MARIA NEPHELE: A Poem in Two Voices by Odysseus Elytis

MARIA NEPHELE: A Poem in Two Voices

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First published in Greece in 1979 (therefore a late Elytis work), this long sequence by the Nobel-winner is cloven in two: poems in the voice of a young, restless, sexual young woman, Maria Nephele, living a life ""at the antipodes of Ethics""; and those in the voice of the ""Antiphonist""--Elytis, the aged poet--whose viewpoint is more patient, saddened, aerial. Although Athan Anagnostopoulos' translation is sometimes clumsy (""What convinces I maintain is like a chemical substance that alters""), a number of these statement-and-response poems are triumphantly powerful. In ""Through the Mirror,"" Maria's idea of paradise is the sea: ""Somewhere between Tuesday and Wednesday/your true day must have been overlooked./ Supra-essential you go on while over your head/spread the depth with their colorful pebbles like stars."" And the Antiphonist answers: ""Justice/formulated in the language of birds/is reproduced continually overflowing the city walls/sparkling from one conscience to another."" The Antiphonist's ""The Holy Inquisition"" (""The 'void' exists/as long as you do not fall into it"") is likewise countered by Maria Nephele's response: ""Try/to guide Technical perfection/to its natural state."" And Maria's despair (""Good morning grief/ you've settled permanently within us/you're worse than the viruses and bacilli"") becomes surprisingly passive compared to that of the poet, in ""Morning Gymnastics"": ""Turn the head to the left:/all is shit./Turn the head to the right:/ all is shit."" Some of these duets make for very fine innovative poetry; and while the central idea may not be wholly original (Moravia and Spanish novelist Juan MarsÉ have recently mined the same old man/young girl theme) it produces a very special, very strong book--perhaps Elytis' best.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin