Greece Yesterday and Today
Modern Greek Literature
Nick Kontaridis
Modern Greek Literature –
Epic Poem
Lyric Poetry
The Sonette
The Elegy
The Language Question
The demotic
The Katharevousa
Modern Greek Literature
The Short Story
The Romantic School
The School of the Ionian
The New School of Athens
Rhigas Pherraios, Dionysios
Solomos, Kostis Palamas,
Myrtiotissa, Melissanthi,
Zoe Kareli, Angelos
Sikelianos, C. Kavafis, N.
Kazantzakis, George
Seferis, Odysseus Elitis,
Yannis Ritsos.
Rhigas Pherraios
The War Hymn
“How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children
Turned from the world to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents
Our friends, our children and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
Than forty years of slavery!”
Dionysios Solomos
Hymn to Liberty
“I can see thee by the lightning
of the sword-blade flashing high;
I can see thee by the brightening
Of the swiftly glancing eye.
From the hallowed bones arising
Of Hellenic heroes free,
Now as ever valor prizing,
Hail, all hail sweet liberty!
Dionysios Solomos
Epigram to Psara
On Psara’s blackened, charred stone
Glory silently walks all alone
mediating her sons’ noble deeds,
and wears a wreath on her hair
made of such few scattered weeds
on the desolate earth left to spare.
Dionysios Solomos
The Little Blonde Girl (Xanthoula)
At eventide I saw her,
The little girl golden-tressed,
When she took a boat
To go far to the West.
Its snow-white sail,
Swollen by the winds,
Was like a dove frail
With outspread wings.
The friends were standing by,
In joy, or in grief,
And she waved good-bye
With her white kerchief.
I stopped to see her greeting,
Her warm farewell,
Till in the distance fleeting
She was hidden by the swell.
After a little while
I could not really tell,
Whether it was a sail
Or the sea’s foamy swell.
After kerchief and canvas
On the sea were lost,
Her friends shed a few tears
And I shed the most.
I don’t lament the boat,
The sail I don’t lament,
But I lament Xanthula
That far from us she went.
I don’tlament the boat,
The sail I don’t lament,
But I lament Xanthula
With hair golden-pale.
Dionysios Solomos
To Mr. George De Rossi
When you come back to your father’s,
You’ll see only his tombstone,
Before which I write you, alone,
On this first day of May.
Our May flowers we will scatter
On his kind, innocent breast,
For tonight he went to rest
In Christ’s warm embrace.
He was clam, still, and quiet
Till the last hour, and peaceful,
Just as now he looks gleeful,
His soul having flown from him.
Yet, a moment before flying
Toward heaven’s realms up high,
He waved gently with a sigh
As if for a final blessing.
Dionysios Solomos
The Dream
My soul, goddess of beauty,
Listen to what I’ve dreamed:
With you I was one night,
All to me so slendid seemed.
We two walked together
In a garden of small size,
All the stars shone brightly
And on them you kept your
I was asking them, “Stars say
If there among you lies
One that shines from above
Like my lovely lady’s eyes?
Say whether you ever saw
On others such pretty hair?
Such an arm, such a limb,
An angelic vision fair?
Such a figure full of beauty
At once a question brings:
“If this creature is an angel,
Why is she lacking wings?”
I had spoken this way
When before my very sight,
Other girls appeared clad
In the moon’s silvery light.
Holding hands they danced together,
All of them pretty and smart,
Each one trying with fervor
To win my poor heart.
Then I heard your lips say,
As you were addressing me:
“Do you like them? Tell me pray!”
And I said, “How ugly to see!”
Dionysios Solomos
The Dream (con.)
Then a truly angelic smile
Shone on your fair face,
That methought I espied
The sky open in embrace.
And then I took you aside
By a rosebush in bloom,
Slowly I let my head hide
Into your snow-white arms.
Every kiss you gave me,
Dear soul, with sweetness,
Made a new rose appear
On the bush, with swiftness.
They were aborning all night,
Till the early light of dawn
Which found us looking pale
With faces tired and drawn.
My soul, this was my vision.
It is now up to you
To remembr me and make
This sweet dream come true.
Kostis Palamas
Here the sky is everywhere, on all sides shines the sun, and something like
honey of Hymettus is all around; out of the marble grow lilies unwithering;
divine Mount Pentelicon flashes, begetter of an Olympus.
The digging axe stumbles on beauty; in her boson Clybele holds gods, not
mortals; when the shafts of twilight strike her, Athens gushes violet blood.
Here are the temples and the groves of the sacred olive, and in the slowly
shifting crowd, like a caterpillar on a white flower,
a host of deathless relics live and reign with myriad souls; the spirit flashes
even in the earth; I feel it wrestling with the darkness in me.
Kostis Palamas
The Grave
On the grave on which the Black Horseman takes you, be careful not to
accept anything from his hand;
And, if you feel thirsty, do not drink the water of oblivion in the world
below, my poor plucked spearmint!
Do not drink, lest you forgot us fully, forever; leave marks so as not to
lose the way,
And being light and small like a swallow, with no warrior’s weapons
clashing round your waist,
See how you can trick the Sultan of the Night; slip away gently, secretly,
and fly to us up to here;
Come back to this empty house, O our precious boy; turn into a breath of
wind, and give us a sweet kiss.
Kostis Palamas
Olympic Hymn
Ancient immortal spirit, pure father of beauty, of greatness and
of truth, descend, be revealed as lightning here within the glory
of your own earth and sky at running and wrestling and at
throwing illuminate in the noble Agons' momentum and crown
with the unfading branch and make the body worthy and ironlike.
Planes, sees and mountains shine with you like a white-and-purple
great temple, and hurries at the temple here, your pilgrim every nation,
o ancient, immortal Spirit.
Myrtiotissa (1883-1967)
I love you. I can say nothing deeper, more simple or greater.
Here, before your feet, I scatter, full of longing, the rich-petalled
blossom of my life.
O, my swarm of bees! Suck from it sweet, the pure perfume of my
See, I offer you my two hands, clasped for you to lean your head
softly upon.
And my hart is dancing, is all envy, and begs to be, like them, a pillow
for your head.
And for a bed, my love, take the whole of me, extinguish upon me the
flame of your fire.
While I, close to you, hear life flowing away to the beat of your heart
I love you. What more, my precious love, can I tell you that is deeper,
more simple, or greater?
Melissanthi (1910-
Melissanthi, pseudonym of Hebe Skandhalakis, was born
in in 1910. She received her diplomas from various
institutes in Athens for the study of English, French, and
German, and has since translated much from these
languages, in particular from Robert Frost and Emily
Dickinson. Author of nine books of poetry and a play for
children, she received the award of the Athens Academy
of Arts and Sciences in 1936 for Return to the Prodigal,
and the Palamas Award in 1946 for Lyrical Confession.
An essentially lyrical poet, she suffered a religious crisis
and turned to an expression of metaphysical agony which
nonetheless emphasizes her belief in man and his ability
to realize his basic goodness and love.
Melissanthi (1910-
Every time I sinned a door half opened, and the angels
who in my virtue had never found me beautiful,
tipped over the full amphora of their flower souls;
every time I sinned, it was as though a door had opened,
and tears of sweet compassion dripped among the grasses.
But if the sword of my remorse chased me from heaven,
every time I sinned a door half opened, and though men
thought me most ugly, the angels thought me beautiful.
Melissanthi (1910-
Ancient Shipwrecked Cities
Ancient shipwrecked cities
tell us of the omnipotence of Silence,
of her sudden overwhelming floods within
their walls;
the snows of time are heaped on her breast;
in a slow movement voyaging,
the icebergs of millenniums proceed…
All set out from the primordial space of
and return to her once more;
All the weighed on her bronze shield,
our words, our footsteps,
and our most deeply hidden thoughts.
Nothing can be lost,
not a secret tear, not a leaf of a tree,
not a single raindrop on the grass.
Her holy Night fills up with sacrilegious ears
and eyes.
The slaughter of the innocence steams in the
- where the mirror of the moon has been
misted overransom for the profane guilt
of knowing and existing.
Poets-Zoe Kareli
Zoe Kareli the sister of Nikos Pendzikis, was born on July 22 (August 4), 1901 in
Thessaloniki, and received the education of a girl of good family according to her class
and period by being tutored in English, German, French and Italian, in singing and
drawing. Widiwed in 1953, she spent a year and a half with one of her two sons in
Australia. She has translated Eliot’s Familly Reunion and The Coctail Party, and has
herself written poetic drama.
She shared the Second State Prize in Poetry in 1955, was awarded the Palmes
Academique by france’s Ministry of Education in 1959, won the First State Prize in
Poetry in 1978. Karelli has been remarkably consistent in her existentialist attitude.
Whatever she has written has been a quest for a way out of man’s modern impasse, for
redemption from the feeling that the soul has been ravaged and devastated, that a
promise for justice has been broken. The fate of modern man, she believes, is to live in
a constant but creative doubt-not a passive and enervating doubt, but one that, by
indicating the duality of man’s struggle, takes on existentialist value. Her themes
become concernedwith the split personality of the person of sensibility tormented to
filnd his integrity and to create centers of continuity. The tone of her poetry, in
consequence, has neither the resilience of feminity nor the inflexibility of masculinity
but conbines the passionate turmoil of feminine sensilbility with the tough abstraction
of masculine thought.
Zoe Kareli
From Diary
To begin life anew?
It isn’t a matter of most beauteous
And ecstatic youth, not even one
Of man’s significant wisdom.
Spitit and essense, the complete presence,
Reality and fantasy side by side.
Poets-Zoe Kareli
Worker in the Workshops of Time
As we brought the shape,
a worker, a blower of glass,
felt his love profoundly
for the material
into which he blew his breath.
At times crystal or like pearl,
mother-of-pearl, precious ivory
or opal with misty colors
drifting toward azure.
All these were materials that become shapes,
erotic shapes of whatever exists
within time.
The shape, receptacle of time,
enclosed it erotically,
an offering to time,
expectation and acceptance both,
that form which is an embrace of time,
the singular shape he wrought
Out of his own essence,
his own imagination.
But as his material hand
caressed the final shape afterward,
he understood the materiality of time
as his own hand
together with the shape
and the precious, erotic material
were transformed into the diaphanous
meaning of time.
All together,
but particularly he.
Poets-Joanna Tsatsos
Angelos Sikelianos(1880-1951)
Angelos Sikelianos was born in 1880 in Lefkas, one of the Ionian islands, and died in
Athens in 1951. For many years he roamed throughout the length and breadth of
Greece, confirming his knowledge andmastery of Greek tradition and the demotic
tongue. The central action of his life was the formation of the Delphic Festivals in 1927
and 1930. Ath Delphi, where the Amphictyonic Council (the first League of Nations)
used to meet, Sikelianos hoped to found a cosmic center where, through a dedication to
a religious view of life without dogms, the nations of the world might meet to insure
peace and justice. Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Suppliantswere lavisly mounted,
Olympic contests were held on the heights of Mt. Parnassos, Byzantine music was
played, Greek demotic songs were delivered and danced, and an international university
was planned. The author of nine books of poetry and of seven poetic dramas, Sikelianos
was a poet in the grand tradition, a Years-like figure, a prophet and seer, a man of high
vision and noble actions, one who had assimilated the cultural traditions of his own
nationand those of the modern world, a revolutionary democrat and mystic who acted
beyond the particular political creeds and religious faiths of the world. His vision was
pantheistic and panhellenic, and his poetry, with its wide rhetorical sweep and
unequaled command of language, encompassed both the lyric (of which he was a
modern master), the philosophic poem, and in his later years, the poetic drama.
Angelos Sikelianos(1880-1951)
Blazing, laughing, warm, the moon watched over the
vineyards, and the sun was still parching the bushes,
as it set in the dead calmness. The angry grass was
heavily sweating milk in the warm stillness; and you
could hear the grape-pickers whistle among the
young vines that climbed up the many wide steps of
the hillside; the robins were shaking their wings on
the river’s banks; the heat-haze spread over the
moon a spider-web kerchief.
Angelos Sikelianos
Angelos Sikelianos
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
Constantine Kavafis was born in Constantinopole in 1963 and died in
Alexandria in 1933. Except for three years in England, two years in
Constantinopole, a few months each in Paris and Athens, he spent his entire
life in the Alexandria he loved, employed for twenty years as a common
clerk in the Department of Irrigation. He wrote only three or four poems a
year, published some of them in broadsheets for private use, and not until he
was forty-one d he bring out his first book, a slim volume of only fourteen
poems not for sale, reissued five years later with the addition of only seven
poems. His main work, collected after his death, totals some forty-six erotic,
some forty-one contemplative, and some sixty-seven historical poems.
Written on a demotic base, but with a mixture strangely his own from
Ancient, Byzantine, and Medieval Greek, his poems (often with Hellenistic
setting) are brief, neither emotional nor lyrical, but dramatic, narrative,
objective, realistic, a recounting of facts and episodes in a tone of voice
which is dry, precise, deliberately prosaic and, above all, ironic-the
undisputed founder and master of modern Greek poetry, and one of the first
poets of the modern world .
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
Pray that your journey may be long,
that many may those summer morning be
When you set out on the voyage to Ithaca,
when with what pleasure, what pleasure, what
pray that your journey may be long,
untold delight you enter harbors for the first time
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Of the Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
that you stop at Phoenician market places
and of furious Poseidon, do not be afraid,
to procure the godly merchandise,
for such on your journey you shall never meet
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony
if your thought remain lofty, if a select
and voluptuous perfumes of every kind,
emotion imbue your spirit and your body.
as lavish an amount of voluptuous perfumes as you
The Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
and furious Poseidon you will never meet
that you venture on to many Egyptian cities
unless you drag them with you in your soul,
to learn and yet again to learn from the sages.
unless your soul raises them up before you.
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
But you must always keep Ithaca in mind.
The arrival there is your predestination.
Yet do not by any means hasten your voyage.
Let it best endure for many years,
until grown old at length you anchor at your island
rich with all you have acquired on the way,
having never expected Ithaca would give you riches.
Ithaca has given you the lovely voyage.
Without her you would not have ventured on the way.
She has nothing more to give to you now.
Poor though you may find her, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Now that you have become so wise, so full of experience,
you will have understood the meaning of an Ithaca.
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
New places you shall never find, you’ll
You said, “I will go to another land, I will go to not find other seas.
another sea.
The city still shall follow you. You’ll wander stil
Another city shall be found better than this.
in the same streets, you’ll roam in the same
Each one of my endeavors is condemned by fate;
my heart lies buried like a corpse.
in these same houses you’ll turn gray.
How long now in this is withering shall my mind You’ll always arrive at this same city. Don’t hop
for somewhere else;
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I gaze,
no ship for you exists, no road exists.
I see here only the black ruins of my life
where I have spent so many years, worn thin and Just as you’ve ruined your life here, in this
small corner of earth, you’ve worn it thin the
fallen to ruins.”
whole world round.
The City
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
As Much As You Can
And if you cannot make your life as you want it,
as least try this
as much as you can: do not disgrace it
in the crowding contact with the world,
in the many movements and all the talk.
Honor to those who in their lives
are committed and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
but with pity and compassion too;
generous whenever they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they are able;
always speaking the truth,
but without rancor for those who lie.
Do not disgrace it by taking it,
dragging it around often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationships and associations,
till it becomes like an alien burdensome life.
And they merit greater honor
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and in the end the Medes will go through.
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
An old Man
At the back of the noisy café
bent over a table sits an old man;
a newspaper in front of him, without
And in the scorn of his miserable old age
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, and the power of the
word, and good looks.
He knows he has aged much; he feels it, he
sees it.
And yet the time he was young seems
like yesterday. How short a time, how short
a time.
And he ponders how Prudence deceived
and how he always trusted her -- what a
folly! -that liar who said: "Tomorrow. There is
ample time."
He remembers the impulses he curbed; and
how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless wisdom.
...But from so much thinking and
the old man gets dizzy. And falls asleep
bent over the café table.
Constantine Kavafis (1863-1933)
The First Step
The young poet Evmenes complained one day to Theocritus:
"I've been writing for two years now and I've composed only one idyll.
It's my single completed work. I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry is tall,
extremely tall; and from this first step I'm standing on now I'll never climb
any higher." Theocritus retorted: "Words like that are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step should make you happy and proud. To have reached this
point is no small achievement: what you've done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step is a long way above the ordinary world. To stand on this step
you must be in your own right a member of the city of ideas. And it's a hard, unusual
thing to be enrolled as a citizen of that city. Its councils are full of Legislators no
charlatan can fool. To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you've done already is a wonderful thing."
Nikos Kazantzakis(1883-1957)
Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heracleion, Crete, in 1883, and died in
Feiburg, Germany, in 1957. He studied law at the University of Athens,
philosophy under Henri Bergson at the College de France, and literature
and art in Germany and Italy.In 1919 he served briefly in the Ministry of
Public Welfare, and in 1947 he was appointed Director of Translations
from the Classics for UNESCO. The greatest man of letters of modern
Greece, Kazantzakis wrote some nine novels (of which Zorba the Greek,
The Greek Passion, /freedom or Death, The Last Temptation of Christ, St.
Francis, and The Rock Garden are available in English), five books of
travel, sixteen poetic dramas, three philosophical treatises (including The
Saviors of God: Spiritual Excersises, availlable in English translation by
Kimon Friar), and his great epical poem of 33,333 lines, The Odyssey: A
Modern Sequel, hailed unanimously as a world masterpiece immediately
on its American publication in a translation by Kimon friar. In addition, he
was thranslated into modern Greek Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante’s
Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and
innumerable other books.
Nikos Kazantzakis(1883-1957)
O Sun
O Sun, my quick coquetting eye, my red-haired hound,
sniff out all quarries that I love, give them swift chase,
tell me all that you've seen on earth, all that you've heard,
and I shall pass them through my entrails' secret forge
till slowly, with profound caresses, play and laughter,
stones, water, fire, and earth shall be transformed to spirit
and the mud-winged and heavy soul, freed of its flesh,
shall like a flame serene ascend and fade in sun.
Nikos Kazantzakis(1883-1957)
From Odysseus, A Drama
Greetings to you, my Lords; where are you going?
And you abandon your fortune to the suitors
The doors are barred, and in my wide courts,
and do not dare utter a word in protest!
O bridegrooms, in the wedding’s about to begin!
They’re after your mother like a dogs in heat,
Eh you woman, go crouch in the corner,
and you stare at the sea, and expect the
hands of an old man to come and save you! take care-an arrow may wound you,
lady, in tumult of the massacre!Do you want to be like him? Then buckle
I’m Odysseus, and my faithful bow
his sword and go to the palace to kill!
Ah, if he were to put his foot here again
has recognized me, it dances in my hand
your island would shake with terror,
and the string sings like a swallow full of joy!
and the suitors would keep quiet like deer
And in my tight grip death shines calm,
that have scented a lion’s breath;
like a thunderbolt in a just man’s hand!
and they would pay with black blood
For their ignoble and most indecent feasts!
George Seferis (1900-1971)
George Seferis, pseudonym of George Seferiadhis, was born in Smyrna in 1900
and in 1926 entered the Ministry of Foregn Affairs. He was formerly the Royal
Greek Embassador to England. In 1961 he was awarded the William Foule
Poetry Prize in England, and in 1963 the Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of
eight books of poetry and two of critical essays, he is a poet of evocative
symbols and metaphysical distinctions who has superbly translated Eliot’s The
Waste Land and other poems. All of his mature poetry is written in a free verse
of great sinuousness, rhythmical yet modulated, which never rises in tone or
diction beyond the “conversation between intellectual men”, as Ezra Pound has
it. His is a poetry of understandmentand hesitation, dealing with recurring themes
of expatriation and the disintegration of the modern world. His poetry is
brooming and contemplative, precise yet subtle in thought ang image. He has
often attempted to define what Greece is as a “state of being”. Yet in the center
of each poem is the poet himself, looking back into the mythological past of his
country and her symbols, retracting her history, and telling a story which has the
independent validity of imaginative finction.
George Seferis (1900-1971)
The House Near the Sea
The houses that I had they took Don’t talk to me about the nightingale or the lark
or the little wagtail
from me. The times
figures with his tail in the light;
happened to be unpropitious: war, inscribing
I don’t know much about houses
destruction, exile;
I know they have their own nature, nothing else.
sometimes the hunter hits the
New at first, like babies
who play in gardens with the tassels of the sun,
migratory birds,
sometimes he doesn’t hit them. they embroider coloured shutters and shinning
doors over the day.
When the architect’s finished, they change,
was good in my time, many felt they frown or smile or even grow resentful
the pellet;
with those who stayed behind, with those who
the rest circle aimlessly or go mad went away
with others who’d come back if they could
in the shelters.
or others who disappeared, now that the world’s
become an endless hotel.
Poets - George Seferis
Summer Solstice
The greatest sun on one side
and the new moon on the other
distant in memory like those breasts.
Between them the chasm of the starry night
deluge of life.
All have visions
yet no one will admit it;
They go thinking they’re alone.
The large rose
had always been there
by your side deeply in sleep
yours and unknown.
The horses on the threshing-floors
But only now that your lips’ve touched it
gallop and sweat
on the outermost leaves
upon scattered bodies.
have you felt the dancer’s dense weight
All are going there
falling into the river of timeand that woman whom
the dreadful splash.
you saw beautiful, in a moment
Don’t waste the breath this respite
is bending, can endure no longer, has knelt. has granted you.
The millstones are grinding them all
and all become stars.
Eve of the longest day.
Odysseus Elytis (1912- )
Odysseus Elytis, pseudonym for Odysseus Alepoudhelis, was born in
Hracleion, Crete in 1912, of a well-known industrial family, and
studied law and political science at the University of Athens. In the
period between 1940 and 1941 he served as a second lieutenant on the
Albanian front in the GreekItalian war. In 1938 he represented Greece at the eleventh
International Congress of Writers at Geneva, and in 1950 at the first
International Congress of Art Critics in Paris. He has spent many
years in France and several months touring the United States in 1961
under the auspices of the State Department. The author of five books
of poetry, his work marks the joyous return to nature, to summer and
the sea, to the blaze of the noonday sun over the aegean, to the praise
of adolexcence and its sentiments. His second book was entitled Sun
the First, as one might refer to the emperor. Though his poetry is
rhythmical in effect, he is more interested in the plastic use of
language and imagery, both of which still reflect his earlier
preoccupation with surrealism. His experience on the Albanian front
during the war brought greater depth and sobriety to his poetry and
resulted in one of the best elegies written about the war. He was
awarded the State Award in Poetry in 1960 for Worthy It Is.
Odysseus Elytis (1912- )
The network os islands
and the prow of its foam
and the gulls of its dreams
on its highest mast a sailor
whistles a song.
Its song
and the horizons of its
and the sound of its longing
on its wettest rock the bride
waits for a ship.
its ship
and the nonchalance of
its winds
and the jib sail of its hope
on the lightest of waves
an island
cradles the arrival.
Playtings, the waters
in their shadowy flow
speak with their kisses
about the dawn
that begins
Odysseus Elytis (1912- )
Waves in the light
revive the eyes
And the pigeons in the caves where life sails towards
rustle their wings
the recognition
blue awakening in the source life—
of a day
sun-The surf a kiss on its caressed sand-Love
The gull bestows its blue liberty
The northwest wind bestows to the horizon
the sail
waves come and go
to the sea
foamy answer in the shell’s ear.
the hair’s caress
in the insouciance of its
Who carried away the blonde and
sunburnt girl?
The sea-breeze with its transparent breath
tilts dream’s sail
far out
love murmurs its promise--Surf
Yiannis Ritsos (1909- )
Yiannis Ritsos, was borne in Monemvasia, a town
of Peloponnesos, in 1909, fell ill at the age of
eighteen months of tuberculosis and spent many
years in various sanatoriums. His heritage is a
tragic one, for both his mother and elder brother
died of tuberculosis and his father and sister died
insane. Because of his left-wing activities, he
spent the years 1948-52 in various detention
camps in Greece. The author of twenty-three
books of poetry, three volumes of Collected
Poems (1961-64), of two plays and a poem for
dance, he won the State Award in Poetry for 1956
for Moonlight sonata.
Poets Yiannis Ritsos
Moonlight Sonata
Let me come with you. What a moon there is tonight!
The moon is kind – it won’t show that my hair turned white.
The moon will turn my hair to gold again. You wouldn’t understand.
Let me come with you.
When there’s a moon the shadows in the house grow larger,
invisible hands draw the curtains, a ghostly finger writes forgotten words in the
dust on the piano – I don’t want to hear them. Hush.
Let me come with you a little farther down, as far as the brickyard wall,
to the point where the road turns and the city appears concrete and airy,
whitewashed with moonlight, so indifferent and insubstantial so positive, like
metaphysics, that finally you can believe you exist and do not exist,
that you never existed, that time with its destruction never existed.
Let me come with you.
Poets - Yiannis Ritsos
From Romiosini
These trees cannot adjust to lesser sky,
these stones cannot adjust beneath the tread of strangers,
these faces cannot adjust unless they feel the sun,
these hearts cannot adjust unless they live in justice.
This landscape is as harsh as silence,
it hugs to its breast the scorching stones,
clasps in its light the orphaned olive trees and vineyards,
clenches its teeth. There is no water. Light only.
Roads vanish in light and the shadow of the sheepfold is made or iron.
Trees, rivers, and voices have turned to stone in the sun’s quicklime.
Roots trip on marble. Dust-covered lentisk shrubs.
Mules and rocks. All panting. There is no water.
All are parched. For years now. All chew a morsel of sky to
choke down their bitterness.
Nikos Gatsos (1915-
Nikos Gatsos was born in a small village in Arcadia and took his
degree from the School of Letters at the University of Athens. From
early childhood he grew up in the heroic traditions of his countryside,
made vivid for him by the ballads and folksongs of the region. He is
the author of only one longish poem, Amorgos, but it has had a
disproportionate influence among the writers of his generation. In
Amorgos, the practice of surrealism, the rhythms of the Bible, and
the traditions of Greek folk ballads were combined for the first time
in a strange, arresting, and elegiac manner. Profoundly influenced by
the Ionian philosopher Heracleitos, Gatsos believes that the essence
of life and art is to be found in nothing static, but in an eternal flux.
In the brooding long lines of his Iamentations, however, there is
always to be found the sprig of basil or rosemary, symbols of hope
and resurrection, joyful melancholy.
With their country tied to their sails and their oars hung on the wind
The shipwrecked slept tamely like dead beasts on a bedding of sponges
But the eyes of seaweed are turned toward the sea
Hoping the South Wind will bring them back with their lateen sails newly painted
For one lost elephant is always worth much more than two quivering breasts of a girl
Only if the roofs of deserted chapels should light up with the caprice of the Evening star
Only if birds should ripple amid the masts of the lemon trees
With the firm white flurry of lively footsteps
Will the winds come, the bodies of swans that remained immaculate, unmoving and
Amid the streamrollers of shops and the cyclones of vegetable gardens
When the eyes of women turned to coal and the hearts of the chestnut hawkers were
When the harvest was done and the hopes of crickets began
And indeed this is why, my brave young men, with kisses, wine, and leaves on your
I would want you to stride naked along the riversides
Poets -Nikos Gatsos
Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
Nikiphoros Vrettakos, born in Sparta in 1911, worked as a common
laborer in Athens until he was given a post in the Ministry of Labor.
The author of twenty-one books of poetry, he is a pure singing voice,
writing spontaneously without much attention to form, impelled by
an almost naïve religious devotion and a deep sentiment for the ills of
down trodden humanity. His hatred of injustice and his desire to
better the world often leads him to moralize in the midst of song.
Christian and democratic in his views, he believes and asserts in his
poetry that art must be expression of love and goodness, that these
form the beauty of civilization as a higher ordering of human
relations, a kind of divine law, a “deathlessness of art”. He has twice
won the State Award for Poetry: in 1940 for the Grimaces of Man,
and in 1956 for poems, 1929-1951.
An Almond Tree
An almond tree with you beside it. The Strange Presence
As if God had molded you out of unused
But when did you two blossom?
Standing by the window
light and water, you are beautiful,
I look at you and weep.
strangely so.
My eyes can’t bear such
mirth. God, give me
all the cisterns of heaven
and I’ll fill them for you.
Love is in my heart like an almond
tree branch
in a glass of water. The sun
caresses it
and is filled with birds.
The best nightingale utters your
Your hands resemble
an assembled people mediating
upon your breast. Your neck is a column
supporting a frieze. Your laugh
a piece camp. The sun alights
on your upright forehead, strangely.
Your hair is
a tamed storm. And your eyes are
the wisdom of silence, the harmony of the
the “love one another”.
Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
There is no Solitude
There is no solitude where a man is
digging or whistling or washing his
There is no solitude where a tree
stirs its leaves. Where an anonymous
insect finds a flower and sits,
where a brook is reflecting a star,
where holding his mother’s breast
with his blissful little lips open
an infant sleeps, there is no solitude
Without you
Without you doves
wouldn’t find water.
Without you God
wouldn’t switch on the light
in his fountains.
An apple tree sows its blossoms
in the wind; in your apron
you bring water from the sky
the glow of wheat, and above
a moon of sparrows
Nikiphoros Vrettakos (1911- )
from Murky Rivers
Love is the mountain
and the night with its stars.
Love is the sea
and the day with its sun.
And the little sparks
that fly from the chimney
of the house and the eyes
of the little bird even those
are love.
If I Were
If I were to offer
you a lily
I would be adding
a stem
to the Evening Star.
Poems from Greek Cyprian Poets
Kypros Chrysanthis
For miracles and a flood is the time,
of commemorative lamps the rosy flames;
and, Lefkosia, the twilight frames
your sky like a fate sublime.
Your castles were filled by an ancient tale,
much as for flowers the bees of spring
blessings and perfumes bring
such as the prayers of a maiden unveil.
Come, empty the jug, stranger-friend,
filled with the rosy-grape wish.
Cyprus’ pride is the stead.
As if for a beautiful archaic head,
o friend, the hymn for our isle finish,
that’s blooming, no longer wilted by
conquerors’ tread.
Petros Sophas
You’ve gathered all the patience
from the beggars’ trays
and have tied it a knot in your
You’ve sat so many times
at the threshold of Spring
hearing but the same dirge.
You were looking at the sky
for hours on end so many nights
with no star filling your palm.
What are you still waiting for?
Take the beggar’s empty trays
and make them a tambourine.
Take a sound from the dirge of
and make the song of Tomorrow.
Tighten your empty hand
and strike to open your way.
Poems from Greek Cyprian Poets
Yiannis K. Papadopoulos
Let’s say
Let’s say that now we are first facing the
light of the world,
that our ships never set sail for troy
and the Mycenean kings didn’t go hunting
for the artisans to engrave their golden
memories on the metal immortality.
Let’s say that the Persians haven’t yet come
to ask for our land
and the buzzards at marathon haven’t
counted their bodies
and the shells in the sea of Salamis
haven’t clung to the sunken triremes;
That Pheidias’ hands
are the tiny hands of this newborn baby
awaited by the unwrought marbles of our
Let’s say that the masterpieces of
Aeschylus and Sophocles
are still these bright sparks
In the eyes of the youth who passes
that the golden age is that fair wheat
we sow in sweat with the vision of
that the leaves of this wild tree we
are now grafting
will some day shine like silver
at the flowering of Platonic thought.
Let’s say that now we are first facing
the light of the world
and let’s say only that the others call
us Greeks.
Nikolaos Kontaridis
Do not Wonder, Passerby
Do not wonder, passerby
in the meaningless pathways of life.
Only lead the footsteps there,
where the night pours the holy light
and the stars never cease to shine.
Have the thread of truth
as your trustful guide,
quickly feel what the world is,
what purpose you have in life.
Destroy images of ruined gods,
raise the big idea,
become its standard-bearer and go to open
that unravels itself to you.
Do not wonder, passerby,
in the meaningless pathways of life.
Only lead your footsteps there
where a man becomes a man.
Do not Cry
Do not cry over lost joys,
migratory birds,
that have flown away from you…
somewhere life blossoms
with more beautiful flowers.
If storms throw you
on to deserted seashores
a thousand times over,
do not cry.
The storms rage
will quickly pass.
If the night’s darkness
engulfs feathered dreams,
do not cry.
somewhere the sun will rise
with brighter sunshine.
Nikolaos Kontaridis
It Is Not Easy
It is not easy
To take a paintbrush
And draw a man.
With words
To illustrate
The deepness of his soul.
With colour
To add passion
To his life.
With persistence, gather
The ruins
Of his dreams.
Yellow rose petals of a stripped blossom
That lose themselves and disappear
In the abyss of time.
I am
A migratory breath,
A feather in the wind,
A bird without a voice
In a barren desert.
I eagerly wait
For the flight of my soul
In an endless domain
And time
Without an end.
There and only there
The winds will silence,
The storms will cease
And life will journey
To the eternally open sea.
Nikolaos Kontaridis
We, who were once children
And created imaginary words
Palaces and towers in dreams
We, who partook the experience
Of our ancestors
And courageously we sought
Everything worthy and great
We, who wore the lion’s skin
Who made our heart of steel
Who filled our existence with anxieties
Who took long journeys
We, who the bitter taste of life
Knew well
And became wise
With the gray temples
We, who are the children of our fathers
The fathers of our children
Drops of rain
Of infinity
We, peace
Desire only
As our fathers demanded it
As our children will demand it.

Greece Yesterday and Today Modern Greek Literature