George Seferis, the pen name of Georgios Seferiades, was a Greek poet and diplomat. He was one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th century and a Nobel laureate. 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 in Urla (Greek: Βουρλά) near Smyrna in Asia Minor, Ottoman Empire (now İzmir, Turkey). His father, Stelios Seferiadis, was a lawyer, and later a professor at the University of Athens, as well as a poet and translator 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 his son.
In 1914 the family moved to Athens, where Seferis completed his secondary school education. He continued his studies in Paris from 1918 to 1925, studying law at the Sorbonne. While he was there, in September 1922, Smyrna/Izmir 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. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950; the sense of being an exile from his childhood home would inform much of Seferis’ poetry, showing itself particularly in his interest in the story of Odysseus. Seferis was also greatly influenced by Kavafis, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
He returned to Athens in 1925 and was admitted to the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the following year. This was the beginning of a long and successful diplomatic career, during which he held posts in England (1931-1934) and Albania (1936-1938). He married Maria Zannou (‘Maro’) on April 10, 1941, on the eve of the German invasion of Greece. During the Second World War, Seferis accompanied the Free Greek Government in exile to Crete, Egypt, South Africa, and Italy, and returned to liberated Athens in 1944. He continued to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held diplomatic posts in Ankara, Turkey (1948-1950) and London (1951-1953). He was appointed a minister to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (1953-1956), and was Royal Greek Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1961, the last post before his retirement in Athens. Seferis received many 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.”
George Seferis – poems (Wikipedia links)
- Strofi Στροφή (Strophe, 1931)
- Sterna Στέρνα (The Cistern, 1932)
- Mythistorima Μυθιστόρημα (Mythical narrative, 1935)
- Tetradio Gymnasmaton Τετράδιο Γυμνασμάτων (Book of Exercises, 1940)
- Imerologio Katastromatos I Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος Ι ([Ship’s] Log Book I, 1940)
- Imerologio Katastromatos II Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος ΙΙ (Log Book II, 1944)
- Kichli Κίχλη (The Thrush, 1947)
- Imerologio Katastromatos III Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος ΙΙΙ (Log Book III, 1955)
- Tria Kryfa Poiimata Τρία Κρυφά Ποιήματα (Three Secret Poems, 1966)
- Tetradio Gymnasmaton II Τετράδιο Γυμνασμάτων II (Book of Exercises ΙΙ, 1976)