Category Archives: Translation

Modern Greek poetry


Mount Helicon, Greece

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I would like to express my thanks to Manolis Aligizakis for curating this supplement and for allowing The High  Window to reprint such a substantial body of work from his monumental anthology, Neo-Hellene Poets: An Anthology of Modern Greek Poetry: 1750-2018 , copies of which can be purchased by following the link to Amazon. Highly recommended also, for those interested in exploring further the riches of modern Greek poetry, is Manolis’s own website: https://authormanolis.wordpress.com/

The editor.

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The Poets

Constantine CavafyGeorge SeferisMaria PolydourisYannis RitsosOdysseus ElitisNanos Valaoritis •  Tasos LivaditisManolis AnagnostakisKiki DimoulaKaterina Anghelaki-RookeKaterina GogouSissy DoutsiouManolis Aligizakis

The Translator

Manolis Aligizakis

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Previous Translations

THW15: September 20, 2019

THW 14: June 17, 2019  THW 13 March 20, 2019  

THW 12 December 10, 2018   THW 11  September 5, 2018

THW 10: May 21, 2018  THW 9: March 7, 2018

THW 8: December 6, 2017  THW 7: September 10, 2017

xxxxxx THW6:  June 3, 2017  THW5: March 7, 2017                

THW4: December 6, 2016  THW3: September 1, 2016    

THW2: June 1, 2016  THW1: March 1, 2016

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Constantine Cavafy: Six Poems

CANDLES

The days of the future stand in front of us
like a line of lit candles —
golden, warm and lively little candles

the days of the past remain behind
a sorrowful line of burned-out candles
the closest ones are still smoking
cold candles, melted, and drooping

I don’t want to look at them, their shape saddens me
and it saddens me to remember their previous light
I look ahead at my lit candles

I don’t want to look back and see in horror
how fast the dark line lengthens
how quickly the burned out candles multiply.

THE HORSES OF ACHILLES

xxxxxxxWhen they saw Patroklos dead
xxxxwho was so brave and strong and young
xxxxthe horses of Achilles began to cry
xxxxxtheir immortal nature was outraged
xxxxat the sight of this work of death.
They reared up and tossed their long manes
they stamped the ground with their hooves and mourned
Patroklos whom they felt was soulless — devastated —
lifeless flesh now — his spirit gone —
xxxxxdefenseless — without breath —
returned from life to the great Nothing

xxxxxxxZeus saw the tears of the immortal
xxxxhorses and felt sad. He said, ‘At the wedding of Peleus
I shouldn’t have acted so mindlessly
xxxxxxxit would have been better if we had not given you away
xxxxmy unhappy horses! What need did you have to be
down there among miserable humans, playthings of fate
xxxxxxxyou whom death cannot ambush who will never grow old
you are still tormented by disaster. People
have entangled you in their suffering.’— But
xxxxfor the endless calamity of death
those two noble animals shed their tears.

THE CITY

You said: ‘I’ll go to another land to another sea;
I’ll find another city better than this one.
Every effort I make is ill-fated, doomed;
and my heart — like a dead thing — lies buried.
How long will my mind continue to wither like this?
Everywhere I turn my eyes, wherever they happen to fall
I see the black ruins of my life, here
where I’ve squandered, wasted and ruined so many years.’

New lands you’ll not find, you’ll not find other seas
the city will follow you. You’ll return to the same streets
you’ll age in the same neighborhoods; and in these
same houses you’ll turn gray. You’ll always
arrive in the same city. Don’t even hope to escape it
there is no ship for you, no road out of town.
As you have wasted your life here, in this small corner
you’ve wasted it in the whole world.

FINALITIES

Amid the fears and suspicions
with unsettled mind and frightened eyes
we melt away and plan how to act
in order to avoid the certain
danger that threatens us so gravely.
And yet we are mistaken, the danger is not in our way;
the messages were false
(we neither heard them, nor fully understood them).
Another catastrophe that we never imagined,
sudden, torrential falls on us
and unprepared — there is not enough time — it takes us away.

THE IDES OF MARCH

Beware of grandeur, oh soul.
And if you can’t overcome your ambitions
pursue them with hesitant precaution
and the more you go forward, the more
inquiring and careful you must be.

And when you reach your zenith, as a Caesar at last
when you take on the role of such a famous man
then most of all be careful when you go out on the street
like any famous master with your entourage
if by chance some Artemidoros approaches
out of the crowd, bringing you a letter
and says in a hurry ‘Read this at once
these are serious matters that concern you’
don’t fail to stop; don’t fail to postpone
every speech or task; don’t fail to turn away
the various people who greet you and bow to you
(you can see them later); let even the Senate wait
for you must consider at once
the serious writings of Artemidoros

ITHAKA

When you start on your way to Ithaka
pray that your journey will be long
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
Do not fear The Lestrygonyans
the Cyclops or the angry Poseidon
you will never run into them
if your thoughts are kept high, if a clear
excitement moves your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians
or the Cyclops or the angry Poseidon
unless you carry them in your soul
unless your soul raises them before you.

Pray that the way is long.
Let the summer mornings be many
when you will enter with such pleasure, such joy,
harbors you have never seen before
may you stop at Phoenician markets
to buy their fine merchandise
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony
and pleasurable perfumes of every kind
as many as you can get
and may you visit a lot of Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Always maintain Ithaka in your mind
your arrival there is your destiny
but don’t hurry the trip at all
let it last for many years
and when you reach the island and you are old
rich with all you have gained on the way
do not expect any further riches from Ithaka

Ithaca gave you the beautiful voyage
without her you would never have started your journey
she has nothing else to give you

and if you find Ithaca poor, Ithaka has not tricked you
you’ve become such a wise person, with so much experience
you’ve already understood what Ithakas mean.

Cavafy (1863–1933) was born into a family of merchants. He he had eight older siblings all of whom died before him. Two of his brothers were painters, and another wrote poems in English and French. After a few years in England he became so comfortable with his second language that he wrote his first poems in it.  For much of his adult life he lived alone, with only  a very small circle of people around him. Influential relationships included his twenty-year acquaintance with E.M. Forster. Until late in his career he remained virtually unknown in Greece, but is now considered one of its most influential poets.

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George Seferis: Three poems

STROPHE

Moment, sent by a hand
that I had so much loved
you reached me almost at dusk
like a black dove.

The road shone before me
soft breath of sleep
at the end of a secret feast
moment, grain of sand,

that you alone kept
the tragic clepsydra
silent, as though it had seen Hydra
in the heavenly orchard.

EROTIKOS LOGOS

I

Fateful rose, you looked for ways to wound us
but you bent like a secret about to be redeemed
and the command you chose to give us was beautiful
and your smile was like a ready sword.

The ascent of your cycle brought the world to life
the path of a deep thought emerged from your thorn
our ardor dawned sweet and naked to possess you
the world was as easy as a simple heartbeat.

II

The secrets of the sea are forgotten on the shore
the darkness of the depth is forgotten on the surf;
suddenly the memory corals shine purple…
Oh do not stir it…carefully listen to its soft

momentum…you touched the tree with the apples
the arm stretched out, the thread points the way and leads
you…
Oh dark shivering in the root and on the leaves
were it just you that would bring the forgotten dawn!

May the lilies bloom again on the plain of separation
may the days mature the embrace of heavens
may only those eyes gleam in the sun glare
let the pure soul be written like a song for the flute.

Was it the night that closed its eyes? Ash remains
as though from a bow’s string a muffled sound
ash and vertigo on the black seashore
and a dense fluttering enclosed in the surmise.

Rose of the wind, you knew but took us not knowing
that thought built bridges so that
two fingers would entangle and two fates would go by
to be spilled into the low and becalmed light.

V

Where is the double-edged day that had changed everything?
Won’t there be a navigable river for us?
Won’t there be a sky dripping the morning dew
for the soul that a lotus benumbed and nourished?

On the stone of patience we long for the miracle
that opens the heavens and everything becomes possible
we long for the angel as in the ancient drama
when the open roses of twilight

vanish… Scarlet rose of the wind and fate
you remained only in memory, a heavy rhythm
rose of the night you passed purple undulation
of the undulating sea…The world is simple.

MYTHISTOREMA

I

The angel,
we had waited for him for three years, concentrated
xxxxxclosely examining
the pines, the seashore, the stars.
Joining the blade of the plough or the ship’s keel
once again we searched to discover the first sperm
so that the ancient drama might recommence.

We went back to our homes broken hearted
with incapable limbs, with mouths ravaged
xxxxxby the taste of rust and salinity.
When we woke, we traveled to the north, strangers
driven into the mist by the perfect wings
of swans that wounded us.
During winter nights the strong eastern wind
xxxxxmaddened us
in the summers we got lost in the agony of day
xxxxxthat couldn’t die.
We brought back
these petroglyphs of a humble art.

II

One more well inside a cave.
At other times it was easy for us to draw up idols and
xxxxxornaments
to please some friends who were still loyal to us.
Now the ropes are broken; only the grooves on the
xxxxxwell’s lip
remind us of our past happiness
the fingers on the well’s lip, as the poet put it.
The fingers feel the coolness of the stone, a little
that the body’s heat prevails over it
and the cave gambles its soul and loses it
every moment, filled by silence, without a drop of water.

V

We didn’t know them
xxxxxdeep inside it was hope that said
we had met them in early childhood.
Perhaps we had seen them twice and then they went to the ships
cargoes of coal, cargoes of crops and our friends
vanished beyond the ocean forever.
Daybreak finds us beside the tired lamp
drawing on paper, awkwardly, painfully
ships, mermaids or conches;
at dusk we go down the river
because it shows us the way to the sea
and we spend our nights in cellars smelling of tar.

Our friends have left us
perhaps we never saw them, perhaps
we encountered them when sleep
still brought us very close to the breathing wave
perhaps we search for them because we search for the other life,
beyond the statues.

VI

Maurice Ravel

The orchard with its fountains in the rain
you will only see from behind the fogged up glass
of the lower window. Your room
will be lit by the fireplace flames
and sometimes the distant lightning will reveal
the wrinkles on your face my old Friend.

The orchard with its fountain that in your hand was
a rhythm of the other life beyond the broken
statues and the tragic columns
and a dance amid the oleanders
close to the new quarries
a fogged up glass would have cut it off from your days.
You won’t breathe; the soil and the sap of the trees
will spring from your memory to strike
this window that is struck by the rain
of the outside world.

George Seferis (1900–1971) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor and finished his high school studies in Athens. When his family moved to Paris in 1918, he studied law at the University of Paris and became interested in literature. Returningto Athens in 1925, he was admitted to the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the following year. This was the beginning of a long and successful diplomatic career, during which he held posts in England and Albania.  His early poetry consists of Strophe, a group of rhymed Lyrics  influenced by the Symbolists, and The Cistern, conveying an image of man’s most deeply felt being. His mature poetry begins with Mythistorema, which translate the Odyssean myths into modern idiom. He won the Nobel Prize in 1963. He died during the dictatorship years. His funeral turned into one of the largest public demonstrations against the military junta.

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Maria Polydouris: Two Poems  

FORGETFULLNESS

With my loving heart I got to know you, wild forest.
I drank your secret fragrance in the kiss of the wind.
I waited to pass through you in the moonlit night
when the airy ghost went through your branches.

I got to know you during my erotic nights, wrinkled
sea as if the forehead of contemplation, my thought
went over you like a caress and your bloomed edge
with the fragrant seaweed would always invite me.

My erotic nights got to know you my beautiful flowers
diaphanous, shaded, colorful like lighted signs.
The heavy dew, a kiss and golden fluff
appeared on your eyelids tightly shut in darkness.

Now, bestowed onto the light of denial and altered,
you show me that I may lose my mind’s path.
Are you truly what I knew well? My beloved
flowers, the silvery sea, thick forest full of pines?

YOU WON’T RETURN

You won’t return any more to grace me with
something from the gifts the beautiful life
has graced you: perhaps a flower? The life
that fills your heart and body with such beauty.

You won’t return anymore to take my hands
that froze as if an enemy’s hands?
Joined with yours, calm pair of hands
that need doesn’t come near them any longer.

You won’t return! And the days pass by slowly
and as you go away my familiar fate
comes close to me, alone
for so long with the secret grief.

Don’t you ever think that perhaps, truly,
in sad moment I’ll direct myself
to the fateful end that awaits me
and never to return?

Maria Polydouris 1902 – 1930 was the daughter of the  philologist Eugene Polydoursi and Kiriaki Markatou, a woman of early feministic views. Her first publication, at the age of fourteen was the the prose poem, Pain of a Mother, which related the death of a seaman. In 1921 she was transferred to the Prefecture of Attica, where she met the poet and colleague Kostas Karyotakis. A mutual attraction joined them that lasted for a short while although it marked their lives to their end. The summer of 1922 Karyotakis was diagnosed with syphilis and he  informed her that thewy needed to separate. He committed suicide and she died of tuberculosis soon after his death.

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Yannis Ritsos: Five Poems

FEAR OF LIFE

Stony day
stony sun
stony silence

the horses died on the mountain
the trees died in the whitewash
you didn’t die

sound of their distant hooves
sound of the old panting
in the petrified noon

and the fear that perhaps you wouldn’t die
and the fear of water trickling
fear, water, breath – life

MYTH

At night we lighted the oil lamps
and took the roads asking the passers-by

she wore a dress we said
in the color of dreams didn’t you see her?
She wore two light blue earrings

no one had seen her, only in the cabin at the end of the village
the old woman the lumberjack’s mother pointed her finger
and showed us the river behind the trees

down to where two light blue stars flickered

INVITATION

Come to the luminous beaches – he murmured to himself –
here where the colors celebrate – look –
here where the royal family never passed
with their closed carriages and official emissaries

come – it’s not good if they see you – he said –
I am the deserter of the night
I am the burglar of darkness
I have filled my shirt and my pockets with sun

come – it burns my hands and my chest
come let me give it to you

and I have something to tell you
that even I cannot hear

ADMISSION

Defeated by the light – blue
with his head leaning on the knees of silence
dead tired of life
dead tired of youth
sunken inside his fire
and the seaweed stirring in his armpit –

the wave of day didn’t find resistance
not even on a pebble of his thought

as he was ready for love
and for death

THE HILL

Someone had a lot of dead people
he dug the ground he buried them himself
stone by stone earth on earth
he built a hill
on top of the hill
he built his cabin facing the sun

after that he opened pathways
he planted trees
carefully geometrically thoughtfully
his eye was always smiling
his hand wasn’t trembling
the hill

There on Sunday afternoons mothers climb
pushing their baby carriages
the workers of the neighborhood in clean shirts
go there to sunbathe and breath some fresh air
at twilight pairs in love saunter
and learn to read the stars
under the trees a child plays harmonica
the pop vendor yells about his lemonade

on the hill they all know
that they are closer to the sky

but no one knows how the hill was built
no one knows how many sleep in the hills’ bowels

Yannis Ritsos (1909–1990) was born in Monemvasia, Greece, to a well-heeled family of land owners. He did his early schooling in the region and finished high school in Gythion. In 1925 he moved to Athens where he started working in typing and copying legal documents.  He published his first poetry book Tractorand  and his second, Pyramids in 1935. A year later,  his famous Epitaphios was published in an edition of ten thousand copies although some of them were publicly burned by the military government. In 1948 he was arrested and sent into exile. In 1954 he married Filitsa Georgiadis, a doctor on the island of Samos and their daughter Ery was born in 1955. From this point on, his work began appearing in Greece regularly and his Moonlight Sonata won him the National Prize for Poetry.

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Odysseus Elitis: Four Poems

FOR THE AEGEAN

I

Eros
the archipelago
and the bow of its froths
and the seagulls of its dreams
on its highest mast the sailor waves
a song

Eros
its song
and the horizons of its journey
and the echo of its nostalgia
on her wettest rock his fiancée awaits
a ship

Eros
its ship
and the nonchalance of its summer winds
and the jib of its hope
on its lightest undulation an island rocks
the homecoming.

SUN THE FIRST

I

I don’t know the horrible anonymity of death
a fleet of stars moors in the inlet of my soul
that you, guarding Hesperus, may shine next to the sky
light breeze of an island dreaming of me
pronouncing the dawn from its high rocks
my two eyes sail you in an embrace with the star
of my true heart: I don’t know the night anymore

I don’t know the name of a world that denies me
clearly I read the ostracons the leaves the stars
hatred is superfluous to me in the roads of the sky
unless it is the dream looking at me again
in tears that I pass through the sea of immortality
oh Hesperus, under the contour of your golden fire
the night which is only night I don’t know anymore.

VARIATIONS ON A SUNBEAM:  RED

The mouth which is daemon word crater
food of the poppy blood of anguish
which is the great cumin of spring
your mouth speaks with four hundred roses
it beats the trees overwhelms the whole earth
pours the first shiver into the body.

Great fragrance of the finger multiplies my passion
my open eye hurts on the thorns
it isn’t as much the fountain that desires the two fowl-breasts
as the buzzing of a wasp on naked hips.

Give me the scar of amaranth the spells
of the girl who spins
the goodbye the I’m coming the I’ll give you
caves of health will drink it to the sun’s health
the world will be either the loss or the double voyage
here in the wind’s sheet there in the infinity’s gaze.

Cane tulip cheek of concern
cool offspring of fire
I’ll throw May on his back I’ll squeeze him in my arms
I’ll beat May I’ll consume him.

AXION ESTI — THE PASSION

B

xxxxxThey gave me the language of the Hellenes;
a humble house on the shores of Homer.
xxxxxMy only concern my language on the shores of Homer.
Two-branded breams there and perches
xxxxxwind blasted verbs
green currents mixed with the azure
xxxxxwhich I saw aflame in my viscera
sponges, jellyfish
xxxxxwith the first words of the Sirens
rosy shells with the first black shivers.
xxxxxMy only concern my language with the first black shivers.
Pomegranates there, quinces
xxxxxgods with dark complexion, uncles and cousins
pouring olive oil in the huge storage jars
xxxxxand fragrance from the ravine sweet smelling
osier and bulrush
xxxxxbroom and ginger root
with the first chirpings of the finches,
xxxxxsweet psalmodies with the very first Glory to You.
My only concern my language, with the very first Glory to You.
xxxxxLaurels there and palm branches
censer and incense burning
xxxxxblessing the sabers and the muzzleloaders.
On the ground spread with vine leaves
xxxxxsmell of burnt meat, eggs cracking
and Christ is Risen
xxxxxwith the first firings of the Hellenes.
Secret loves with the first words of the Hymn.
xxxxxMy only concern my language, with the first words of the Hymn.

C

You never gave me wealth
xxxxxalways devastated by the races of Continents
and always praised by their arrogance!
xxxxxThe North took the grapevine
and the South took the Wheat Ear
xxxxxbuying out the direction of the wind
and profanely cashing in the trees’ wealth
xxxxxtwo or three times.
But I knew nothing
xxxxxother than the thyme in the sun’s pin
and I felt nothing
xxxxxbut the water drop on my unshaven beard
yet I laid my rough cheek on the stone’s rougher
xxxxxcentury after century.
I slept on the concern of my tomorrow
xxxxxlike the soldier by his rifle.
And I searched for the compassion of the night
xxxxxlike an ascetic his God.
Out of my sweat they created a diamond
xxxxxand secretly they replaced
the virgin of my glance.
xxxxxThey weighted my joy and they found it light, they said,
and they stepped on it like an insect.
xxxxxThey stepped on my joy and encased it in stone
and lastly they left me the stone
xxxxxa horrible likeness of me.
They strike it with a heavy axe, they bore it with a sharpened scalpel
they carve my stone with a bitter chisel.
xxxxxAnd as time erodes the matter, the prophesy emerges
clearly out of my face:

xxxxxFEAR THE WRATH OF THE DEAD
xxxxxAND THE STATUES OF THE ROCKS

Odysseus Elitis (1911–1996) was born in Heraclion on the island of Crete. Sometime later his family settled permanently in Athens where the poet finished his secondary school and studied at the Law School of the Athens University. His first appearance as a poet in the magazine Nea Grammata was saluted as an important event and has remained highly influential. In 1979 he won the Nobel Prize in 1979 and died in Athens  at the age of 84.

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Nanos Valaoritis: Four Poems

TROY

Of the ones who’re in the sea, some drown
some return to become castaways
they all wait to face you.
Only Death doesn’t wait.

Remember that along the shore the dead
wait to talk to you as you walk by.
What we might built they knock down.
It seems the defeated have won.

No one knows what will happen this spring.
The river filled my mouth
and the sun held my hand.

Horses returned without the body.
When we returned during the summer
oh God, the towers had changed color

THE RIDDLE

The root of a tree consumes my shape
a stone pricks my finger
and skins my brain
my eyes become prey of the leaves
owls hide behind my eyelids
my steps self-delete, stay still
become mouths among the memorial shrubs
a butterfly sucks all of my being
sparks and smoke come out of my nostrils
like the dragons who were corals in ancient times
like the thistle among the grass blades
wind whirls forget of me and deny me
flowers stick their tongues out to me
terraces walk over me
I hate the springs and I trade their wishes
I’m the favored of the waves like the pebbles
I refuse to retreat opposite the wind
to melt in the furnaces of heated baths
to burn on charcoal like a crab
to make superhuman efforts to talk
to save myself
from the conflagration I alone started
I shine like a diamond but I’m not a star
who am I then if I’m not who I am
a heavenly or earthly body, massive, fluid or airy?

UNWRITTEN WRITING

I heard them talking in a tragic tone in the living rooms of 1880
I heard their sighs in the hotel room number 12
I saw a naked woman running in the third floor of my mind
two human like monsters that growled
to provoke her brazenly — as she walked by them —
their tails hitting the floor rhythmically
when the light rain fell
ash from a volcano, mouth of a woman
I held the hand of a deranged boy before he let his last breath
I crowned the beloved forehead
with a few dry, empty consoling words
(I don’t remember whether it was a boy or a girl
the unjustly killed in a plot of two by one and a half meters)
three centuries have gone before all these happened
before I transcribed in a clean notebook
the lament of the renounced man
the cry of the newborn child
burials of alive men — dead people who reincarnate
silky shapes that fall back
a person who was afraid to fall in love
a piece of marble made of flesh
and the unwritten writing
which I saw written in my dream
with fiery letters that burned the paper

INSIDE EACH OTHER

They all change, become one another
wood turns into stone, trees turn into clouds
women become men leaves become sea
the feathers water-wells the eyes winds
the drawers metals the flowers mind
writing and letters become
illiterate, the beautiful turns ugly
the male becomes neutral the secretive obvious
hope turns blind like wealth
they all become telescopes, then
there isn’t anything to happen or it won’t
each is inside the other
stones and rivers run through his fingers
words turn into tulips
his love becomes a cistern, a table
the chair settles in his right eye
through the window you see only one orchard
cemetery of leaves the marketplace is virgin
and the dew of the dusk nothing but wrong turn of the steering
a needle stretches its thread until it brakes
a leg chews its chain, a kite turns
into a dog and bites whoever goes by
an orphan child becomes the mother of another
a title becomes destitute and gets married
whatever exists is alive, the metals are in the earth
stones in the soil, proof that they wilt
if you uproot them the world turns horrible
lends and borrows, changes color
you don’t call it anymore, it exists as it’s named
monster, turtle, divan, couch, thigh, stove
and blonde hair around a woman’s mound.

THE WHOLE 24 HOURS

Half a century of afternoons spent with my grandmother
clouds, colorful lizards and other monsters
airhead girls like sparrows
with the guilty walk in their overcoats
a deserted bed-sheet on my face
daily encounters like tumbled down churches
limos with somber expressions at the steering wheel
unfamiliar persons waiting at the corners of the streets
unrecognized women who pass by in plural
patisseries filled with questioning glances
medicine, pills for emotions of asphyxia
hours that won’t come back and ghosts of cafes
tired or cheery waking up in the morning
a march toward the narrow door of the heart
nobody at the house where they said a crazy
Swedish girl with the eyes like lampposts lived
struggle for democracy, running competition and agony
a quarter less than half a century and something more almost on me

Nanos Valaoritis was born in 1921 to Greek parents in Lausanne, Switzerlandbut grew up in Greece where he studied classics and law at Athens University. He was published in the pages Nea Grammata alongside contributions from Elytius and Seferis, and was immediately taken into their literary circle. Between 1963 and 1967 he was publisher and chief editor of the Greek avant-garde literary review Pali. But when the junta came to power in 1967, he felt he had no choice but to go into voluntary exile, and in 1968 he went to America where he became professor of comparative literature and creative writing at San Francisco State University,  a position he held for twenty-five years.

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Tasos Livaditis:  Poem

SIMPLE TALK

I would like to speak
in a simple way
as one unbuttons his shirt
and reveals an old wound
like your elbow that feels cold
you look
and discover there’s a hole in your garment
as a comrade sits on a rock and mends
his undershirt.
To speak of whether I may come back one day
carrying a dirty mess-tin full of exile
having in my pockets two tightly held fists

to speak
in a simple way —
but for a moment let me put down my crutches.

Once we dreamed of becoming great poets
we talked of the sun
now our heart pierces us
like a nail in our boot.
When once we said: sky, now we say: courage.
We aren’t poets anymore
only comrades
with big scars and even bigger dreams.
The wind that screams just outside our tent
the barb wire fastened on the belly of the night
a broken oil lamp
the oil drips

Thomas’ face in the gauzes
probably red and swollen from the rifle butt hits
a smell of smoke and dirty feet.
Elias says: the weather will change
Dimitris is silent
and Nikolas
struggles to fill the holes of the tent
with a piece of boiled potato.
Someone coughs. We are cold.
The footsteps of the patrol are heard.
Tonight we decided to write you a letter, mother
that perhaps we may hear the rain
drip on your worn out clogs
that perhaps we may see your smile
hanging from your chin over our thirst.
They feed us rotten potatoes: do not worry
they curse us and they hit us: please love us
perhaps we may never return — but you keep lighting
the lamp, mother, others will return.
Now you probably gather the white cloths of the exile from
the cloths-line
you stitch the patch of your concern on our socks
you know, mother, we’ll never use the gloves
you knitted for us
we gave them to a comrade who was taken away
to be court marshalled
we also gave him a can of food and a piece of
our palm
he tied the edge of his sack with a string
he tossed the sack on his shoulder
and we saw him climbing the hill
with his thin legs scissoring the opposite
sky into pieces.
Every morning they count us
every evening we count the leftover plates
the leftover grief in our eyes
as the rain throws the dice with the policemen
while night falls and the whistles start rumbling.
Now we want to put our hands in our armpits
to look whether a star gleams in the sky
to remember that face
against the opening of the door
but we can’t remember
we have no time to remember
we don’t have time but to stand tall
and die.
My beloved
perhaps I feel cold when it rains
perhaps I caress the crumbs of memory
in my pockets
my palms that once held you are still hot
but I can’t return.
How can I deny the piece of hardened bread that twenty of us
shared
how can I deny my mother who expects from me
a cup of sage tea
how can I deny our child to who we promised a piece
of the sky
how can I deny Nikolas —
who was singing while they aimed to execute him.
If I return we won’t have a lamp to light, we won’t
know where to place our dream.
We’ll sit silently
and when I shall look at you
the holed boot of the comrade I denied
will cover my eyes like a cloud.
Do love me.
And when I return
holding my heart like a big bundle
we’ll sit on the worn out steps.
I don’t like my calloused hands anymore — I’ll say.

You’ll smile and hold them in your palms tightly
a star will chime in the moistened sky
perhaps
I’ll cry.
Today we opened our day
like a sack forgotten by the years.
We searched to find the socks you wore, comrade
your hands
your life that ended.
Grief threw a handful of nails
into our eyes.
Then we washed the cookhouse
we started the fire
and two of us shared a cigarette
under the ragged clouds.
Here our lives are egg shells under
their feet
with death so ever close
and how can you sing
from a patch on the hole of your elbow
with the name of the dead comrade
like a fork piercing your tongue?
It’s enough that we speak
in a simple way
as one is hungry in a simple way
as one loves
as we die
in a simple way.

Tasos Livaditis was born in Athens in1922, where he was enrolled in the Law School of the University of Athens.  During the German occupation he was involved in the Resistance and the political party EPON.  In 1946 he married  Maria Stoupa and they had a daughter, Vassiliki. That same year he made his first literary appearance with the publication of his poem The Hatzidimitri Song in Elefthera Grammata. In 1947 he coordinated the release of the literary magazine Themelio. In 1952 his poetry books Battle at the Edge of the Night and This Star is for all of us attracted attention. In the course of his illustrious career he has received many awards at home and abroad.

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Manolis Anagnostakis: Four Poems

DAY WILL COME

Day will come when we won’t have anything to say
we’ll sit opposite each other looking into each other’s eyes
my silence will say: how beautiful you are
yet I don’t find any words to describe it
we’ll travel somewhere out of boredom
or you’ll say that we also travelled.
People always grope around and at last they find love
however they don’t find anything
sometimes I ponder that life is so short
it isn’t even worthy of trying to start it
I leave Athens and go to Montevideo or
perhaps to Shanghai, this is also something
you can’t doubt

remember that we smoked a lot of cigarettes
and talked all night long back then
I don’t remember what we talked about
yet we did it with so much interest
I wish that one day I could go far away from you
although even there you will come looking for me
oh, God, no one can truly live alone

OLD STREETS

Old streets that I loved and forever hated
where I walked under the shade of houses
inescapable nights of the return and the city: dead

I discovered my insignificant presence in every corner
wishing that at some time I’d meet you: I and the lost ghost
of my passion

forgotten and insubordinate walking and holding a flickering spark
in my wet palms

and I walked in the night and I knew no one
and no one, no one knew me

YOUNG MEN FROM SIDON

We shouldn’t complain, really
your company was pleasant and full of vigor:
freshened girls, wholesome boys
full of love for life and for adventures
and your songs were sweet and meaningful
very sentimental, humane
for the children who died over the other continent
for the heroes killed in past years
for revolutionaries with black, green, reddish skin
for the grief of every suffering man
this involvement especially an honour for you
for today’s problems and struggle
you always appear and you fight, therefore
I believe it’s your right to play
in groups of two or three at a time
and to fall in love
to just relax, brothers, after such tiredness

(George, have you noticed we’ve aged prematurely?)

WHEN SPRING COMES

When spring comes smiling
you’ll wear your new clothes and
you’ll come to grasp my hands
my old friend and
although nobody expects your return
I feel your heartbeats and
a flower springing up from
your mature, embittered memory

one train whistles in the night
or a faraway unexpected ship
will bring you back along with our youth and
our dreams and
perhaps you haven’t forgotten anything, really
while the return is always worthy more
than any of my love and your love
my old friend

Manolis Anagnostakis (1925–2005) was born in Thessaloniki and trained as a doctor. During the chaotic period of 1944 he served  Editor-in-Chief of The Start, a student magazine. His first book of poetry Seasons was published in 1945, at which point, the Marxist dream had already failed him. Anagnostakis’ poetry has been described as terse. It is also distinguioshed by its its bold, conversational tone, sometimes in the form of an epistle, and at others culminating in direct advice to the reader. This style, along with Anagnostakis’ simple, direct description of a hostile world was emulated by other left-wing poets of his generation.

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Kiki Dimoula: Four Poems

SINGLE STROKES OF THE PEN

You may easily describe and explain me
with single strokes of the pen
it isn’t boring
during the winter nights

a firm stroke you may draw up front
thrust it in vertically
these will be my beliefs
another one you may draw from the opposite direction
thrust it deep into the center of the first
appropriately that the first one
will seem exhausted
place some long ones next to the short
the vague ones next to the underlined
to underscore my inclinations
make sure these don’t ever end
unless my explanation is shortened

scatter a few
of my objections
to all directions
add two long strikes in the center
and between them the void of the inevitable

now with the pencil
(or your imagination)
make sure some mist hangs
over all these
since with just one stroke of the pen
you can’t explain my sorrow

SOME NIGHTS

Now that my old visions
have vanished far away into the seas
and their shape can’t reach me
and their memory has left me

I haven’t ever wished
to return to such thoughts

yet during
some endless nights
and almost tirelessly
my old visions
from the far away seas
I recall

EREBUS

Stooped over
the darkest hour of my soul
I shall present thin verses
cordoned off by an unexpected tempest
that fatally wounded
my once timid sunrise

these verses will tell a lot
you’ll see, you’ll read them
only the last one
won’t say much
though upon seeing the verses above it
it will lament

PREPARATION

We wore the starry sky in our eyes
we embroidered the night
with hopeful flares
and we provided ourselves with consistency

we annulled our precaution
with the point of absolute
and we smuggled our silence
with the caique of the ephemeral

we set up the table of the unexpected
with two glasses, we made offerings to the possibility
and lighting the candle of sensitivity
next to our hearts
we read the lyrical telegram, which like all others
was full of truce or even peace,
and was brought by an enraptured and floodlit moment
and was coordinated by our destiny
that ties us together with dignified tutelage

Kiki Dimoula was born in Athens in 1931, the first living female poet  to be included in the prestigious French publisher Gallimard’s poetry series. Born and raised in Athens, she worked for many years at the Bank of Greece before leaving to care for her two children full-time. In her poems, Dimoula explores both syntax and memory, restlessly searching for forms to contain grief, intimacy, and uncertainty. Her poetry has been translated into French, German, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Italian and many other languages and is considered by some to be the best Greek woman poet since Sappho.

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Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke: Four Poems

MORNING OPPOSING THE DAY

The face of dawn has the expression
of a merchant who doesn’t have
the item you wish to buy
and how could it have it, how
could it possess hope, wings
for an upward movement
the ointments of lust
a miraculous body that searches
to discover the other, the shining
side of things before
the effort of verification commences
before dawn begins
with just one wish:
the continuation of your tasteless health
since the leaves that sway
in the breeze don’t touch you
since the fiery tears of the sun
that goes down and dies with the day
leave you unimpressed
since you don’t expect anything
from the new day that arrives

therefore good morning…with suspension points

OUR FRIENDS: THE SNAKES

Perhaps the snakes around us
are good useful beings
since they free our suspicion
of the un-kept promises
and as the snakes coil
they teach us that no reality
is as valuable or true
as our momentary breathing.

What have people promised you?
Sweet life?
This requires good imagination.
What have the saints promised you?
Eternal life?
This requires great endurance

IT STARTS AS A FUNNY SONG

They’re all sunburnt
and I’m wrinkled
they’re all suntanned
and I’m burnt up
what’s the meaning of summer
when you’re old
the meaning of health
when the future is on strike?

The seagulls caw
their calling a reprimand
as if I hear my teacher saying

Go but come tomorrow better prepared

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll look
at bodies moving again
like flares in the darkness
in my darkness

I DRINK AND I SWALLOW

How would my life be now
with all the black events around
and I’m afraid like a little animal
that shivers during the bear-night
I tremble that behind the clouds
everything has been decided
how would my life be
without the heavenly drink I swallow
without this watering
that makes wild of my deficiencies
and lightens the weight of the day
the unbearable weight of the night
without having under the tongue
the snuggling dream
that becomes fluid body
which I taste in each gulp
although I never forget
to count drop by drop
the emptiness that becomes lake inside me?

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was born in Athens, in1939.  Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek, a good family friend, was her god-father. At the age of only 17 she wrote the poem Loneliness which Kazantzakis forwarded to the editor of literary magazine New Epoch.  Since that day her work has been translated into more than ten languages and she has herself translated classic texts from from English and French and Russian.

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Katerina Gogou: Four Poems

TROY AVENUE 35A

My house, just like yours
intrudes into the houses of others
since the roads are so narrow
and there are so many people
sometimes I feel we sleep in the same bed
since we are almost glued together
we use the same brush to brush our teeth
and we eat the same food
only when you go
you leave behind your dirty dishes
it can’t be explained otherwise
that the sink is always full
it doesn’t matter though
I do what I can
to show how much I love you
for this I put on the fake moustache
and I go out to the rain with a fan
that your children will laugh
only I beg of you don’t gossip about us
and leave my Myrto alone
she was born the way she looks.
Sad.

FOR THE ONES THEY’VE BROKEN
FOR THE ONES THEY’VE IMPRISONED

Tattered by the wild waves
leftovers of life forever thrown
into the dark bowels of earth
with their foggy minds
caused by the frenetic haunting
of the motionless course of the stars
the last ones
leaned their tired head
sacrificed
to the ceremonial whirlwind of time
there were no people
the white snow of silence
finally blanketed the sunken cities

TIME WILL COME

Time will come when things will change
remember this, Maria
you remember that game during the school recess
when we run holding the baton
—don’t look at me — don’t cry. You are the hope
listen, time will come
when children will select their parents
they won’t be born at random
there won’t be any closed doors
with stooping people outside
and we shall choose our work
we won’t be horses they look at our teeth
people — think of it — will talk in colors
others in musical notes
just save in a big jar with water
words and concepts such as
unadjusted, oppression, loneliness, price, gain, humiliation
for the history lesson
times are tough — I don’t want to lie — Maria
and more tough days will come
I don’t know — don’t expect too much from me —
this is what I’ve lived, this I’ve learned, this I’ve said
and from all I read I keep just one:
it only matters to remain a human being
despite all this, Maria,
we’ll change life.

SEASONS WILL COVER ME

Love is of a diaphanous white color
and its body’s the shape of benediction
and in the smoke
this horse searches
to take away its dead rider

Whether ancient or modern
I believe
the seasons will cover me
in a way that I won’t feel hungry
nor thirsty
and I won’t write poems anymore

only, Lord, homeland of the stars, I beg you
dress me in the white diaphanous color and
grace me with the body of Your benediction.

Do I ask for too much?

Katerina Gogou, was born in Athens 1st of June 1940 and died 3rd of October 1993. She was a poetess, author and actress. Before her suicide by an overdose of pills at the age of 53 she had appeared in over thirty Greek films. Her book Three Clicks Left was translated into English in by Jack Hirschman and published by Night Horn Books  in San Francisco in 1983. The Greek version was published published in 1978. As an actress Gogou was known for lesser roles of rebellious free spirited women. She won the first women’s award at the Salonica film festival. As a poet she’s known for her antiestablishment poems and her anarchist ideals.

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Sissy Doutsiou: Three Poems

YOU MAY BURY ME ALIVE

You may bury me alive
in the earth
it wouldn’t bother me.
You may put me
in a narrow casket
it wouldn’t bother me at all
that I couldn’t move my fingers
I would die —
you may bury me alive
deep in the earth
that I couldn’t hear the sobs and sorrow of my friends
I wouldn’t be upset
without pity
without my empty heart
and my sister’s whispers
with no help
alone, it wouldn’t bother me
the whispers of my friends
with no help
alone
my death.
You may bury me alive
it wouldn’t bother me
that I would smell the moist soil
in the earth
it’s always moist, it never gets dry in the earth
the soil is always emotional
I could dig deep in the soil
under this life
under this life
a layer of dead people exists
under our feet

our dead sleep
under the foundations of this world
sick bodies rest
tiring thoughts
bleeding heroes
sacrifices
fetuses
wise old men
under this life
they caress the soil
skeletons of memory
love letters
old pictures
you may bury me alive
it wouldn’t bother me at all
that I couldn’t breath
in the darkness
no problem
under our world
the endless white sea of the cursed people flows
the last efforts for survival spasm
I encourage you to bury me alive
I don’t like much sensationalism
I admit my wish
for a triumphant elation
to exist with truthfulness
beyond the hot asphalt
alive
for a while
so long as I last
so long as I last.

BLASPHEMY

I hope when I get very tired I won’t have to carry alone
my valuable body to hell
I the protector of a pandemic Eros
when Aphrodite is bored in Heaven
and caresses the hot squirted sperm

I could imagine myself
like a domesticated animal
that they take care of me
they love me
they feed me
they pet me

I wish to be of the opposite gender
a male
with liberated morale
with an admirable decency
a melancholy character
with unparalleled tenderness

that I wouldn’t need to struggle
for anything

blasphemy —

the center of pleasure
allows ecstasy flow
unimpeded. Certainty
of pain was the only desire
the only proof that I’ve existed

the seductive hermaphrodite
gifted with shining skin
since its twelve year
forgets every law and authority
joined into one being forever.
Samalkis who kissed him with zest
hugging him tight. Cursed let it be
the Sea of Karia, southwest of Asia Minor

a very dirty female sucks up lust
from her wounded pride.
One multiplies his joys
when one shows respect
to perversions

blasphemy

MY LOVE

My love
the body ages
the voice becomes hoarse
but the essence remains the same
being horny remains the same
I want our love to last forever
I don’t want you to die
I want to keep you in my arms forever
I know this is impossible
I know one day you’ll disappear among the clouds
far away from me
far away from everyone
I love you
I love your eyes
your beautiful glance
I don’t want to miss you in the endless infinity
I’m your true lover
your most willing lover for ever
death is an ever beautiful monster
that leaves memories behind it
images and sounds
days dedicated to the people we love

I love you

Sissy Doutsiou was born in Athens. She studied astrophysics at the University of Sussex and theatre at the drama school of Delos. She’s an actress, poet and a founding member of the Institute of Experimental Arts. She participates in collective Void Network and, in collaboration with the Experimental Institute of Arts she has supervised and taught theatre seminars. Her poetry books include: Insult of Public Modesty and Oh ! Occult.

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Manolis Aligizakis: Two Poems

BURDEN

He put his bag on the floor,
laid next to me
he raised one leg and
leaned it against the wall
as if to leave on it
a fleshy mark
a faint human trace
the other leg was resting
on the cool cement

suddenly as though he remembered
something very important

he got up
walked to the table
leaned down and smelt
the last bloomed rose
then he let a sigh float
in the darkened room
as if to release
burden of his last breath
and without any word
on the cool cement he collapsed

FIRES

Ancient fires still burning
inside the temples

outside the porticos
center of the agora

where an eloquent poet once
orated verses before

the paranoid oligarchy
expelled him from the city

images that come to us
and nothing has really

changed over the eons
except the invention

of bullets to speed
the process of apathy

 

Manolis (Emmanuel Aligizakis) 1947 is a Greek-Canadian poet, author and translator. He’s the most prolific writer-poet of the Greek diaspora. At the age of eleven he transcribed the nearly 500 year old romantic poem Erotokritos, now released in a limited edition of 100 numbered copies and made available for collectors of such rare books at 5,000 dollars Canadian: the most expensive book of its kind to this day. He’s recognized for his ability to convey images and thoughts in a rich and evocative way that tugs at something deep within the reader. He has written three novels and numerous collections of poetry, which are steadily being released as published works. His articles, poems and short stories in both Greek and English have appeared in various magazines and newspapers in Canada, United States, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Australia, Brazil, and Greece. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, Romanian, Swedish, Turkish, German, Hungarian, Serbian, Russian, Arabic, Punjabi, Urdu, Portuguese languages and has been published in book form or in magazines in various countries.

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