Giorgos Seferis was born on March 13, 1900 in Urla near Smyrna in Asia Minor. The Nobel laureate and one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, regardless of nationality, continues to be a beloved poet to the present day. His work is available in Greek and in translation, as well as in bilingual editions for those who can read both Greek and English. Seferis passed away on September 20, 1971.At his funeral in Athens, the crowds of mourners following his coffin sang the Mikis Theodorakis arrangement of his poem Arnisi (Denial) which was banned at the time by the junta.
The poet, who was also a career diplomat in the Greek Foreign Service, serving in his last post before retirement as Royal Greek Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1961, denounced the regime of the colonels in a statement read on the BBC on March 28, 1969 and released to all the newspapers in Athens the same day.Seferis said, “I am a man without any political affiliation, and I can therefore speak without fear or passion. I see ahead of me the precipice toward which the oppression that has shrouded the country is leading us. This anomaly must stop. It is a national imperative.”
The full statement may be found online at aphelis.net reminding readers and fans of his poetry that Seferis stood up against the oppression and became a hero to those resisting the dictatorship, censorship, and the political imprisonments and torture. In honor of his 118th birthday, here are a few books to add to your reading list.
George Seferis: Collected Poems 1924-1955 is a bilingual edition and revises the two earlier editions published in 1967 and 1969. It presents, for the first time, the complete Notes for a Week, Three Secret Poems, and three later poems that were not collected by the poet himself but whose English translation he authorized during his lifetime. Originally published in 1982, the latest edition of the book was published in 2014 by the Princeton Legacy Library.
Seferis’ A Levant Journal translated into English by Roderick Beaton details Seferis’ time in the Middle East with wonderful passages of travel writing, describing what he sees and also looking deeper into the issues affecting the region at the time. The Hellenistic influence in the Middle East and the religious sites are thoughtfully delineated in the journal.
For those interested in biography, My Brother George Seferis by Ioanna Tsatsos is available in Greek and in English. The poet’s formative years, 1912-1941, are recounted by his little sister Ioanna, a poet in her own right. Highlighted by letters which Seferis wrote to his sister throughout this period, the book concentrates on the young man “born with an open wound of sensitivity with which he faced the difficulties of life,” the book’s description reads. First published in 1982, the book is available online.
The evocative A Word for Summer, Salamis in Cyprus, and Santorini are among the poems by Seferis in English translation available online at poetryfoundation.org.