Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Vasilis Michailides: Cyprus’ national poet

Yesterday, the 18th of December, marked the 90th anniversary of the death of Cyprus’ national poet, Vasilis Michailides.

The biography of Michailides as described on Phantis is as follows: ‘Vasilis Michailides was a poet born in [currently Turkish-occupied] Lefkonoiko, Ammochostos province, Cyprus in 1849.

‘Michailides initially studied art and painting, first in Larnaca and later in Naples, Italy. In 1877, he left for mainland Greece and fought in the uprising in Thessaly. He returned to Cyprus in 1878 as British rule began and settled in Limassol. He then began writing poetry for various newspapers.

‘Michailides wrote several poems in Cypriot dialect, among them The Woman from Chios [concerning the Turkish massacres in Chios], The Nereid and The Greek Man's Dream.

‘Arguably his most famous work is The 9th of July, 1821, a poem based on the execution of Archbishop Kyprianos, the rest of the Cypriot Orthodox Church leadership [and 470 other Greek Cypriot notables] by the Ottoman rulers of the time [to prevent the Greek war of independence spreading to Cyprus].

‘Michailides fell into poor health and poverty later in life, much of which was due to alcoholism. He finally died on 18th of December, 1917.’

Here is an excerpt from The 9th of July, 1821, from the scene where Archbishop Kyprianos has been brought before the Ottoman pasha, Kucuk Mehmet, who has vowed not only to rid Cyprus of Greeks, but also ‘to go round the whole world [and] kill all Greeks’. Kyprianos answers:

‘The race of the Greeks was born when the world was born;
No one has ever been able to root it up.
God shelters it from the heights: it cannot die.
Not till the whole world ends will the Greek race vanish!

‘You may kill us till our blood becomes a torrent,
You may make the world a slaughterhouse for Greeks,
But when an ancient poplar is cut down
Three hundred offshoots sprout and grow around it.
The ploughshare thinks it eats the earth it cuts,
But is itself destroyed and eaten up.’

‘Η ρωμιοσύνη εφ φυλή συνότζιαιρη του κόσμου
Κανένας εν ευρέθηκεν για να την ιξηλείψη
Κανένας, γιατί σιέπει την ‘που τα’άψη ο Θεός μου.
Σφάξε μας ούλους τζ’ ας γενεί το γαίμαμ μας αυλάτζιν,
Κάμε τον κόσμον ματζιελειόν τζαι τους ρωμιούς τραούλια,
Αμμά ‘ξερε πως ύλαντρον όντας κοπή καβάτζιν,
Τριγύρω του πετάσσουνται τρακόσια παραπούλια.
Το ’νιν ανταν να τρω τηγ γην τρώει τηγ γηθ θαρκέται,
Μα πάντα τζιείνον τρώεται τζαι τζιείνον καταλιέται.’

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