23 June 2013

Voices out of stone out of sleep

by George Seferis


Santorini is geologically composed of pumice stone and china clay; in her bay, islands have appeared and disappeared. this island was once the center of a very ancient religion. the lyrical dances, with a strict and heavy rhythm, performed here were called: Gymnopaidia.



Stoop if you can to the dark sea forgetting
the sound of a flute on naked feet
that trod on your sleep in the other, the sunken life.

Write if you can on your last shell
the day the name the place
and fling it into the sea so it sinks.

We found ourselves naked on the pumice stones
watching the rising islands
watching the red islands sink
into their sleep, into our sleep.
Here we found ourselves naked holding
the scales that tipped toward

Instep of power unshadowed will considered love
projects that ripen in the midday sun,
course of fate with the slap of a young hand
on the shoulder;
in the land that was scattered, that can't resist,
in the land that was once our land
the islands -- rust and ash -- are sinking.
Altars destroyed
and friends forgotten
leaves of the palm tree in mud.

Let your hands go traveling if you can
here on time's curve with the ship that touched the horizon.
When the dice struck the flagstone
when the lance struck the breast-plate
when the eye recognized the stranger
and love dried
in punctured souls;
when looking around you see
feet harvested everywhere
dead hands everywhere
darkened eyes everywhere;
when it is no longer left for you to choose
the death you wanted as your own
hearing a cry
even the wolf's cry,
your due;
let your hands go traveling if you can
free yourself from unfaithful time
and sink,
sinks whoever raises the great stones.


Give me your hands, give me your hands, give me your hands

I have seen in the night
the sharp peak of the mountain
seen the plain beyond flooded
with the light of an invisible moon,
seen, turning my head,
black stones huddled
and my life taut as a chord
beginning and end
the final moment:
my hands.

Sinks whoever raises the great stones;
I've raised these stones as long as I was able
I've loved these stones as long as I was able
these stones, my fate.
Wounded by my own soil
tortured by my own shirt
condemned by my own gods,
these stones.

I know that they don't know, but I
who've followed so many times
the path from killer to victim
from victim to punishment
from punishment to the next murder,
the inexhaustible purple
that night of the return
when the Furies began whistling
in the meager grass --
I've seen snakes crossed with vipers
knotted over the evil generation
our fate.

Voices out of stone out of sleep
deeper here where the world darkens
memory of toil rooted in the rhythm
beaten on the earth with feet
Bodies sunk into the foundations
of another time, naked. Eyes
fixed fixed on a point
that you can't make out much as you want to:
the soul
that struggles to become your own soul.

Not even the silence is now yours
here where the millstones have stopped turning.

                                                                              October 1935

From George Seferis, Collected Poems, 1924-1955.  (1967) Trans. Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard.  
DW amendments.

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