| On an 18 October:
The Nobel Literature Prize to Odysseus Elytis.
“for his poetry, which,
against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength
and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom
El poeta griego Odysseus Lytis (1911~1996) gana
el Premio Nobel de Literatura.
Alepoudhélis (pseudonym Odysseus
Elytis) Odysseus Elytis's name tells us a great deal about him
as a person and a writer.
- the seafarer, the Homeric poem's hero, alive with the spirit of
freedom, with defiant intrepidity, enterprise, and an insatiable appetite
for all the adventures and sensuous experiences that the seas and
isles of Greece can offer. Odysseus is the name given to the poet
by his parents. It testifies to the feeling for the past and to the
links with the myths and distinctive character of Greek tradition.
The family comes from the Aegean islands. The poet was born in Crete
just before the liberation from Turkish rule.
Elytis is the name he adopted at the very beginning of his career
as a writer. The name is a composite one, with allusion to several
concepts dear to the poet's heart - it could be called a much abridged
manifesto. The components in the name are to serve as a reminder of
the Greek words for Greece (Ellas), hope (elpídha), freedom (elefthería)
and the mythical woman who is the personification of beauty, erotic
sensuality and female allure, Helena (Eléni). Eros and Heros are closely
connected in Elytis's world of poetry or myth.
The sea and the islands, their fauna and flora, the smooth pebbles
on the beaches, the surge of the waves, the prickly black sea-urchins,
the tang of salt, and the light over the water are constantly recurring
elements in his writing - like the bright flood of sunlight which
baptizes this world with its all-pervading lustre, at once fertile
and purifying. Sensuality and light irradiate Elytis's poetry. The
perceptible world is vividly present and overwhelming in its wealth
of freshness and astonishing experiences.
But through Elytis's evocative verbal art, this world is also elevated
to a symbolic reality. It becomes an ideal for the world that is not
always so bright and true and wonderful, but which should be, and
could be. We should always praise and worship this world for what
it ought to be, and for what it, thereby, can be to us: a life-giving
source of strength. Elytis's extolling of existence, of man and his
potentialities, and life in communion with the rest of creation, is
no idealizing or illusory escapism. It is a moral act of invocation
of the kind to be found so many times in Greek history, from the present-day
struggles for freedom against fascist or other oppression far back
through the centuries to the heroic phase of the classical era. What
matters is not to submit. What matters is constantly to bear in mind
what life should be, and what man can shape for himself in defiance
of all that threatens to destroy him and violate him.
This is not political writing in the narrow sense of the word. It
is a writing of preparedness, which aims at defending the moral integrity
or pride that is essential if we are to be able to resist at all,
and to endure hardships and dangers, outrage and adversity. These
sides of Elytis's poetry emerged strongly during the first years of
the 1940s when he took part in the campaign in Albania against the
fascist invasion. He passed through what he himself calls a crisis.
Everything had to be tried out afresh - how to live, what the use
of poetry was, how the beauty of poetry and art could serve in the
fight for human dignity and resistance, yet preserve its freedom as
The poem, Heroic and Elegiac
Song for the Lost Second Lieutenent of the Albanian Campaign was
written during this war, most of it based on personal experience.
It immediately evoked response and became a kind of generation document
for the young. It has kept its position as an expression of the Greeks'
indomitable spirit of resistance. The fallen soldier is a representative
of the Greeks who were killed in this war, but also of all those who
have fallen during Greece's long history of struggle for national
liberty and individuality. Here, as so often in Elytis's writing,
realistic and mythical depiction are combined.
The Albanian campaign and the "heroic and elegiac song" about it were,
in a way, a turning point for Elytis as a poet. His first verses had
been published in the middle of the 1930s in a magazine which was
then a forum for young writers, Nea Ghrámmata -- in fact, a
school for budding poets. The impulses from French surrealism, in
particular, made themselves felt - in Elytis's case, chiefly from
Paul Éluard. Surrealism became a liberator. It helped the young writers
to find themselves, not least, in relation to the great Greek classical
tradition, which might threaten to become oppressive and to stagnate
in stereotyped and rhetorical formulae. Elytis's first poems, before
Heroic and Elegiac Song, are youthfully sensual, full of light,
brilliant, and very evocative in their visual and charming freshness.
They quickly established him as one of the leading new Greek poets.
With Heroic and Elegiac Song,
however, other sides of the writer emerged and insisted on becoming
part of his creative world - sides which had been there from the outset
but which now demanded more room: the tragic and the heroic. In the
poetic cycle which many regard as Elytis's foremost work, To áxion
estí (Worthy It Is ), these very complex experiences and programs
have been given a form which makes this work one of 20th century literature's
most concentrated and richly-faceted poems. The cycle is a kind of
lyric drama or myth with strains from Hesiod, the Bible and Byzantine
hymns. In its severe and polyphonic structure it is also linked to
the avant-gardism of modern western writing. The cycle begins almost
as drama of creation, concerning not only the poet himself, but, through
him, us all. For, Elytis says, "I do not speak about myself. I speak
for anyone who feels like myself but does not have enough naiveté
to confess it." But it is also about the origin of Greece, in fact
of the world. Then follows an architecturally complicated section
with descriptions of the war and other scourges that have afflicted
Greece and modern man. After this section, which represents a crisis
or path of suffering, comes a concluding part, the actual song of
praise; mature man is tempered and strengthened through his experiences
but also fortified in his indomitable and defiant will to defend life
and its sensuous abundance.
one of his short essays, Elytis sums up his intentions: "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..."
In its combination of fresh, sensuous flexibility and strictly disciplined
implacability in the face of all compulsion, Elytis's poetry give
a shape to its distinctiveness,which is not only very personal but
also represents the traditions of the Greek people.