odysseas elytis | calendar of an invisible april

8 04 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 226 | April 4, 2008

Odysseas Elytis

The Nobel Prize for Literature committee is often criticized (even condemned in some circles) for not always doing the obvious: bestowing honor and recognition on authors many of us, especially here in America, are familiar with. I won’t go into the long list of America writers alone who, in the minds of many knowledgeable people, should have won the Nobel Prize in literature but never did. (Norman Mailer, for one, comes to mind). But we sometimes forget the existence and role of the writer in other cultures. In many countries, a more honorable and recognized a calling than the American scene where the writer has been pretty much reduced to a huckster, from TV talk shows to endless book tours, his success depending on just about everything else than whom he speaks for from his heart and whatever art he may have achieved in a lifetime of learning to say it well.

I have always welcomed the Nobel Prize committee’s contrary nature and particular insight in plucking some totally unknown foreign author (to us), thrusting that author into the world spotlight, giving him/her the attention so well deserved, even though their work may have been barely been translated into a handful of languages.

I remember the Nobel Prize for Literature going to the Greek poet, Odysseas Elytis in 1979 and saying to myself: Odysseas, who? How do they find these writers?

But the more unknown, the more obscure the writer, the more likely I am these days to purchase his or her book immediately—if an English translation exists.

Here is Elytis in prose and poetry. I think you will see why the committee bestowed the world class honor upon him in 1979. Norbert Blei

“Europeans and Westerners always find mystery in obscurity, in the night, while we Greeks find it in light, which is for us an absolute. To illustrate this I give three images. I tell how once, at high noon, I saw a lizard climb upon a stone (it was unafraid since I stood stock-still, ceasing even to breathe) and then, in broad daylight, commence a veritable dance, with a multitude of tiny movements, in honor of light. There and then I deeply sensed the mystery of light. At another time I experienced this mystery while at sea between the islands of Naxos and Paros. Suddenly in the distance I saw dolphins that approached and passed us, leaping above the water to the height of our deck. The final image is that of a young woman on whose naked breast a butterfly descended one day at noon while cicadas filled the air with their noise. This was for me another revelation of the mystery of light. It is a mystery which I think we Greeks can fully grasp and present. It may be something unique to this place. Perhaps it can be best understood here, and poetry can reveal it to the entire world.” –Odysseus Elytis

Calendar of an Invisible April by Odysseas Elytis

Translation from Greek: Marios Dikaiakos

“The wind was whistling continuously, it was
getting darker, and that distant voice was
incessantly reaching my ears : “an entire life”…
“an entire life”…
On the opposite wall, the shadows of the
trees were playing cinema”

“It seems that somewhere people are celebrating;
although there are no houses or human beings
I can listen to guitars and other laughters which
are not nearby

Maybe far away, within the ashes of heavens
Andromeda, the Bear, or the Virgin…

I wonder; is loneliness the same, all over the
worlds ? ”


“Almond-shaped, elongated eyes, lips; perfumes stemming
from a premature sky of great feminine delicacy
and fatal drunkeness.

I leant on my side -almost fell- onto the
hymns to the Virgin and the cold of spacious

Prepared for the worst.”


“FRIDAY, 10c

LATE MIDNIGHT my room is moving in the
neighborhood shining like an emerald.
Someone searches it, but truth eludes him
constantly. How to imagine that it is
placed lower

Much lower

That death too, has its own Red sea.”



Odysseas Elytis (Greek: Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) (November 2, 1911—March 18, 1996) is a legendary Greek poet,regarded as one of the most important representatives of romantic modernism in Greece and the world. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Descendant of the Alepoudhelis, an old industrial family from Lesbos, he was born in Heraklion (Candia) on the island of Crete, 2 November 1911. His family was later relocated to Athens permanently, where the poet completed his high school studies and later attended courses as an auditor at the Law School at Athens University. In 1935, Elytis published his first poem in the journal New Letters (Νέα Γράμματα) at the prompting of such friends as George Seferis. His entry with a distinctively earthy and original form assisted to inaugurate a new era in Greek poetry and its subsequent reform after the Second World War.Elytis chose exile in Paris for a greater part Greece’s military dictatorship in 1967.He fled to Paris in the late sixties and was romantically linked to the lyricist and musicologist Mariannina Kriezi. Elytis was vehemently private and purposely solitary in pursuing his ideal of poetic truth and the poetic experience.

In 1937 he served his military requirements. Being selected as an army cadet, he joined the National Military School in Corfu. During the war he was appointed Second Lieutenant, placed initially at the 1st Army Corps Headquarters to later be transferred at the 24th Regiment, on the first-line of the battlefields. Elytis was sporadically publishing poetry and essays after his initial foray into the literary world. He was a member of the Association of Greek Art Critics, AICA-Hellas, International Association of Art Critics.

He has twice been Programme Director of the Greek National Radio Foundation (1945-46 and 1953-54), Member of the Greek National Theatre’s Administrative Council, President of the Administrative Council of the Greek Radio and Television as well as Member of the Consultative Committee of the Greek National Tourist’s Organisation on the Athens Festival. In 1960 he was awarded the First State Poetry Prize, in 1965 the Order of the Phoenix and in 1975 he was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Thessaloniki University and received the Honorary Citizenship of the Town of Mytilene.

During the years 1948-1952 and 1969-1972 he settled in Paris. There, he audited philology and literature seminars at the Sorbonne and was well received by the pioneers of the world’s avant-garde (Reverdy, Breton, Tzara, Ungaretti, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti) as Tériade’s most respected friend. Teriade was simultaneously in Paris publishing works with all the renowned artists and philosophers (Kostas Axelos, Jean Paul Sartre,Francoise Gilot, Rene Daumal…) of the time. Elytis and Teriade had formed a strong friendship that solidified in 1939 with the publication of Elytis first book of poetry entitled “Orientations”. Both Elytis and Teriade hailed from Lesbos and had a mutual love of the Greek painter Theophilos. Starting from Paris he travelled and subsequently visited Switzerland, England, Italy and Spain. In 1948 he was the representative of Greece at the International Meetings of Geneva, in 1949 at the Founding Congress of the International Art Critics Union in Paris and in 1962 at the Incontro Romano della Cultura in Rome. In 1961, upon an invitation of the State Department, he traveled through the U.S.A.; and —upon similar invitations— through the Soviet Union in 1963 and Bulgaria in 1965.

Odysseas Elytis had been completing plans to travel overseas when he died in Athens at the age of 84. He was survived by his niece Myrsene and his older brother Evangelos, who was bestowed the writ of condolence from the mayor of Athens on behalf of the nation at the funeral.

Elytis’ poetry has marked, through an active presence of over forty years, a broad spectrum of subject matter and stylistic touch with an emphasis on the expression of that which is rarified and passionate. He did derive certain elements from Ancient Greece and Byzantium but devoted himself exclusively to today’s Hellenism, of which he attempted —in a certain way based on psychical and sentimental aspects— to reconstruct a modernist mythology for the institutions. His main endeavour was to rid people’s conscience from unjustifiable remorses and to complement natural elements through ethical powers, to achieve the highest possible transparency in expression and finally, to succeed in approaching the mystery of light, the metaphysics of the sun of which he was a “worshiper” -idolater by his own definition. A parallel manner concerning technique resulted in introducing the inner architecture, which is evident in a great many poems of his; mainly in the phenomenal landmark work Worthy It Is (Το Άξιον Εστί). This work due to its setting to music by Mikis Theodorakis as an oratorio, is a revered anthem whose verse is sung by all Greeks for all injustice, resistance and for its sheer beauty and musicality of form. Elytis’ theoretical and philosophical ideas have been expressed in a series of essays under the title The Open Papers (Ανοιχτά Χαρτιά). Besides creating poetry he applied himself to translating poetry and theatre as well as creating a series of collage pictures. Translations of his poetry have been published as autonomous books, in anthologies or in periodicals in eleven languages.


  • * Orientations (Προσανατολισμοί, 1939)
  • * Sun The First Together With Variations on A Sunbeam (Ηλιος ο πρώτος, παραλλαγές πάνω σε μιαν αχτίδα, 1943)
  • * An Heroic And Funeral Chant For The Lieutenant Lost In Albania (Άσμα ηρωικό και πένθιμο για τον χαμένο ανθυπολοχαγό της Αλβανίας, 1946)
  • * To Axion Esti—It Is Worthy (Το Άξιον Εστί, 1959)
  • * Six Plus One Remorses For The Sky (Έξη και μια τύψεις για τον ουρανό, 1960)
  • * The Light Tree And The Fourteenth Beauty (Το φωτόδεντρο και η δέκατη τέταρτη ομορφιά, 1972)
  • * The Sovereign Sun (Ο ήλιος ο ηλιάτορας, 1971)
  • * The Trills Of Love (Τα Ρω του Έρωτα, 1973)
  • * The Monogram (Το Μονόγραμμα, 1972)
  • * Step-Poems (Τα Ετεροθαλή, 1974)
  • * Signalbook (Σηματολόγιον, 1977)
  • * Maria Nefeli (Μαρία Νεφέλη, 1978)
  • * Three Poems under a Flag of Convenience (Τρία ποιήματα με σημαία ευκαιρίας 1982)
  • * Diary of an Invisible April (Ημερολόγιο ενός αθέατου Απριλίου, 1984)
  • * Krinagoras (Κριναγόρας, 1987)
  • * The Little Mariner (Ο Μικρός Ναυτίλος, 1988)
  • * The Elegies of Oxopetra (Τα Ελεγεία της Οξώπετρας, 1991)
  • * West of Sadness (Δυτικά της λύπης, 1995)

Prose, essays

  • * The True Face and Lyrical Bravery of Andreas Kalvos (Η Αληθινή φυσιογνωμία και η λυρική τόλμη του Ανδρέα Κάλβου, 1942)
  • * 2×7 e (collection of small essays) (2χ7 ε (συλλογή μικρών δοκιμίων))
  • * (Offering) My Cards To Sight (Ανοιχτά χαρτιά (συλλογή κειμένων), 1973)
  • * The Painter Theophilos (Ο ζωγράφος Θεόφιλος, 1973)
  • * The Magic Of Papadiamantis (Η μαγεία του Παπαδιαμάντη, 1975)
  • * Reference to Andreas Empeirikos (Αναφορά στον Ανδρέα Εμπειρίκο, 1977)
  • * The Public ones and the Private ones (Τα Δημόσια και τα Ιδιωτικά, 1990)
  • * Private Way (Ιδιωτική Οδός, 1990)
  • * «Εν λευκώ» (συλλογή κειμένων), (1992)
  • * The Garden with the Illusions (Ο κήπος με τις αυταπάτες, 1995)


  • * Second Writing (Δεύτερη γραφή, 1976)
  • * Sappho (Σαπφώ)
  • * The Apocalypse (by John) (Η αποκάλυψη, 1985)

Reference works

  • * Mario Vitti: Odysseus Elytis. Literature 1935-1971 (Icaros 1977)
  • * Tasos Lignadis: Elytis’ Axion Esti (1972)
  • * Lili Zografos: Elytis – The Sun Drinker (1972); as well as the special issue of the American magazine Books Abroad dedicated to the work of Elytis (Autumn 1975. Norman, Oklahoma, U.S.A.)
  • * Odysseas Elytis: Anthologies of Light. Ed. I. Ivask (1981)
  • * A. Decavalles: Maria Nefeli and the Changeful Sameness of Elytis’ Variations on a theme (1982)
  • * E. Keeley: Elytis and the Greek Tradition (1983)
  • * Ph. Sherrard: Odysseus Elytis and the Discovery of Greece, in Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 1(2), 1983
  • * K. Malkoff: Eliot and Elytis: Poet of Time, Poet of Space, in Comparative Literature, 36(3), 1984
  • * A. Decavalles: Odysseus Elytis in the 1980s, in World Literature Today, 62(l), 1988

Translations of Elytis’ work

  • * Poesie. Procedute dal Canto eroico e funebre per il sottotenente caduto in Albania. Trad. Mario Vitti (Roma. Il Presente. 1952)
  • * 21 Poesie. Trad. Vicenzo Rotolo (Palermo. Istituto Siciliano di Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici. 1968)
  • * Poèmes. Trad. Robert Levesque (1945)
  • * Six plus un remords pourle ciel. Trad. F. B. Mache (Fata Morgana. Montpellier 1977)
  • * Korper des Sommers. Übers. Barbara Schlörb (St. Gallen 1960)
  • * Sieben nächtliche Siebenzeiler. Übers. Günter Dietz (Darmstadt 1966)
  • * To Axion Esti – Gepriesen sei. Übers. Güinter Dietz (Hamburg 1969)
  • * The Axion Esti. Trans. Edmund Keeley and G. Savidis (Pittsburgh, U.S.A. 1974)
  • * The Sovereign Sun. Trans. Kimon Friar (Philadelphia, U.S.A. 1974)
  • * Selected poems. Ed. E. Keeley and Ph. Sherrard (1981)



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