Monday, 6 April 2009

Seferis on Hellenism’s unfinished task; and more from The Free Besieged

'Greece lives, to the extent that she is able to give birth to great poets… I believe that if she has not managed to provide suitable soil for the tree that [once] burgeoned upon her land… in years to come she will be able not only to give birth, but also to suckle and to nurture the Poet, the Messiah, who will seize [back] from the hands of the barbarians the beauty, the gold-flaming torch, they have stolen from us.' (Giorgios Seferis)

Giorgios Seferis, along with Ion Dragoumis, is the greatest theorist of Hellenism in the 20th century and above is the conclusion of a lecture Seferis gave in Paris in March 1921, when he was just 21, on the Franco-Greek poet Jean Moreas (Ioannis Papadiamantopoulos). There's a lot to consider here; but just a couple of points: Seferis' optimism is surely based on the new Greek civilisation he hoped would emerge following the liberation of Asia Minor, an enterprise that failed and left Greece at the mercy of all sorts of barbarians, where, nearly 100 years later, it still remains. ‘Seizing back from the hands of the barbarians the beauty, the gold-flaming torch, they have stolen from us’ is Hellenism’s unfinished task.

■ Also, in my post for 25 March on Yiannis Markopoulos' musical interpretation of Dionysios Solomos' The Free Besieged; I omitted to make available the most beautiful and moving song on the album: Στα μάτια και στο πρόσωπο/In their eyes and on their face, sung by Nikos Xylouris. I've now put the song in Radio Akritas, and below are the lyrics.

Στα μάτια και στο πρόσωπο
Στα μάτια και στο πρόσωπο φαίνοντ' οι στοχασμοί τους.
Τους λέει μεγάλα και πολλά η τρίσβαθη ψυχή τους,
Αγάπη κι έρωτας καλού τα σπλάχνα τους τινάζουν.
Τα σπλάχνα τους κι η θάλασσα ποτέ δεν ησυχάζουν.
Γλυκιά κι ελεύθερ' η ψυχή σα να 'τανε βγαλμένη
κι υψώναν με χαμόγελο την όψη τη φθαρμένη.

In their eyes and on their face
In their eyes and on their face their thoughts are showing;
A host of major things they learn from the depths of their souls.
Their guts are violently stirred by love and desire for good;
Their guts and the sea alone are never still;
Sweet and free the soul as if it had broken loose,
And they raised with a smile their exhausted visage.


Hermes said...

Undoubtedly, the Asia Minor Catastrophe was a major turning point in our history. It is also likely that most of the millions of Greeks that migrated across the world may have remained considering the large fertile plains in the Asia Minor hinterland which we could have exploited and the additional geopolitical benefits of controlling, or at least having an influence, over the Dardanelles.

However, things did not turn out that way and here we are today. Seferis would be disapointed as I am regarding Greek poets of the last 30 years and he would no doubt attribute some of this to the overall climate of the nation. Perhaps he would also say the overall climate is also due to the poor quality of poets. What is meant by "poor"? Greek poets today have no sense of the historical destiny of Hellenism. They are technically proficient, novel, European, provocative and even shocking. But they do not aspire to what seems to us to be the astronomically high ideals of the poets of yesteryear. They are simply not engaging.

"Seizing back the torch" is a long way away judging by political developments. The below article provides an interpretation of Obama-Turkish strategy and what it means for Greece:

Below is the original article on which the previous one is based:

As the author of the Greek article states, it is disapointing how irrelevant we are in the eyes of the authors of these articles. But we ourselves have made ourselves irrelevant.

john akritas said...

It's a mystery why after a remarkable proliferation of creative geniuses, Greek culture has entered a relatively fallow period. It would be easy to say it's because Greek writers and so on have forgotten their roots and become subservient to European and American forms – like those 19th century Greek artists who, Katsimbalis says, came back from abroad and painted Greek landscapes in the colours of Dutch canals – but all the Greek poets I've ever met love Seferis, Elytis, Cavafy and so on. We need a new Megali Idea for sure. Even a Metria Idea would be something.

As for the CSIS report; these US think tanks have been emphasising the need to upgrade the US-Turkey alliance for years and years, so that what the Obama administration is doing and saying at the moment shouldn't come as a surprise – although the Greek government does appear to be shocked by what's happening. My own view is that Turkey has not resolved the Islamist-Kemalist confrontation, can't/won't make the reforms necessary to even be considered for EU membership and the US has chosen an unstable and untrustworthy ally. As for Cyprus, it's very likely that the US government will agree with the recommendation the report makes that the US exert pressure on our side to accept an Annan VI plan by threatening de facto recognition of the occupation regime.