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Saturday, 9 July 2011

George Seferis: Memory I


Dawn, Lefkara, southern slopes of Troodos Mountains, Larnaca District, Cyprus Greek Cypriot Republic: photo by Leonid Mamchenkov, 14 February 2004

............And there was no more sea

And I with only a reed in my hands.

The night was deserted, the moon waning,

earth smelled of the last rain.

I whispered: memory hurts wherever you touch it,

there's only a little sky, there's no more sea,

what they kill by day they carry away in carts and dump behind the ridge.

My fingers were running idly over this flute

that an old shepherd gave to me because I said good evening to him.

The others have abolished every kind of greeting:

they wake, shave and start the day's work of slaughter

as one prunes or operates, methodically, without passion:

sorrow's dead like Patroclus, and no one makes a mistake.

I thought of playing a tune and then I felt ashamed in front of the other world

the one that watches me from beyond the night from within my light

woven of living bodies, naked hearts

and love that belongs to the Furies

as it belongs to man and to stone and to water and to grass

and to the animal that looks straight into the eye of its approaching death.

So I continued along the dark path

and turned into my garden and dug and buried the reed

and again I whispered: some morning the resurrection will come,

dawn's light will grow red as trees blossom in spring,

the sea will be born again, and the wave will again fling forth Aphrodite.

We are the seed that dies. And I entered my empty house.

Dawn, Lefkara, southern slopes of Troodos Mountains, Larnaca District, Cyprus Greek Cypriot Republic: photo by Leonid Mamchenkov, 14 February 2004

George Seferis (1900-1971): Memory I, from Logbook III, 1955, in George Seferis: Collected Poems (Revised edition), translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, 1991


Anonymous said...

"the one that watches me from beyond the night from within my light"

This is certainly one of the saddest and most beautiful things I have ever read. Delving into the ancient and modern history and background is rewarding, but obviously you quickly come back to the poem and the words.

It's always good to be reminded also that people can do many things. I was reading earlier this week about our current ambassador to London, a millionaire political operative known for his "bundling" skills (like so many ambassadors before him, I'm sure). Then, I read about George Seferis holding the same position for his country and it takes my breath away.

TC said...

Ah, one of the great lines, Curtis. A line like that must be earned by and proved against life. It passes the test on both counts.

As to "bundling", though...

Yes, thanks be to the gods, there are, or anyway once were, diplomats of a different stripe entirely.

(I think that was perhaps strictly a phenomenon of that period known as Civilization, which is getting harder and harder to remember.)

The commitment to the cause of Cyprus indeed went beyond a career interest to a deep passion for Seferis. It seems he identified the place with his own place of origin, Smyrna, in Asia Minor. One feels at any rate a transference of the love of home, deepened by age and change and the burden of experience of the world.

Barry Taylor said...

This is stunning. I'm particularly moved by the resonances of the image of burying the shepherd's pipe - a turning away from the pastoral mode in the face of modernity's mechanised butcheries, or rather a safe-keeping until trees blossom again and 'the wave will again fling forth Aphrodite'? Let's hope the latter.

This amazing poem's mention of Patroclus also sent me off sideways to a favourite work by another modern artist making electrifying connections to Homer and the mediterranean palette evoked by the photos on this and recent blogs. I was fortunate to be in Paris last week and see Cy Twombly's Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus for the first time close to - so there was a fresh edge to the sadness a few days later of reading news of his death. Here's a link to the canvas:

Ed Baker said...

another Great ... ambassador on many levels:

Octavio Paz

mostly one needs to get "out there" and well get experiences

far beyond this computer-land

after al

we are nothing more than our OWN experiences

these guys are among what I tend to call
My Teachers

I could make a list however I tend towards internalization/limitlessness and spend time:

searching the stars
for intelligent life
damn little of it here


Tom you're the only thing on the internet that leaves me feeling a little better/smarter than before

aditya said...

Many sentient beings I believe live through their lives having portions (little or big no matter) of this poem running in their heads. But to possess as much sincerity to write a poem as delicate as this .. The poem is terribly reverberating throwing me entirely and immediately to the floor ridding me of my speech

..because I said good evening to him.

Once a shepherd/porter told me he had lost his flute in the very pine forest we were passing back then. I wonder if the wind still blows through it.


.. So they say - 'We can only get enlightened with actions never words.'

and that is so true
as far as among the million stars our forever-in-spring-blossoms computer land is concerned.

Peter Greene said...

Enjoyed that! And the photos...thanks for both.



These two beautiful pictures (seeming to go on and on) 'framing' this 'memory' in "there's only a little sky" and "no one makes a mistake" and "We are the seed that dies. And I entered my empty house.". . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, quail standing on telephone wire
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

there in such a way that is
lost, “forgetting” it

the moment when the picture
is, at last, has been

silver of sun in grey whiteness of fog,
cormorant flapping across toward ridge

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

«... Une graine qui rentre à sa place, est une graine qui va germer, un Grec qui rentre, est un homme qui va blasphémer. Grèce, je t’ai serré contre ma flèche, tu m’as démonisé. Et les camarades qui ont cru avec moi aux racines et au retour, je les vois s’altérer au jour le jour, je dirais chimiquement. L’un a vite désespéré, il est reparti et il repartira toute sa vie. L’autre amuse les dames avec des phrases qu’il haïssait, hier il est devenu ministre. L'autre dit qu'il est lui même la fille fausse de l'Erechthéion, la copie en terre d'un être vivant qui est resté en exil. Combien encore. Et celui là-bas, ayant érigé autour de lui même la première clôture, il a senti qu’il avait besoin d’encore un pour les sentiments qui erraient à l'extérieur, et un autre et un autre. A tel point, que son cœur ne s’entend plus, si tu le coupe, il aura l’aspect d'oignon… ».

George Seferis, «Six Nuits sur l'Acropole"

"... A seed that comes back to its place is a seed that goes to germinate, a Greek who comes back to its place, is a man who who goes to curse. Greece, I have held you against my flesh, you've demonized me. And peers who believed with me to the roots and the return, I saw them deteriorate from day to day, I would say chemically. One desperated quickly, he left and he will leave his entire life. The other amuses the ladies with phrases he hated, he became Minister yesterday. The other says that it is himself the fake girl from the Erechtheion, the earth copy of a living that has remained in exile. How many more. And another one there, having built around himself the first fence, he felt he needed one more for the feelings that wandered outside, and another and another. So that his heart can not be heard anymore, if you cut it, it will look like an onion…"

George Seferis, "Six Nights on the Acropolis"

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

Here is the originalQ

These are my translations, sorry for any mistakes

Ed Baker said...

the passage that you translate
&pass on to us

(Greek to French to English)
gave me a chill

you, as far as I am concerned, did just fine with your English
on the way to Lindos in 1968 I spent about a week in Athens

stayed in a minus-two-star-place about a block away from The Acropolis

are the 10,000 cats still there ? & the pollution?

is Six Nights on the Acropolis "out there" in English?

for me this one excerpt/ passage well not to compare but:

blows HOWL away

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

@ Ed Baker

sensibly fewer cats,
sensibly less pollution due to the crisis, except for the teargas...

hear is your english copy:

TC said...

Cy Twombly and Patroclus -- sigh for the losses.

Barry, I too keep thinking about that buried reed.

And that dead seed, that empty house, that red dawn.

"...and to the animal that looks straight into the eye of its approaching death."

Speaking of...


For private reasons the photo of the editor in chief at your great blog sparked thoughts of a lost prince.

The Great Sphinx

Thanks for bringing us the lights and nights of the Acropolis.

(Once long ago spent much of a summer gazing at those lights in wonder, from the dusty hills across the night city...)

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

here is my response to your Great Sphinx:

without warning
she was away for five days
on another trip
it was not the first time
and the cat
who had left
for his usual walk in the garden
did not realize from the beginning
then he came
and looked for her
came back again
he was never able
to measure the time
neither the steps
to her home
from afar
he heard the car
shortly after he came back
and they found each other again
first the caresses
afterwards the food
and sleepping
in the seat next to her
a hand of hers on him
the other on the mouse
he started purring
and then immersed in sleep
trembling sometimes
and dribbling
and she knows
just only her
that there will come one day
one night
who knows
but there will come
an end to this habit
without warning
in a lifetime bending
in a crack
a cut in the thread
and one of them
will not come back
to this devotion

written on September the 23rd, 2009. If you wish, have a look at the original. Pictures (to enlarge), mine

Niaouris died poisoned shortly before dawn, on 22 May 2010
a few hours before she returned, he did not wait for her. He was found at the front door, perhaps asking for help ... In two months he would be two years old

TC said...


Such a tender and moving poem, and so sad and sweet also to see the photos of Niaouris. That thread which is extended from their world is so delicate and fragile, yet at the same time so strong; perhaps even stronger in memory when they are gone.

For a long time our old place has been an accidental shelter for stray and abandoned cats who have then come to stay, each one unlike all the others, all equally beloved, and alas mourned when they are gone.

Currently we have a brother and sister pair who are very old and don't venture out any more, a younger wilder fellow who comes and goes (and keeps me awake) all night, another stranger who shows up regularly for feeding...

When Seferis writes of the ability of animals to look into the eye of approaching death, one is reminded of how much better than us they are at these things.

Over the years I have composed many sad little elegies for the lost ones, but perhaps it's better to remember them in life. This little poem was written a few weeks after 9/11, when all the world was fretting over the apocalypse of terror, while the cats couldn't have cared less. They are always able to help us put things in perspective. (These two are both now departed in spirit, though their material remains are out under the wild foliage behind the house...)

Lustration Rite

Robb said...


"memory hurts wherever you touch it"

and the ending.

Tom, thank you for bringing this poem into my life.


L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

Thank you very much for your kind words and for sharing your touching experiences, sending me to different posts of yours.

indeed, Niaouris wrapped in a white sheet was also buried in the garden.

Seferis is one of my favorites, perhaps because we share this common wound.

thanks from the Antipodes

TC said...

"this common wound..."

"...hurts wherever you touch it"

L'Enfant and Robb: in any time, the ability to feel remains one encouraging thing.

Thanks for the company; this is for you and everyone here:

Under the Mask a Void: The King of Asine