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George Seferis, the pen name of Georgios Seferiades, was a Greek poet and diplomat. George Seferis was a Nobel laureate and he’s considered as one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th century. He was a career diplomat in the Greek Foreign Service, culminating in his appointment as Ambassador to the UK, a post which he held from 1957 to 1962.

Seferis was born near Smyrna in Asia Minor, in a village called Urla/Vourla (Greek: Βουρλά). His father, Stelios Seferiadis, was a lawyer, and later after the family moved to mainland Greece, a professor at the University of Athens, as well as a poet in his own right. He was also a staunch Venizelist and a supporter of the demotic Greek language over the formal, official language (katharevousa). Both of these attitudes influenced George Seferis.

The Seferis family moved to Athens in 1914, where George Seferis completed his secondary school education. He then studied law at the Sorbonne, in Paris from 1918 to 1925. While in France, in September of 1922, his hometown Smyrna was taken by the Turkish Army after a two-year Greek military campaign on Anatolian soil. Many Greeks, including Seferis’ family, fled from Asia Minor permanently. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950 and this sense of being an exile from his childhood home would affect much of Seferis’ poetry, showing itself particularly in his interest in the story of Odysseus. Seferis’ work was also influenced by Cavafy, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

Seferis returned to Athens in 1925 and was admitted to the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the following year. He had a long and successful diplomatic career, during which he held posts in England (1931-1934) and Albania (1936-1938). On April 10, 1941, on the eve of the German invasion of Greece, he married Maria Zannou (‘Maro’). Seferis followed the Free Greek Government in exile during World War II first to Crete and then to Egypt, South Africa, and Italy. In 1944 he returned to liberated Athens. He continued to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held diplomatic posts in Ankara, Turkey (1948-1950) and London (1951-1953). From 1953 to 1956 he was appointed as a minister to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. From 1957 to 1961 he was the Ambassador of Greece to the United Kingdom. This was the last post he held before his retirement and return to Athens. During his long literary career, Seferis received numerous awards, honors, and prizes, among them honorary doctoral degrees from the universities of Cambridge (1960), Oxford (1964), Thessaloniki (1964), and Princeton (1965).

“Don’t ask who’s influenced me.

A lion is made up of the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life.”

Γιώργος Σεφέρης – Πάνω σε μια χειμωνιάτικη ακτίνα
(μετάφραση από τον Βρασίδα Κάραλη)


Φύλλα από σκουριασμένο τενεκέ
για το φτωχό μυαλό που είδε το τέλος·
τα λιγοστά λαμπυρίσματα.
Φύλλα που στροβιλίζουνται με γλάρους
αγριεμένους με το χειμώνα.

Όπως ελευθερώνεται ένα στήθος
οι χορευτές έγιναν δέντρα
ένα μεγάλο δάσος γυμνωμένα δέντρα.


Καίγουνται τ’ άσπρα φύκια
Γραίες αναδυόμενες χωρίς βλέφαρα
σχήματα που άλλοτε χορεύαν
μαρμαρωμένες φλόγες.
Το χιόνι σκέπασε τον κόσμο.


Οι σύντροφοι μ’ είχαν τρελάνει
με θεοδόλιχους εξάντες πετροκαλαμήθρες
και τηλεσκόπια που μεγαλώναν πράγματα—
καλύτερα να μέναν μακριά.
Πού θα μας φέρουν τέτοιοι δρόμοι;
Όμως η μέρα εκείνη που άρχισε
μπορεί δεν έσβησε ακόμη
με μια φωτιά σ’ ένα φαράγγι σαν τριαντάφυλλο
και μια θάλασσα ανάερη στα πόδια του Θεού.


Είπες εδώ και χρόνια:
«Κατά βάθος είμαι ζήτημα φωτός».
Και τώρα ακόμη σαν ακουμπάς
στις φαρδιές ωμοπλάτες του ύπνου
ακόμη κι όταν σε ποντίζουν
στο ναρκωμένο στήθος του πελάγου
ψάχνεις γωνιές όπου το μαύρο
έχει τριφτεί και δεν αντέχει
αναζητάς ψηλαφητά τη λόγχη
την ορισμένη να τρυπήσει την καρδιά σου
για να την ανοίξει στο φως.


Ποιός βουρκωμένος ποταμός μάς πήρε;
Μείναμε στο βυθό.
Τρέχει το ρέμα πάνω απ’ το κεφάλι μας
λυγίζει τ’ άναρθρα καλάμια·

οι φωνές
κάτω απ’ την καστανιά γίναν χαλίκια
και τα πετάνε τα παιδιά.


Μικρή πνοή κι άλλη πνοή, σπιλιάδα
καθώς αφήνεις το βιβλίο
και σκίζεις άχρηστα χαρτιά των περασμένων
ή σκύβεις να κοιτάξεις στο λιβάδι
αγέρωχους κενταύρους που καλπάζουν
ή άγουρες αμαζόνες ιδρωμένες
σ’ όλα τ’ αυλάκια του κορμιού
που έχουν αγώνα το άλμα και την πάλη.

Αναστάσιμες σπιλιάδες μιαν αυγή
που νόμισες πως βγήκε ο ήλιος.


Τη φλόγα τη γιατρεύει η φλόγα
όχι με των στιγμών το στάλαγμα
αλλά μια λάμψη, μονομιάς·
όπως ο πόθος που έσμιξε τον άλλο πόθο
κι απόμειναν καθηλωμένοι
ή όπως
ρυθμός της μουσικής που μένει
εκεί στο κέντρο σαν άγαλμα


Δεν είναι πέρασμα τούτη η ανάσα
οιακισμός κεραυνού.

George Seferis – On a winter ray
(translated by Vrasidas Karalis)


Leaves of rusting tin
For the humble mind facing the end;
Sparse glimmerings.
Leaves whirling with seagulls
Furious at winter.

As an ache is released
Dancers became trees
A dense forest of naked trees.


Burning the white seaweeds are
Old Women rising without eyelids
forms that danced once
Flames of marble.
Snow clothed the world.


The comrades made me crazy
With compasses, sextants, magnetic needles
And telescopes that magnified things—
Better to have stayed away.
Where such paths will take us?
Yet that day which dawned
Perhaps wasn’t smothered yet
With a fire in a ravine like a rose
And a sea of ether at the feet of God.


Years ago you said:
“Deep down I am a matter of light”.
Even now as you rest
On the broad shoulders of sleep
Even when they drown you
In the lethargic bosom of the sea
You search for niches where blackness
Frays and does not endure
You grope for the spear
Destined to pierce your heart
And open it to the light.


Which murky river conquered us?
We collapsed at the deep.
The current runs over our heads
winding inarticulate reeds;

The voices
Under the chestnut tree became pebbles
And children throw them away.


Soft breath and another breath, storm
As you leave the book
And shred useless papers of yore
Or you bow to see in the meadow
Insolent centaurs galloping
Or green amazons sweating
In all corporeal curves
When challenged at jumping and wrestling.

Jubilant storms at dawn
As you thought that the sun rises.


Flame is healed by flame
Not through moments dripping
But in a flash, instantly;
As desire that fused with another desire
And stayed transfixed
Or as
musical rhythm echoing
There at the centre like a statue


This breathing is not a passageway
The dominion of thunder.

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