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Thursday, 7 July 2011

George Seferis: Mathios Paskalis Among the Roses


Portrait of a boy from Fayum, panel painting (encaustic on wood), second half of 2nd century: image by Ejdzej, 2002 (National Museum, Warsaw)

I've been smoking steadily all morning
if I stop the roses will embrace me
they'll choke me with thorns and fallen petals
they grow crookedly, each with the same rose colour
they gaze, expecting to see someone go by; no one goes by.
Behind the smoke of my pipe I watch them
scentless on their weary stems.
In the other life a woman said to me: 'You can touch this hand,
and this rose is yours, it's yours, you can take it
now or later, whenever you like'.

I go down the steps smoking still,
and the roses follow me down excited
and in their manner there's something of that voice
at the root of a cry, there where one starts shouting
'mother' or 'help'
or the small white cries of love.

It's a small white garden full of roses
a few square yards descending with me
as I go down the steps, without the sky;
and her aunt would say to her: 'Antigone, you forgot your lessons today,
at your age I never wore corsets, not in my time.'
Her aunt was a pitiful creature: veins in relief,
wrinkles all round her ears, a nose ready to die;
but her words were always full of prudence.
One day I saw her touching Antigone's breast
like a small child stealing an apple.

Is it possible that I'll meet the old woman now as I go down?
She said to me as I left: 'Who knows when we''ll meet again?'
And then I read of her death in the newspapers
of Antigone's marriage and the marriage of Antigone's daughter
without the steps coming to an end or my tobacco
which leaves on my lips the taste of a haunted ship
with a mermaid crucified to the wheel while she was still beautiful.

................................................................Koritsa, summer '37

Woman decking a gravestone with garlands: Attic white-ground lekythos, by Reed Painter, said to be from Athens, between 420 and 410 BC
: image by Marie-Lan Nguyen, 2006 (British Museum)

George Seferis (1900-1971): Mathios Paskalis Among the Roses, from Logbook I, 1940, in George Seferis: Collected Poems (Revised edition), translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, 1991


TC said...

Also by this poet:

George Seferis: White Eyes

u.v.ray. said...

Sometimes I read the uncomplicated sincerity with which a poet writes, the zen-like essence they are able to capture, and I realise I myself should just give up writing because I just don't have it.

Ed Baker said...

I recalled the first line of this poem

and then the poem itself as
though reading my first copyright 1967 edition of

th Johnathan Cape 1969 first published edition..

George Seferis Collected Poems 1924-1955

just looking into the hard-back I find a little green sticker from the book store that I bought the book from:

FOYLES (at) Charing Cross Rd London WC2

the price was "75s. net in U.K. only" this was the Keely/ Sherrard trans & ed'ted edition that in 1969 sent me on my way ....

straight to Helos & Lindoz & .... & Chin

the English translation of this piece (in my edition) lays on the page ... the run-on lines are a bit different

(the original in Greek is on facing page

and at end is not "Koritsa, summer '37"

the next piece in my edition is (another Beauty) (even via the English trans):


There, you see, at last I love these mountains with this light
their skin wrinkled like an elephant's belly
when his eyes shrink with age. (....)

neat brown dust-jacket with image of the Acropolis in Athens wrapping around

I've got a p.s. to this.... re: my own "stuff" ...

this book/ this poet opened up me ...

would be neat maybe even a giggle to get the revised edition and compare it to this

however, since THEY are now about to cut SS and dick-around with Medicare and taxes..

I best save my money and not friviolize it away on mere.... poetry/books.

Anonymous said...

The Seferis poem, the panel painting, the lekythos, the comments and particularly the word "friviolize" have put me in a better position to get through what promises to be a long and challenging day.

TC said...


Every time I type up a poem as good as this one, I get exactly that same feeling.

Ed and Curtis,

A terrible headache from never sleeping exacerbated by the street construction project is relieved (well, a bit) by the thought of friviolizing it all right out of existence.



The boy from Fayum, the woman decking a gravestone with garlands, "Mathios Paskalis Among the Roses" between them -- a beautiful welcome to this foggy birthday morning. . . .


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, birds beginning to call in field
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

pen, graphite on wove paper
signed in lower right

calling itself, its thought,
what to think that is

grey white fog against invisible ridge,
whiteness of gull disappearing into it

Peter Greene said...

Wow, what a wonderful poem. Thanks for posting it!

aditya said...

Oh what a poem this is. Utterly beautiful!

TC said...

Yes, so good. For a long time it was hard to get a handle on just what it is about the poem that is so moving.

After many times coming back to it over the years, I've decided that its beauty lies to a great extent in everything that is not said.

Wonderments on that score forever, keeping it fresh, renewing one's faith in the power of the poem to realise what lies hidden in the heart.

And -- "touching Antigone's breast/
like a small child stealing an apple."


TC said...

And Stephen... Happy Birthday!

(As dawn holds off still in the cloak of fog, with no birds yet about, I'm counting this early morn as technically an extension of yesterday. Many happy returns, and say hello to the channels.)

aditya said...

Oh you always find these words Tom! Its a delight to read you talk about poems and everything else. I dont know how but I forgot to mention how truly unforgettable

"touching Antigone's breast/
like a small child stealing an apple."

was and how it had immediately reminded me of the sincerity Jim Carroll possessed.

'I snatch a grape from her breast
as a drunk steals apples
he will never eat'

Ed Baker said...

a line that I used in a poem in a book of mine that I remember but can't find:

"tiny tawny tiddies
her breasts

not much smaller than
the pears that I eat"

I think that it's in G OO DNIGHT
or, maybe Stone Girl


what-ever it is that you are inhaling
send some (more) my way.

aditya said...

Pe(a)rfect Ed.

white breasts in lunch
twice i tell you
they are soft

Anonymous said...

so good to read this...thanks!