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GEORGE SEFERIS

Selected Poems

Translated By Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
(Princeton University Press)

MYTHISTOREMA

4

Argonauts

And if the soul
is to know itself
it must look into a soul:
the stranger and enemy, we've seen him in the mirror.
They were fine, my companions, they never complained
about the work or the thirst or the frost,
they had the bearing of trees and waves
that accept the wind and the rain
accept the night and the sun
without changing in the midst of change.
They were fine, whole days
they sweated at the oars with lowered eyes
breathing in rhythm
and their blood reddened a submissive skin.
Sometimes they sang, with lowered eyes
as we were passing the dry island with the Barbary figs
to the west, beyond the cape
of the barking dogs.
If it is to know itself, they said
it must look into a soul, they said
and the oars struck the sea's gold
in the sunset.
We went past many capes many islands the sea
leading to another sea, gulls and seals.
Sometimes unfortunate women wept
lamenting their lost children
and others raging sought Alexander the Great
and glories buried in the heart of Asia.
We moored on shores full of night-scents
with birds singing, waters that left on the hands
the memory of great happiness.
But the voyages did not end.
Their souls became one with the oars and the oarlocks
with the solemn face of the prow
with the rudder's wake
with the water that shattered their image
The companions died one by one,
with lowered eyes. Their oars
mark the place where they sleep on the shore.

No one remembers them. Justice.



9

The harbor is old, I can't wait any longer
for the friend who left for the island of pine trees
or the friend who left for the island of plane trees
or the friend who left for the open sea.
I stroke the rusted cannons, I stroke the oars
so that my body may revive and decide.
The sails give off only the smell
of salt from the other storm.

If I chose to remain alone, what I longed for
was solitude, not this kind of waiting,
my soul shattered on the horizon,
these lines, these colors, this silence.

The night's stars take me back to the anticipation
of Odysseus waiting for the dead among the asphodels.
When we moored here among the asphodels we hoped to find
the gorge that saw Adonis wounded.



10

Our country is closed in, all mountains
that day and night have the low sky as their roof.
We have no rivers, we have no wells, we have no springs,
only a few cisterns - and these empty - that echo, and that we worship.
A stagnant hollow sound, the same as our loneliness
the same as our love, the same as our bodies.
We find it strange that once we were able to build
our houses, huts and sheepfolds.
And our marriages, the cool coronals and the fingers,
become enigmas inexplicable to our soul.
How were our children born, how did they grow strong?

Our country is closed in. The two black Symplegades
close it in. When we go down
to the harbors on Sunday to breathe freely
we see, lit in the sunset,
the broken planks from voyages that never ended,
bodies that no longer know how to love.


12

Bottle in the Sea

Three rocks, a few burnt pines, a solitary chapel
and farther above
the same landscape repeated starts again
three rocks in the shape of a gate-way, rusted,
a few burnt pines, black and yellow,
and a square hut buried in whitewash;
and still farther above, many times over,
the same landscape recurs level after level
to the horizon, to the twilight sky..

Here we moored the ship to splice the broken oars
to drink water and to sleep.
The sea that embittered us is deep and unexplored
and unfolds a boundless calm.



18

I am sorry for having let
a broad river pass through my fingers
without drinking a single drop.
Now I am sinking into the stone.
A small pine-tree in the red soil
is all the company I have.
Whatever I loved vanished with the houses
that were new last summer
and collapsed in the autumn wind.



23

A little farther
We will see the almond trees blossoming
The marble gleaming in the sun
The sea breaking into waves

a little farther,
Let us rise a little higher.



THE KING OF ASINE

Asinin te...
ILIAD

All morning long we looked around the citadel
starting from the shaded side, there where the sea,
green and without luster-breast of a slain peacock-
received us like time without an opening in it.
Veins of rock dropped down from high above,
twisted vines, naked, manybranched, coming alive
at the water's touch, while the eye following them
struggled to escape the tiresome rocking,
losing strength continually.

On the sunny side a long empty beach
and the light striking diamonds on the huge walls.
No living thing, the wild doves gone
and the king of Asine, whom we've been trying to find for two years now,
unknown, forgotten by all, even by Homer,
only one word in the Iliad and that uncertain,
thrown here like the gold burial mask.
You touched it, remember its sound? Hollow in the light
like a dry jar in dug earth:
the same sound that our oars make in the sea.
The king of Asine a void under the mask
everywhere with us everywhere with us, under a name:
"Asinin te... Asinin te..."
and his children statues
and his desires the fluttering of birds, and the wind
in the gaps between his thoughts, and his ships
anchored in a vanished port:
under the mask a void.

Behind the large eyes the curved lips the curls
carved in relief on the gold cover of our existence
a dark spot that you see traveling like a fish
in the dawn calm of the sea:
a void everywhere with us.
And the bird that flew away last winter
with a broken wing:
abode of life,
and the young woman who left to play
with the dogteeth of summer
and the soul that sought the lower world squeaking
and the country like a large plane-leaf swept along by the torrent of the sun
with the ancient monuments and the contemporary sorrow.

And the poet lingers, looking at the stones, and asks himself
does there really exist
among these ruined lines, edges, points, hollows, and curves
does there really exist
here where one meets the path of rain, wind, and ruin
does there exist the movement of the face, shape of the tenderness
of those who've shrunk so strangely in our lives,
those who remained the shadow of waves and thoughts with the sea's boundlessness

or perhaps no, nothing is left but the weight
the nostalgia for the weight of a living existence
there where we now remain unsubstantial, bending
like the branches of a terrible willow-tree heaped in permanent despair
while the yellow current slowly carries down rushes uprooted in the mud
image of a form that the sentence to everlasting bitterness has turned to stone:
the poet a void.

Shieldbearer, the sun climbed warring,
and from the depths of the cave a startled bat
hit the light as an arrow hits a shield:
"Asinin te... Asinin te..." Would that it were the king of Asine
we've been searching for so carefully on this acropolis
sometimes touching with our fingers his touch upon the stones.

Asine, summer 38-Athens, Jan. '40



THREE ROCKS

Three rocks, a few burnt pines, a solitary chapel
and farther above
the same landscape repeated starts again
three rocks in the shape of a gate-way, rusted,
a few burnt pines, black and yellow,
and a square hut buried in whitewash;
and still farther above, many times over,
the same landscape recurs level after level
to the horizon, to the twilight sky..

Here we moored the ship to splice the broken oars
to drink water and to sleep.
The sea that embittered us is deep and unexplored
and unfolds a boundless calm.
Here among the pebbles we found a coin
and threw dice for it.
The youngest won it and disappeared.

We set out again with our broken oars.

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