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5.0 out of 5 stars A Poet Without Borders., 19 Sep 2001
This review is from: The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis (Hardcover)
Odysseus Elytis (1911 -1996) was a very gifted Greek poet who dedicated his life to a love of hope, beauty, freedom and Greek tradition conveyed in words and imagery that leave the reader thirsting for more. It is this insatiable thirst for droplets of human comfort during life's anguished moments and visionary beauty which together give rise to rainbows of hope that is shared by people of all cultures that has made Elytis a "poete sans frontiers", or a poet without borders.
The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis published in 1997 is the first collection of the entire body of poetry of Elytis in any language, including Greek. The translations by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris do justice to the original poems, providing the reader with the same captivating lyricism and surreal imagery used by Elytis to give voice to the universally human consciousness.
The poetry of Elytis gained the attention of the Swedish Academy which announced in 1979 that Odysseus Elytis had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature "for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness."
Another honorable recognition was bestowed upon Elytis in 1964 when the renown Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis set Elytis' epic poem The Axion Esti to music and the resulting music and lyrics became so popular that today many Greeks know at least part of the song by heart. The Axion Esti was considered to be the poet's most ambitious poem and was described by the Swedish Academy as "one of twentieth century literature's most concentrated and ritually faceted poems". This poem recounts the world of Eros, including his battle against the darkness created by misunderstanding and hatred, his victory, and the ultimate justification and praise.
Elytis possessed an historical as well as a moral awareness that became a pivotal part of his poems and served as a counterweight to his deep and abiding love of the Aegean with all of its spectacular beauty. Elytis faced the prospect of his own human mortality as well as the manifestation of tragic human evil when he served with distinction at the Albanian front during the Second World War when the Greeks defeated the Mussolini's army in the first allied forces victory against the Axis. The horrors of that military campaign, followed by his brutal experiences with the Nazi occupation of Greece, a civil war and a military dictatorship, provided a significant catalyst for this gifted poet to continue to carry the literary torch in the tradition of Greece's best poetry which identified ideal beauty with moral good and truth.
The art, literature, philosophy and religion of pre-Classical Greece also greatly influenced the lifetime work of Elytis. In many of his poems, Elytis wrote about heroism in the context of the ancient hero upon whom risks, danger and even terror are thrust by Fate, after which the hero bravely confronts the challenge and is transformed by the experience. The hero, to whom the reader can relate from his own life's experiences, is given this opportunity for growth and development through the inevitable wounds, wisdom and willfulness that result from his encounter with Fate's challenge ... wounds that will heal and sculpt scars of remembrance; wisdom that is born of reflection, generosity of spirit and adherence to life's values; and willfulness of the inner strength of our spirit. A reader of his poetry cannot help seeing himself in many of these poems that at the same time serve to inspire and throw down the gauntlet.
I will always remember Elytis as the Poet of the Aegean Sea. He was born in 1911 and began writing poetry in 1929 in the Aegean islands. He later established himself as one of the leading voices of a generation of literary giants, including his fellow Nobel Laureate George Seferis and Yannis Ritsos. Unlike Seferis who spent a lifetime struggling against melancholy, Elytis is widely appreciated by his readers because he finds hope even in tragedy. His poetry clearly reflects his relentless search for the paradise that lives deeply within all of us and his conviction that the discovery of paradise is within our capability as well as our grasp. Elytis' poems celebrate the vitality and vibrancy of the Aegean landscape, the energies of man and his soul and the spirit of nature. He uses the power of language to link myth with history and to confront good and evil. His poetry clearly reflects his love of hope, freedom and the beauty that is in all.
This first collection of all the works of the great master is a must for anyone who endeavors to explore the Modern Greek culture and discover its representation of the universal human experience. This book has become a source of constant inspiration and discovery in our home.
Constantine Alexander
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