail you

And may your tear not fall upon this pitiless earth

As a penguin’s tear once fell in the frozen wilderness

Complaint achieves nothing

Life will always be the same

With the serpent’s flute in the land of phantoms

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With the song of brigands in aromatic groves 

With the knife of some sorrow in the cheek of hope

With the pain of some spring in a wood-owl’s heart

As long as a sharp sickle and plough are found in a joyful hand

As long as a little wheat flowers for the feasts

A little wine for remembrance, a little water for the dust…

 

 


 

LAKE OF TEARS (BORAS, SWEDEN): To Blossom Blue

 

 


 

m

In the griever’s courtyard no sun rises

Only worms appear to mock the stars

Only horses sprout upon the ant hills

And bats eat birds and cast off sperm.

And bats eat birds and cast off sperm.

In the griever’s courtyard night never sets

Only the foliage vomits forth a river of tears

When the devil passes by to mount the dogs

And the crows swim in a well of blood.

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In the griever’s courtyard the eye has gone dry

The brain has frozen and the heart turned to stone

Frog-flesh hangs from the spider’s teeth

Hungry locusts scream at the vampires’ feet.

In the griever’s courtyard black grass grows

Only one night in May did a breeze pass through

A step light as a tremor on the meadow

A kiss of the foam-trimmed sea.

And should you thirst for water, we will wring a cloud

And should you hunger for bread, we will slaughter a nightingale

Only wait a moment for the wild rue to open,

For the black sky to flash, the mullen to flower.

But it was a breeze that vanished, a lark that disappeared

It was the face of May, the moon’s whiteness

A step light as a tremor on the meadow

A kiss of the foam-trimmed sea.

 


 

 

BEBE (VALENCIA, SPAIN): COCAINE

 

 


 

 

IV

Wake up limpid water from the root of the pine tree so that you

can find the sparrows’ eyes and give them new life, watering the

earth with scent of basil and the lizard’s whistling. I know you are a

naked vein under the menacing gaze of the wind, a voiceless spark

in the luminous multitude of the stars. No one notices you, no

one stops to listen to your breathing, but you, your pace heavy

in the arrogant ranks of nature, will one day reach the leaves of

the apricot tree, will one day climb the slender bodies of young

broom shrubs, will tumble from the eyes of a loved one like an

adolescent moon. There is a deathless stone on which a passing

human angel once inscribed his name and a song that no one yet

knows, not even the craziest children or the wisest nightingales.

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 It is now locked up in a cave of Mount Devi, in the gorges and

ravines of my fatherland, but someday when it breaks out and

thrusts itself against destruction and time, this angelic song, the

rain will suddenly stop and the mud dry up, the snows will melt

in the mountains, the wind will sing like a bird, the swallows will

come to life, the willows will shiver, and the men of cold eyes and

pallid faces-when they hear the bells tolling of their own accord

in the cracked belltowers-will find festive hats to wear and

gaudy bows to decorate their shoes. Because then there will be no

joking any longer, the blood of the brooks will overflow, the

animals will break their bridles in the mangers, the hay will turn

green in the stables, between the roof-tiles fresh poppies will

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sprout, and May flowers, and at all crossroads red fires will rise at

midnight. Then slowly, slowly, the frightened young girls will

come to cast their last clothing into the fire and dance all naked

around it, just as in our day, when we too were young, and a

window would open at dawn to show a flaming carnation growing

on their breasts. Lads, maybe the memory of ancestors is

deeper consolation and more precious company than a handfuil of

rose water, and the intoxication of beauty no different from the

sleeping rosebush of the Eur6tas. So now goodnight; I see a

galaxy of falling stars lulling your dreams, but I hold in my fingers

music for a better day. The travelers from India have more

to tell you than the Byzantine chroniclers.

 

 

 


SAMAEL (SION, SWITZERLAND): Telepath

 

 


 

V

Man, during the course of his mysterious life,

Bequeathed his descendants tokens varied and worthy of his immortal origin,

As he bequeathed also traces of the ruins of twilight, snowdrifts

of celestial reptiles, diamonds, kites, and the glances of yacinths,

In the midst of sighs, tears, hunger, wailing, and the ashes of su terranean wells.

 


 

EUPRHORIA (JAPAN): Silence in everywhere

 

 


 

VI

How very much I loved you only I know

I who once touched you with the eyes of the Pleiades,

Embraced you with the moon’s mane, and we danced on the meadows of summer

On the harvest’s stubble and together ate cut clover,

Great dark sea with so many pebbles round your neck,

so many colored jewels in your hair.

A ship nears shore, a rusted water wheel groans,

A tuft of blue smoke in the rose of the horizon:

The same as the crane’s wing palpitating.

Armies of swallows are waiting to offer the brave their welcome

Arms rise naked, anchors engraved on the armpits

Cries of children mingle with the bird song of the West Wind

Bees come and go in the cows’ nostrils Kalamaita kerchiefs are all aflutter

And a distant bell paints the sky with bluing

Like the voice of a gong traveling among the stars

So many ages in flight

From the souls of Goths and the domes of Baltimore

And from lost Saint Sophia, the great cathedral.

But up in the high mountains who are those who now gaze down

With that placid look, faces serene?

Of what conflagration is this cloud of dust the echo?

Is Kalyvas warring now, or is it Leventoyainnis?

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Have the Germans begun to fight the noble Maniates?

Kalyvas isn’t warring, nor is Leventoydinnis

Nor have the Germans begun to fight the noble Maniaites.

Silent towers guard a ghostly princess

The tops of cypress trees consort with a dead anemone

Unruffled shepherds pipe their morning song on a linden reed

A brainless hunter fires a shot at the turtledoves

And an old windmill, forgotten by all,

Mends by himself his rotten sails with a needle of dolphin bone

And descends the slopes with a brisk northwester leading him

As Adonis descended the paths of Mt.

Chelmos to bid the love sick Golfo a good evening.

For years and years I have struggled with ink and hammer,

my troubled heart,

With gold and fire, to fashion an embroidery,

The hyacinth of an orange tree,

A quince tree blossoming, to comfort you

I who once touched you with the eyes of the Pleiades,

Embraced you with the moon’s mane,

and we danced on the meadows of summer

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On the harvest’s stubble and together ate cut clover

Great dark loneliness with so many pebbles round your neck,

many colored jewels in your hair.

Author(s): Nikos Gatsos and Edmund Keeley

Source: Poetry, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Oct., 1964), pp. 24-32

Published by: Poetry Foundation

 

 


 

DIMMU BORGIR  (OSLO, NORWAY): Gateways

 


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES ON PROPER NAMES (in order of appearance) 

Amorgos: an island of the Cyclades group in the southeastern Aegean. According to the poet, the title of the poem is arbitrary, with no relation to the actual island. He suggests that the Spanish word “amargo”, meaning “bitter”, may have influenced his choice of the title as he was translating Lorca during its composition.

The Black Man: the “Arapis” of Greek folk literature, who emerges night to feed his flocks gold pieces instead of grass.

Kolokotroni: Theodoros Kolokotr6nis, I770-i843, one of the principal heroes of the GreekWar of Independence (i82i-i828).

Kallikantzari: grotesque, bestial, destructive creatures who appear at night during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

Heraclitus: there is no actual source for the pharse “cast out the dead”, it is in keeping with the Greek philosopher’s point of view. The implication of the stanza is that even though Heraclitus might have “cast out the dead”, he too was forced to confront the fact of his dead body and thus to share in mankind’s common doom.

Kitso: from a popular ballad of the time of the Turkish occupation Greece. Kitso, a leader of one of the Greek bands fighting the Turks, fell into the hands of the enemy and was about to be hanged as his mother tried to join him from the opposite bank of an impassable river. She pictured as rebuking the river and throwing stones at it, pleading with it to turn back so that she can cross over to her son. Mt. Devi: a mythical mountain, derived from the name of an Indian

Mt. Devi: a mythical mountain, derived from the name of an Indian nine divinity. nine divinity.

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Eur6tas: a river near Sparta.

Pleiades: a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus, sometimes called Seven Sisters after the seven daughters of Atlas. Only six are visible the naked eye.

Kalamata: a town in the southern Peloponnesus, known for its olives and for its multicolored silk kerchiefs. The latter were considered valuable because expensive and appeared regularly at weddings and festivals, hence their frequent citation in Greek folk songs.

Goths: the souls of the Goths as embodied in Gothic cathedrals.

Baltimore: an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”.

Kalyvas and Leventoyannis: chieftains under Athana’sios Diakos in the Greek War of Independence. The two were killed while fighting on the bridge across the river Alamana and were subsequently celebrated in a folk ballad.

Maniates: the people of Mani in the southern Peloponnesus, legendary because no Turk managed to set foot on their territory during the four hundred years of the Turkish occupation.

Golfo: the heroine of a i9th century play of small dramatic merit though still popular, written by Spiridon Peresiadis.

Golfo, a young lovesick shepherdess from a village on Mt. Chelmos near Patras, is driven mad by the loss of her lover. The poet sees Adonis, the symbol of masculine beauty and regeneration, returning from Hades like a dead lover to bid the mad and grieving Golfo a friendly good evening on the slopes of Chelmos, a mountain rich in vegetation.

 

 

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