29 December 2013



                                       by George Seferis


Still another well inside a cave.
It used to be easy for us to draw up idols and ornaments
to please those friends who still remained loyal to us.

The ropes have broken; only the grooves on the well's lip
remind us of our past happiness:
the fingers on the rum, as the poet pt it.
The fingers feel the coolness of the stone a little,
then the body's fever prevails over it
and the cave stakes its soul and loses it
every moment, full of silence, without a drop of water.


And if the soul
is to know itself
it must look
into a soul:
the stranger and enemy, we've seen him in the mirror.

The companions were good men, they never complained
about the work or the thirst or the frost,
they had the bearing of trees and waves
that accept the wind and the rain
accept the night and the sun
without changing in the midst of change.
They were good men, whole days
they sweated at the oars with lowered eyes
breathing in rhythm
and their blood reddened a submissive skin.
Sometimes they sang with lowered eyes
as we were passing the dry island with the Barbary figs
to the west, beyond the cape
of the barking dogs.
If it is to know itself, they said
it must look into a soul, they said
and the oars struck the sea's gold
in the sunset.
We passed many capes many islands the sea
leading to another sea, gulls and seals.
Sometimes unfortunate women wept
lamenting their lost children
and others raging sought Alexander the Great
and glories buried in the depths of Asia.
We moored on shores full of night-scents
with the singing of birds, waters that left on the hands
the memory of great happiness.
But the voyages did not end.
Their souls became one with the oars and the oarlocks
with the solemn face of the prow
with the rudder's wake
with the water that shattered their image.
The companions died in turn,
with lowered eyes. Their oars
mark the place where they sleep on the shore.

No one remembers them. Justice.

                                                                                               Bottle in the Sea
Three rocks, a few burnt pines, a solitary chapel
and farther above
the same landscape repeated starts again:
three rocks in the shape of a gate-way, rusted,
a few burnt pines, black and yellow,
and a square hut buried in whitewash;
and still farther above, many times over,
the same landscape recurs level after level
to the horizon, to the twilight sky.

Here we moored the ship to splice the broken oars,
to drink water and to sleep.
The sea that embittered us is deep and unexplored
and unfolds a boundless calm.
Here among the pebbles we found a coin
and threw dice for it.
The youngest won it and disappeared.

We set out again with our broken oars.

Now that you are leaving, take the boy with you also,
the boy who saw the light under that plane-tree,
one day when trumpets resounded and weapons shone
and the sweating horses, nostrils wet,
bent to the trough to touch
the green surface of the water.

The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers
the rocks with the wisdom of our fathers
and our brother's blood alive on the earth
were a vital joy, a rich pattern
for the souls who knew how to pray.

Now that you are leaving, now that the day of payment
dawns, now that no one knows
whom he will kill and how he will die,
take with you the boy who saw the light
under the leaves of that plane-tree

and teach him to study the trees.  

From George Seferis, Collected Poems: 1924-1955. Trans. Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard.

22 December 2013

After the final mountains we roll down to the sea

                             by Kelvin Corcoran

After the final mountains we roll down to the sea
south from Kalamata around Taygetos on the Aeriopoli road,
and this is meant to be the literal poem of that journey,
one of a series joining seven songs in transit
as if your whole life comes in on the glimmering tide.

The road turns in a certain way and you see everything,
along this coast where gods and babies are washed ashore
out of the sky into the doorways of abandoned villages;
you can pull up and buy oranges, potatoes, honey
from the last ones alive in unpopulated places.

In the meadows and olive groves myth takes root
paths in the hill lead there if you can crawl and scramble;
the snake renews itself and polyphonous birds call,
strophe by strophe in the month of fair sailing
the world takes off to a single tone breaking underground.

The road turns in a certain way -- miss it and you die;
ceremonies lift the earth people, gibbering at the edge
and the voice from the well asks -- what do you want?
The route is lined with bright and useless answers,
as if anything could keep us from the dreat descent.

Where the land ends Helen's brothers look out for us,
striding over the contours of the sea, they say;
as candid waves explode on harbour walls
a girl from Cythera rises, from the epicenter,

to leave us drenched and shining in shock. 

From Kelvin Corcoran, For the Greek Spring, 2013.

15 December 2013

The death of the hound, from The Sword in the Stone

from The Sword in the Stone

by T. H. White

In a small bushment the grimly boar stood at bay. . . . Beaumont, with his back broken, writhed at his feet. He paid no further attention to the living hound, for it could do him no harm. He was black, flaming and bloody.

"So-ho," said the huntsman softly.

He advanced upon the murderer with his spear held out in front of him, and the hounds, encouraged by their master, stepped forward with him pace by pace.

The scene changed as suddenly as a house of cards falling down. The boar was not at bay any more, but charging Master Twyti. As it charged the alaunts closed in, seizing it fiercely by shoulder or throat or leg, so that what surged down on the huntsman was not one boar but a bundle of animals. He dared not use his spear for fear of hurting the dogs. The bundle rolled forward remorselessly, as if the hounds did not impede it at all. Twyti began to reverse his spear, to keep the charge off with its butt end, but even as he reversed it the tussle was upon him. He sprang back, tripped over a root, and the battle closed on top. The Wart pranced round the edge, waving his own spear in an agony, but there was nowhere where he dared to thrust it in. Robin dropped his spear, drew his falchion in the same movement, stepped into the huddle of snarls, and calmly picked an alaunt up by the leg. The dog did not let go, but there was space where its body had been. Into this space the falchion went slowly, once, twice, thrice. The whole superstructure stumbled, recovered itself, stumbled again, and sank down ponderously on its left side. The hunt was over.

Master William Twyti drew one leg slowly from under the boar, stood up, took hold of his knee with his right hand, moved it inquiringly in various directions, nodded to himself and stretched his back straight. Then he picked up his spear without saying anything and limped over towards Beaumont. He knelt down beside him and took his head on his lap. He stroked Beaumont's head and said, "Hark to Beaumont. Softly Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez à Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont. Swef, swef." Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail. The huntsman nodded to Robin who was standing behind, and held the hound’s eyes with his own. He said, "Good dog, Beaumont the valiant, sleep now old friend Beaumont, good old dog." Then Robin’s falchion let Beaumont out of this world, to run free with Orion and to roll among the stars.

The Wart did not like to watch Master Twyti for a moment or two. The strange little leathery man stood up without saying anything and whipped the hounds off the corpse of the boar as he was accustomed to do. He put his horn to his lips and blew the four long notes of the mort without a quaver. But he was blowing the notes for something else, and he startled the Wart because he seemed to be crying.

08 December 2013

Fragments from Sappho: three versions

A New Sappho Poem

[You for] the fragrant-bosomed [Muses'] lovely gifts
[be zealous] girls, [and the] clear melodious lyre:
[but my once tender] body old age now
[has seized;] my hair's turned [white] instead of dark;
my heart's grown heavy, my knees will not support me,
that once on a time were fleet for the dance as fawns.
This state I oft bemoan; but what's to do?
Not to grow old, being human, there's no way.
Tithonus once, the tale was, rose-armed Dawn,
love-smitten, carried off to the world's end,
handsome and young then, yet in time grey age
o'er took him, husband of immortal wife.

Trans. Martin West (2005)   

Sappho to Her Pupils

Live for the gifts the fragrant-breasted Muses
send, for the clear, the singing, lyre, my children.
Old age freezes my body, once so lithe,
rinses the darkness from my hair, now white.
My heart's heavy, my knees no longer keep me
up through the dance they used to prance like fawns in.
Oh, I grumble about it, but for what?
Nothing can stop a person's growing old.
They say that Tithonus was swept away
in Dawn's passionate rose-flushed arms to live
forever, but he lost his looks, his youth,
failing husband of an immortal bride.

Trans. Lachlan Mackinnon (2005)

Sappho and the Weight of Years

Girls, be good to these spirits of music and poetry
that breast your threshold with their scented gifts.
Lift the lyre, clear and sweet, they leave with you.
As for me, this body is now so arthritic
I cannot play, hardly even hold the instrument.
Can you believe my white hair was once black?
And oh, the soul grows heavy with the body.
Complaining knee-joints creak at every move.
To think I danced as delicate as a deer!
Some gloomy poems came from these thoughts:
useless: we are all born to lose life,
And what is worse, girls, to lose youth.
The legend of the goddess of the dawn
I'm sure you know: how rosy Eos
madly in love with gorgeous young Tithonus
swept him like booty to her hiding place
but then forgot he would grow old and grey
while she in despair pursued her immortal way.

Trans. Edwin Morgan (2005) 

01 December 2013

The Knight and Death

                                              THE KNIGHT AND DEATH (1513)
                                                   by Nikos Gatsos

Just so, I see you motionless
travelling down the ages with the horse of Akritas
and the sword of Ai-Georgi
I would place beside you
with the dark shapes that stand eternally beside you
until the place where you are extinguished eternally with them
until you become a fire in the great Chance where you were born
I would place beside you
an orange from the snow-covered fields of the moon
I would unfold for you the veil of an evening
with red Antares singing the young men
with the River of Sky overflowing into August
to weep with the North Star and freeze
I would place beside you meadows
waters that never watered the lilies of Germany
and I would ornament this iron you wear
with a sprig of basil and a handful of mint
with the arms of Plapoutas and the sword of Nikitaras
And then I who saw your descendants like birds
split open on a spring day the sky of my country
saw the cypress trees of the Morea stop breathing
there on the fields of Nauplion
before the waiting embrace of the wounded sea
where the eons wrestled with the crosses of gallantry
I would place beside you
the bitter eyes of a youth
and the closed eyelids
in the mud and blood of Holland.

This dark land
will someday become green again
The iron hand of Götz will overturn the caissons
and mound them with sheaves of barley and rye

And in the dark oaks with the dead loves
there where time turned a virgin leaf to stone
on the breasts where a tear-stained rose trembled
a star will shine silent as a spring daisy

But you will remain motionless
with the horse of Akritas and the lance of Ai-Georgi you will travel
through the years
a restless hunter from the race of heroes
with those dark shapes that stand eternally beside you
until a day when you will vanish eternally with them
until you become again a fire in the great Chance where you were born
until in the caves of the river
the heavy hammers of patience resound again
not for ornaments and swords
but for pruning hooks and plows.

Trans, DW.