Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The themes and meanings of the poem are intertwined with the imagery of trees, the sea, and women. Seferis uses graphic visual images combined with common symbols such as flowers, trees, animals, and fish to convey sensuality, nature, and the mystery of unknowable fate. The attempt to learn the meaning of life from all these images yields whatever sense and security is to be found in life. The scope of the poem is philosophical. In order to understand life’s meaning many aspects of life are contemplated: Greek mythology is alluded to, along with Christianity, the life of pleasures and the body, the life of travel and adventure, and the life of the mind, or studying. The poet refers to a life of study: “I imagine that he who’ll rediscover life, in spite of so much paper, so many emotions, so many debates and so much teaching, will be someone like us, only with a slightly tougher memory.” The poet does not desire to present answers to the great questions of life so much as to describe the process of embracing life and trying to find out its secrets.

This is a challenging poem for students, but a worthwhile poem that presents the important questions of life in a common language narrative that is accessible to the diligent student. This poem does not contain the devices of rhyme or rhythm which often occupy poetry studies and may occlude the meaning for some. With persistence, however, most students will be able to understand the meaning of the poem and thereby develop further their own beliefs and philosophies, or be prompted to study Greek or other ancient philosophies more in depth.