April is National Poetry Month April is National Poetry Month and Greece has a wealth of poets to add to your reading list. From ancient times and Homer to some of the best known modern Greek poets of the 20th century like George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis, to the current generation of poets, Greek poetry continues to thrive.
The celebration of National Poetry Month in the United States was introduced in 1996, organized by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. Canada adopted the celebration as well in 1998.
Poet and playwright Angelos Sikelianos was born on March 28, 1884 in Lefkada and though he registered at Athens Law School, he never graduated, instead, he travelled extensively and devoted his life to poetry early on. In 1907, he married the American Eva Palmer in the United States and they moved to Athens in 1908. The couple created the Delphic Festivals which included athletic contests, art exhibitions, concerts and theatrical performances. They were held first in 1927 and then in 1930, but had to be abandoned due to the prohibitive cost of running them. The couple’s marriage was annulled in 1934 and Sikelianos married Anna Karamani in 1940.
In 1909, he published his first collection of poems, Alafroiskiotos (The Moonstruck), which was critically acclaimed. The three-volume collection of his poetry, titled Lyric Life, was published in 1946 and 1947, though he left many poems unpublished in his lifetime.
Sikelianos was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature from 1946-1951, but never won the coveted honor.
In 1965, G.P. Savvides began publishing the full collection of Sikelianos’ work, which eventually filled five volumes.
Sikelianos is also known for his efforts during World War II, including the funerary poem he composed and recited for fellow Greek poet Kostis Palamas in 1943 which roused the mourners and culminated in an angry demonstration of a 100,000 people against Nazi occupation. Sikelianos also wrote the letter, spearheaded by Archbishop Damaskinos, and signed by prominent Greek citizens, in defense of the Jews who were being persecuted.
Themes in Sikelianos’ work include Greek history, religious symbolism, and universal harmony. Among Sikelianos’ poems influenced by the Classical age is Yannis Keats (1915). The lyric beauty of the poem is remarkable as is the fanciful way Sikelianos transcends time within it, setting it in the era of Homer. A.E. Stallings’ translation of Yannis Keats is available on the Poetry Foundation website.
Famed author Nikos Kazantzakis and Sikelianos were close friends. The pair traveled to Mount Athos together in 1914 and a year later traveled throughout Greece. Though they could not have been more different in terms of temperament, the two writers were both dedicated to elevating the human spirit through art.
Sikelianos’ works are available in English translation, in Selected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, originally published in 1979. Selected poems by Sikelianos are also included in Voices of Modern Greece (1981), translated and edited by Keeley and Sherrard.