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THE POETRY OF ODYSSEAS ELYTIS

odysseuselytis

Odysseas Elytis, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1911 and died in Athens in 1996. A major poet in the Greek language, Elytis is also one of the most outstanding international figures of 20th-century poetry. In his work, modernist European poetics and Greek literary tradition are fused in a highly original lyrical voice. The following was written by Elytis in 1972:

“It has been said that I am a Dionysian poet, particularly in my first poems. I do not think this is correct. I am for clarity. As I wrote in one of my poems, “I have sold myself for clearness.” I told you that I am critical of occidental rationalism, skeptical of its classicism, and that I feel the breach opened by surrealism was a real liberation of the senses and the imagination. Could one possibly conceive of a new classicism in the spirit of surrealism? Is this a contradiction in terms? Do you know the work of Hans Arp? There you have great simplicity! He is a classical sculptor, isn’t he? Yet he was a surrealist! In other words, the world of surrealism had its classicists and romanticists. Essentially, it was romantic movement. But Éluard, for example, I personally find more classical than romantic.
I never was a disciple of the surrealist school.
I am not for the clarity of the intelligence, that which the French call “la belle clarté.” No, I think that even the most irrational thing can be limpid. Limpidity is probably the one element which dominates my poetry at present. The critic Varonitis has perceived this. He says that in my book “The Light Tree” there is an astonishing limpidity. What I mean by limpidity is that behind a given thing something different can be seen and behind that still something else, and so on and so on. This kind of transparency is what I have attempted to achieve. Is seems to me something essentially Greek. The limpidity which exists in nature from the physical point of view is transposed into poetry. However, as I told you, that which is limpid can at the same time be altogether irrational. My kind of clarity is not that of the ratio or of the intelligence, not clarté as the French and Westerners in general conceive it.

You always look somewhat puzzled, I notice, whenever I contrast Greeks with Westerners or Europeans. This is not a mistake on my part. We Greeks belong politically, of course, to the Occident. We are part of Europe, part of the Western world, but at the same time Greece was never only that. There was always the oriental side which occupied an important place in the Greek spirit. Throughout antiquity oriental values were assimilated. There exists an oriental side in the Greek which should not be neglected. It is for this reason that I make the distinction.

Let me conclude by reading to you a concise statement I have prepared concerning the aims of my poetry:

I consider poetry a source of innocence full of revolutionary forces. It is my mission to direct these forces against a world my conscience cannot accept, precisely so as to bring that world through continual metamorphoses more in harmony with my dreams. I am referring here to a contemporary kind of magic whose mechanism leads to the discovery of our true reality. It is for this reason that I believe, to the point of idealism, that I am moving in a direction which has never been attempted until now. In the hope of obtaining a freedom from all constraints and the justice which could be identified with absolute light, I am an idolater who, without wanting to do so, arrives at Christian sainthood.”

http://greekodyssey.typepad.com/

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