International Poetry Day (March 21)

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People walked through the city today stopping on Panepistimiou, Stadiou, Omeros, and Amalias Streets to do readings in Greek from Homer, Seferis, Anagnostakis, Palamas, Solomos, and others. This is a section from George Seferis’ “Last Stop”:

This is a train of thought, a way

to begin to speak of things you confess

uneasily, at times when you can’t hold back, to a friend

who escaped secretly and who brings

word from home and from the companions,

and you hurry to open your heart

before exile forestalls you and alters him.

We come from Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria;

the little state

of Kommagene, which flickered out like a small lamp,

often comes to mind,

and great cities that lived for thousands of years

and then became pasture land for cattle,

fields for sugar-cane and corn.

We come from the sand of the desert, from the seas of Proteus,

souls shriveled by public sins,

each holding office like a bird in its cage.

The rainy autumn in this gorge

festers the wound of each of us

or what you might term differently: nemisis, fate,

or simply bad habits, fraud and deceit,

or even the selfish urge to reap reward from the blood of others.

Man frays easily in wars;

man is soft, a sheaf of grass,

lips and fingers that hunger for a white breast

eyes that half-close in the radiance of day

and feet that would run, no matter how tired,

at the slightest call of profit.

Man is soft and thirsty like grass,

insatiable like grass, his nerves roots that spread;

when the harvest comes

he would rather have the scythes whistle in some other field;

when the harvest comes

some call out to exorcise the demon

some become entangled in their riches, others deliver speeches.

But what good are exorcisms, riches, speeches

when the living are far away?

Is man ever anything else?

Isn’t it this that confers life?

A time for planting, a time for harvesting.

“The same thing over and over again,” you’ll tell me, friend.

But the thinking of a refugee, the thinking of a prisoner, the thinking

of a person when he too has become a commodity –

try to change it; you can’t.

maybe he would have liked to stay king of the cannibals

wasting strength that nobody buys,

to promenade in fields of agapanthi

to hear the drums with bamboo overhead,

as courtiers dance with prodigious masks.

But the country they’re chopping up and burning like a

pine-tree – you see it

Translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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1 Response to International Poetry Day (March 21)

  1. amalia melis says:

    poetry runs through the streets of athens today, riot police dont care, they stand prepared, words are mightier than the sword….

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