SELECTED POEMS by Odysseus Elytis


Email this review


With George Seferis, Elytis (b. 1'911) was among the first Greek poets to take ideas from France (surrealism, the irrational) and bond the imports to the mythic and luminous native poetic traditions already in place. An active anthropomorphosis moves through Elytis' early work, as in the 1940s poem ""Ode to Santorini"": ""Close to the wave's thud, to the foam's lament,/Among the eucharists of sleep/When night wandered through the wilderness of stars/searching for testimony of dawn/You experienced the joy of birth."" Elytis' next period is best represented here by 1945's patriotically image-soaked ""Heroic and Elegaic Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign""--which is based on the Partisan effort in which Elytis himself fought: ""Now with a still wind in his quiet hair/A twig of forgetfulness at his left ear/ He lies on the scorched cape/ Like a garden the birds have suddenly deserted/Like a song gagged in the darkness/Like an angel's watch that has stopped."" Then follows the major work of Elytis' late-middle years: ""The Axion Esti,' an extraordinary long poem cast in the form of an Orthodox mass--but also containing a Hesiodian cosmogeny, a prose account of Greek resistance to the Nazis, a spectacular Gloria section. And, finally, Elytis' recent work is reflected in excerpts from the very impressive Maria Nephele (see above). The translations--by many different hands--vary in quality; some of the selections seem overly cropped. But there's enough here for a good taste of this intense and prolific European transcendentalist in all his phases.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking