Sails on the Nile,
songless birds with one wing
searching silently for the other;
groping in the sky’s absence
for the body of a marble youth;
inscribing on the blue with invisible ink
a desperate cry.
(translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)
Another day, another overlooked poet. I’m very fond of Seferis – his poems are lyrical and, to me, quasi-mythic, in that they evoke a yearning for an imagined past. It may just be my imagination putting in a little overtime, but I always seem to sense beneath the metaphors and images of Seferis’ work (which are glorious in themselves) what Keats would call “the shadow of a magnitude”. There is nothing postured about Seferis’ engagement with legend, his is a tradition of lived myth, as though it were only yesterday that he, a simple sailor, had stepped off the ship on the shores of Circe and watched his beloved Elpenor die.
Today’s poem is short and simple – a quick flutter of images passing vividly before the eye. I’m not so hot about “the body of a marble youth” bit, but I think both the “songless birds with one wing” image, and the image of the sails like nibs writing their invisible message across the sky are stunning.
P.S. Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963. You can read his Nobel Prize Lecture here, with it’s introduction to the evolution of Greek Poetry.