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Culture

Remembering Giorgos Seferis 46 Years after His Death

September 18, 2017

Giorgos Seferis, 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 memory 46 years after his death, 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.

Though known primarily as a poet, Seferis also wrote the novel Six Nights on the Acropolis, posthumously published in 1974. The English translation by Susan Matthias won the 2006 Elizabeth Constantinides Memorial Translation Prize from the Modern Greek Studies Association. A tragic love story and a tale of artistic maturation played out in the Greek landscape, the book offers “a portrait of Athens, a chaotic modern metropolis seething with refugees after the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, populated by a host of minor characters adding a tragic dimension, comic relief, and a hauntingly real sense of time and place,” as noted in the book’s description. Seferis writes as the protagonist of this novel about love, sex, and art in ways perhaps not possible in his poetry, or other prose works.

A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-51 by Giorgos Seferis, translated by Athan Anagnostopoulos with an introduction by Walter Kaiser. It wasn’t until 1967 that Seferis decided to publish his journals, but it became clear that the political climate in Greece during the junta would make it difficult to publish there. Just before his death, he entrusted his journals to be translated and published by his friend Anagnostopoulos and requested that Kaiser write the introduction for the U.S. edition. The volume covering 1945-51 was first published in 1974 and gives a unique perspective on post-war Greece and its struggles during that time.

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