Odysseas Elytis

A Selection of Poems



. tell what you are whispering I reach your morning mouth early On the peak where your love appears I see the will of the night spilling stars The will of the day nipping the earth’s shoots I saw a thousand wild lilies on the meadows of life A thousand children in the true wind Beautiful strong children who breathe out kindness And know how to gaze at the deep horizons When music raises the islands I carved the beloved name In the shade of the aged olive tree In the roaring of the lifelong sea. infants of the wind They drink.” I lived the beloved name In the shade of the aged olive tree In the roaring of the lifelong sea Those who stoned me live no longer With their stones I built a fountain To its brink green girls come Their lips descend from the dawn Their hair unwinds far into the future Swallows come..“I LIVED THE BELOVED NAME. © Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard From: Sun the first 3 . they fly. so that life goes on The threat of the dream becomes a dream Pain rounds the good cape No voice is lost in the breast of the sky O deathless sea.

4 .

© Translation: David Connoly From: The oxopetra elegies Published: Harwood Acedemic Publishers. Square silent buildings with Endless corridors come between but the odour Persistently passes folds in white sheets or crimson Curtains throughout the room’s length Sometimes a sudden reflection of light Then once again only the trolley’s wheels And the old lithograph with the scene Of the Annunciation as it appears in the mirror Whereupon. so tomorrow. with arm outstretched He Who announces and is silent. 1996 5 . brings and takes away Pale and with an air of guilt (as if not wanting but having to) Takes and extinguishes one by one the red Globules inside me. As does the verger with the candles when At the end of the long list of prayers For a fair wind and all of creation or Above all. This Like the mother of fledglings in danger takes under its wing And patiently gathers from out of the storms A few crumbs of peace. The same one who after each Saturday Rises.LA PALLIDA MORTE Odourless yet like blossom Death is grasped through the Nostrils. men is left speechless The soul alone. The sun’s Jesus. And furtively withdraws his finger So that gold becomes blue again and a fragrance Of burning incense ascends to the rosecoloured dome The candles in every stand light up all at once Then they all follow. the next day All that you have in mind with new shiny down May open out in the skies even if the gates to the heavenly dwellings Open and close without justice The Angel knows. He who Is. not one of them has anything to say Except the poet. Amsterdam. Was and Will Be. for such things as each has in mind The congregation disperses O Such things have I! Yet how In what way may the “unutterable” be revealed For while with irises and anemones the Maymonths effuse And with verdant slopes step down to the sea When this too in whispers ever discloses Something of its ancient secrets. Footsteps on the wet leaves Since men too like graves and with reverence pile lovely flowers there Yet. death.

You have a taste of tempest on your lips And a dress red as blood Deep in the gold of summer And the perfume of hyacinths—But where did you wander Descending toward the shores. closer to it. blue to the bone. embrace a love With a bitter taste of tempest on your lips. a beast of hope And you. the pebbled bays? There was cold salty seaweed there But deeper a human feeling that bled And you opened your arms in astonishment naming it Climbing lightly to the clearness of the depths Where your own starfish shone. It is not for you. 6 . to think of another summer. Speech is the prudence of the aged And time is a passionate sculptor of men And the sun stands over it. iambic heroine.MARINA OF THE ROCKS You have a taste of tempest on your lips—But where did you wander All day long in the hard reverie of stone and sea? An eagle-bearing wind stripped the hills Stripped your longing to the bone And the pupils of your eyes received the message of chimera Spotting memory with foam! Where is the familiar slope of short September On the red earth where you played. Listen. But where did you wander All night long in the hard reverie of stone and sea? I told you to count in the naked water its luminous days On your back to rejoice in the dawn of things Or again to wander on yellow plains With a clover of light on you breast. looking down At the broad rows of the other girls The corners where your friends left armfuls of rosemary.

Propped on the rocks. Facing the dangers of the rocks with a hurricane hairstyle You will say farewell to the riddle that is yours. © Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard From: Orientations 7 .For the rivers to change their bed And take you back to their mother For you to kiss other cherry trees Or ride on the northwest wind. without yesterday or tomorrow.

The cries of birds which he had come to memorize in hours of great lonely ness apparently spilled out all at once. We shall have early fruit this year. the blue line of the horizon sharply painted.THE AUTOPSY And so they found that the gold of the olive root had dripped in the recesses of his heart. they show that he moved time hours ahead whenever he embraced a woman. proud. Nothing in the brain but a dead echo of the sky. His eyes open. Which means that often he had walked by the sea alone with the pain of love and the roar of the wind. the whole forest moving still on the unblemished retina. as though in a shell. a strange heat had seized his entrails. so that it was impossible for the knife to enter deeply. Probably the intention sufficed for the evil Which he met—it is obvious—in the terrifying posture of the innocent. As for those particles of fire on his groin. And from the many times that he had lain awake by candlelight waiting for the dawn. And ample traces of blue throughout his blood. Only in the hollow of his left ear some light fine sand. A little below the skin. 8 .

Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip 9 .

covered the world.. There where they were suddenly flung by the Immovable Face-down. the heap of smoking ruins)— There time released them. the other arm under the desolate head. A new sun. identical and reversed. Valleys. 10 . there for them to cross now. but at a great depth The old immemorial blood that began painfully to etch. Trees.. and their faces are burnt by their crossing through the Great Dark Places. And from the beginning. already moved through space. Rivers. the redder of the two. As though to see for the last time. not yet ripe. before even casting a ray. could divine the oracles of Erebus. in the eyes of a disembowelled horse. Villagers of the limitless blue: Neither twelve o’clock striking in the depths nor the voice of the pole falling from the heights retracted their footsteps. delicate. with the Executioner inside them put to death. turned on its side. Mountains.THE SLEEP OF THE BRAVE They will smell of incense. A creation made of vindicated feelings now shone. but. in the sky’s blackness. No wrinkle or pang of conscience. That couldn’t manage to dislodge the hoarfrost of lambs from live clover. as though straining to be grasped by the future. while the other. on ground whose smallest anemone would suffice to turn the air of Hades bitter (One arm outstretched. One wing.

They read the world greedily with eyes now open forever. and where the voltures fell upon them violently to enjoy the clay of their guts and their blood. © Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard From: Six and one pangs of consience for the sky 11 . there where they were suddenly flung by the Immovable. Face-down.

floating timbers and other vessels. And the measure never blended with their thinking.THEY CAME dressed up as “friends. not even a fairy’s glance tried to rob them of their speech. and the Laws decreeing the pursuit of profit they applied to the primeval measure. On the peaks. in the valleys. © Translation: Edmund Keeley and George Savidis From: The Axion Esti 12 . in the ports they raised and founded mighty towers and villas. And the soil never blended with their heel. And the light never blended with their roof. They brought The Wise One.” came countless times.” came countless times. to sway over the primeval light. the Founder. bearing the primeval gifts. And their gifts were nothing else but iron and fire only. my enemies. To the open expecting fingers only weapons and iron and fire. Not even a bee was fooled into beginning the golden game. They came dressed up as “friends. and the Geometer. trampling the primeval soil. Bibles of letters and numbers. my enemies. every kind of Submission and Power. Not even a footprint of a god left a man on their soul. not even a Zephyr into swelling the white aprons. Only weapons and iron and fire.

© Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard From: Sun the first 13 . We ourselves will tell the sun’s fate."THIS WIND THAT LOITERS. No one will tell our fate. the cicadas in the ears of the trees. Great summer of chalk Great summer of cork The red sails slanting in gusts of wind On the sea-floor white creatures. The images of the Resurrection On walls that the pine trees scratched with their fingers This whitewash that carries the noonday on its back And the cicadas." This wind that loiters among the quinces This insect that sucks the vines This stone that the scorpion wears next to his skin And these sheaves on the threshing floor That play the giant to small barefoot children.. and that is that.. and that is that. sponges Accordions of the rocks Perch from the fingers even of bad fishermen Proud reefs on the fishing lines of the sun.

Athens.besides who understands? .who knows? . I departed. Therefrom I pass and proceed . So.and far too many were the creeping monsters with the lateral.to a womb sweeter than my country. 1998 14 .WEDNESDAY. slimy legs. © Translation: David Connoly From: Journal of an unseen april Published: Ypsilon publishers. from the length of a life constructed with such difficulty all that remains is a half-ruined door and a lot of large decaying water anemones. 8c IF ONLY MOTHER you could see me: as I was born. I was far too little .

at times his crooked teeth whitened strangely And as he passed by with his gaze a little beyond mankind and from them all extracted One who smiled on him The Real one Whom death could never seize He took care to pronounce the word sea clearly that all the dolphins within it might shine And the desolation so great it might contain all of God and every waterdrop ascending steadfastly toward the sun As a young man he had seen gold glittering and gleaming on the shoulders of the great And one night he remembers during a great storm the neck of the sea roared so it turned murky 15 .DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CONSTANTINOS PALAEOLOGOS As he stood there erect before the Gate and impregnable in his sorrow Far from the world where his spirit sought to bring Paradise to his measure And harder even than stone for no one had ever looked on him tenderly .

) Noon out of night And not one person by his side Only his faithful words that mingled all their colors to leave in his hand a lance of white light And opposite 16 . II Dear God what now Who had to battle with thousands and not only his loneliness Who? He who knew with a single word how to slake the thirst of entire worlds What? From whom they had taken everything And his sandals with their criss-crossed straps and his pointed trident and the wall he mounted every afternoon like an unruly and pitching boat to hold the reigns against the weather And a handful of vervain which he had rubbed on a girl's cheek at midnight to kiss her (how the waters of the moon gurled on the stone steps three cliff-lengths above the sea...but he would not submit to it The world's an oppressive place to live through yet with a little pride it's worth it.

III Now as the sun's wheel turned more and more swiftly the courtyards plunged into winter and once again emerged red from the geranium And the small cool domes like blue medusae reached each time higher to the silverwork the wind so delicately worked as a painting for other times more distant Virgin maidens their breasts glowing a summer dawn brought him branches of fresh palm leaves and those of the myrtle uprooted from the depths of the sea Dripping iodine While under his feet he heard the prows of black ships sucked into the great whirlpool the ancient and smoked seacraft 17 .all life a radiance!" he shouted and rushed into the horde dragging behind him an endless golden line And at once he felt the final pallor overmastering him as it hastened from afar.along the whole wall's length a host of heads poured in plaster as far as his eyes could see "Noon out of night .

from which still erect with riveted gaze the Mothers of God stood rebuking Horses overturned on dumpheaps a rabble of buildings large and small debris and dust flaming in the air And there lying prone always with an unbroken word between his teeth Himself the last of the Hellenes! 18 .

19 . according to the rules. should you try to restore.GIFT SILVER POEM I know that all this is worthless and that the language I speak doesn't have an alphabet Since the sun and the waves are a syllabic script which can be deciphered only in the years of sorrow and exile And the motherland a fresco with successive overlays frankish or slavic which. silver poem. tell the others and give them a truth Then everyone ends up holding in his hand a small Gift. you are immediately sent to prison and held responsible To a crowd of foreign Powers always through the intervention of your own As it happens for the disasters But let's imagine that in an old days' threshing-floor which might be in an apartment-complex children are playing and whoever loses Should.

the Bear. is loneliness the same. I wonder.. and that distant voice was incessantly reaching my ears : "an entire life". within the ashes of heavens Andromeda. the shadows of the trees were playing cinema" ---------------- "It seems that somewhere people are celebrating. although there are no houses or human beings I can listen to guitars and other laughters which are not nearby Maybe far away. it was getting darker... "an entire life". all over the worlds ? " ---------------- 20 . or the Virgin.. On the opposite wall."Calendar of an Invisible April" "The Tree of Light and The Fourteenth Beauty" Translation from Greek: Marios Dikaiakos "The wind was wistling continuously...

perfumes stemming from a premature sky of great feminine delicacy and fatal drunkeness. How to imagine that it is placed lower Much lower That death too. Someone searches it. lips. has its own Red sea. elongated eyes. 10c LATE MIDNIGHT my room is moving in the neighborhood shining like an emerald. but truth eludes him constantly. Prepared for the worst. I leant on my side -almost fell."Almond-shaped." ---------------- "FRIDAY." ---------------- 21 .onto the hymns to the Virgin and the cold of spacious gardens.

and the stars clearly My hatred is superfluous on the roads of the sky Unless it is the dream which watches me again As I walked by the sea of immortality in tears O Hesperos. sentinel. I know the night no longer I know the night no longer. that you may shine by the side Of a skyblue breeze on an island which dreams Of me anouncing the dawn from its rocky heights My twin eyes set you sailing embraced With my true heart's star: I know the night no longer I know the names no longer of a world which disavows me I read seashells. the terrible anonymity of death A fleet of stars moors in the haven of my heart O Hesperos. under the arc of your golden fire 22 . leaves.Adolescence of Day Adolescence of day first lily of joy The ancient myrtle flutters its flag The breast of skylarks shall open to the light And a song shall hover in mid-air Sowing the golden barley of fire To the five winds Setting free a terrestial beaty Translated by Kimon Friar.

At another time I experienced this mystery while at sea between the islands of Naxos and Paros. the world of surrealism had its classicists and romanticists. I tell how once. Essentially. There is another passage in my “Open Book” where I say that Europeans and Westerners always find mystery in obscurity. There and then I deeply sensed the mystery of light. it was romantic movement.I know the night no longer that is a night only. while we Greeks find it in light. To illustrate this I give three images. Suddenly in the distance I saw dolphins that 23 . in broad daylight. I found certain congenial elements there. isn’t he? Yet he was a surrealist! In other words. which I adapted to the Greek light. I personally find more classical than romantic. I saw a lizard climb upon a stone (it was unafraid since I stood stock-still. But Éluard. I never was a disciple of the surrealist school. ceasing even to breathe) and then. with a multitude of tiny movements. for example. ODYSSEUS ELYTIS. in honor of light. at high noon. I am for clarity. commence a veritable dance. skeptical of its classicism. particularly in my first poems. which is for us an absolute. Translated by Kimon Friar. Could one possibly conceive of a new classicism in the spirit of surrealism? Is this a contradiction in terms? Do you know the work of Hans Arp? There you have great simplicity! He is a classical sculptor. “I have sold myself for clearness. and that I feel the breach opened by surrealism was a real liberation of the senses and the imagination. As I wrote in one of my poems.” I told you that I am critical of occidental rationalism. 2002 It has been said that I am a Dionysian poet. Odysseus Elytis on his poetry November 12. I do not think this is correct. as I have told you. in the night.

He says that in my book “The Light Tree” there is an astonishing limpidity.” No. The limpidity which exists in nature from the physical point of view is transposed into poetry. The critic Varonitis has perceived this. It is a mystery which I think we Greeks can fully grasp and present. and poetry can reveal it to the entire world. but at the same time Greece was never only that. The mystery of light. There was always the oriental side which occupied an important place in the Greek spirit. We are part of Europe. My kind of clarity is not that of the ratio or of the intelligence. of course. However. I think that even the most irrational thing can be limpid. 24 . Is seems to me something essentially Greek. There exists an oriental side in the Greek which should not be neglected. We Greeks belong politically. as I told you. I notice. that which the French call “la belle clarté. to the Occident. Throughout antiquity oriental values were assimilated. Perhaps it can be best understood here. What I mean by limpidity is that behind a given thing something different can be seen and behind that still something else. This kind of transparency is what I have attempted to achieve. leaping above the water to the height of our deck. Limpidity is probably the one element which dominates my poetry at present. not clarté as the French and Westerners in general conceive it. It may be something unique to this place. When I speak of solar metaphysics. and so on and so on. part of the Western world. You always look somewhat puzzled. whenever I contrast Greeks with Westerners or Europeans.approached and passed us. It is for this reason that I make the distinction. that’s exactly what I mean. The final image is that of a young woman on whose naked breast a butterfly descended one day at noon while cicadas filled the air with their noise. This was for me another revelation of the mystery of light. that which is limpid can at the same time be altogether irrational. This is not a mistake on my part. I am not for the clarity of the intelligence.

It is for this reason that I believe. arrives at Christian sainthood. In the hope of obtaining a freedom from all constraints and the justice which could be identified with absolute light.Let me conclude by reading to you a concise statement I have prepared concerning the aims of my poetry: I consider poetry a source of innocence full of revolutionary forces. 27 March 1972 Odysseus Elytis (Translated by Ivar and Astrid Ivask) 25 . without wanting to do so. Athens. precisely so as to bring that world through continual metamorphoses more in harmony with my dreams. I am referring here to a contemporary kind of magic whose mechanism leads to the discovery of our true reality. to the point of idealism. that I am moving in a direction which has never been attempted until now. I am an idolater who. It is my mission to direct these forces against a world my conscience cannot accept.

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