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.

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