Elytis, Odysseus (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Odysseus Elytis 1911–1996
(Also transliterated as Odysseas; born Odysseus Alepoudelis) Greek poet, essayist, graphic artist, translator, and critic.
The following entry provides an overview of Elytis's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 15 and 49.
A Nobel laureate, Elytis gained international acclaim for his poetry, which combines elements of surrealism, eroticism, and lyricism. His poems attempt to define the Greek identity and, more universally, to help man cope with the dualism of life. The sun is a central symbol in his work; he often referred to himself as a "solar metaphysician."
Elytis was born in Iraklion, Crete, to a wealthy industrialist and his wife. In 1914 his family moved to Athens, where he attended primary and secondary schools and briefly attended the University of Athens School of Law. Elytis spent his summer vacations on the Aegean Islands, and the landscape and imagery of the islands infuses his poetry. The free association of surrealism, especially the French Surrealism of such artists as Paul Eluard, was also a major influence on his art and his poetry. After leaving law school in 1935, Elytis displayed several visual collages at the First International Surrealist Exhibition in Athens. At this time he also began publishing poems in various Greek periodicals under the name Odysseus Elytis, "Elytis" is a combination of the Greek words for Greece, hope, freedom, and Eleni (a figure in Greek mythology representing beauty and sensuality), which are all elements in his poetry. He chose not to publish under the name of Alepoudelis to avoid associations with his family's popular soap-manufacturing business. Elytis was hailed as a poet of the avant-garde and was part of the generation of the thirties including other important Greek writers such as George Seferis and Yannis Ritsos. He served on the Albanian front during the World War II as a second lieutenant in Greece's First Army Corps, an experience which became the basis for Azma iroiko ke penthimo yia ton hameno anthipologhaghotis Alvanias (1945; Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of Albania). From 1948 to 1953, Elytis lived in Paris, where he studied at the Sorbonne and wrote articles in French for Verve magazine. After returning to Greece, Elytis wrote his famous To Axion Esti (1959; The Axion Esti), which won Greece's First National Award for Poetry. Elytis won the Nobel Prize in 1979, which garnered him international attention. Elytis never married because he claimed his poetry would suffer, and for the same reason he did not change his lifestyle upon winning the Nobel Prize with its accompanying $190,000 award, instead continuing to live in a small apartment in Athens. Elytis died on March 18, 1996, at the age of 84.
Aspects of surrealism and the landscape of the Aegean Islands dominate Elytis's poetry. Sensual imagery and Eros in its physical and spiritual sense fill his earlier work such as Prosanatolizmi (1939; Orientations) and Ilios protos (1943; Sun the First). Darker themes of death, age, and mortality crept into Elytis's poetry after he served in World War II. His Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of Albania centers on the death of a young Greek soldier whose transfiguration and resurrection serves as an affirmation of justice and liberty. The work advances Elytis's concerns with the merging of physical and spiritual existence and celebrates the defense of freedom and victory over oppression. Considered one of the poet's greatest works, To Axion Esti has been called Elytis's "spiritual autobiography." The collection borrows much of its symbolism from the Greek Orthodox Church, along with folk tradition and other elements which Elytis fused to create his own version of Greek tradition. While it identifies the defeat and alienation of Greece after World War II, it also affirms the regenerative power of living in the present. In Exi ke mia tipsis yia ton ourano (1960; Six and One Remorses for the Sky) Elytis furthers his effort to reconcile elements of the dualism of human existence. Both Thanatos ke Anastasis tou Konstandinou Paleologhou (1971; Death and Resurrection of Konstandinos Paleologhos) and To Fotodhendro Ke i Dhekati Tetarti Omorfia (1971; The Light Tree and the Fourteenth Beauty) center on the triumph of hope over despair, the union of spirit and flesh, and the richness of Greek culture and tradition. While most of Elytis's poems are inspired by real life, they do not transcribe actual events. A real woman Elytis met inspired Maria Nefeli (1979; Maria Nephele), who represents a departure from his typical female character. Maria is a modern, urban woman who is fighting for recognition, not protection. The setting is the polluted city instead of the open country of purity and fresh air usually at the center of Elytis's work. The dialogue between Maria and the poetic persona illuminates Elytis's preoccupation with humanity's ability to attain harmony amid the chaos of the modern world. By the time Elytis wrote Ta elegia tis Oxopetras (1991; The Elegies of Jutting Rock), the darker images became a stronger element in his poetry. Death becomes just another step in the journey instead of something to overcome. However, there is acceptance on the part of the poet rather than defeat or despair.
Elytis did not receive international attention for his work until the publication of The Axion Esti. Critics praised his formidable technical skill and his merging of the demotic and classical aspects of the Greek language. Reviewers lauded his lyricism, musicality, and imagery. Much of the criticism of Elytis's work centers on the skill of his translators. The dense linguistic structure of Elytis's poetry makes it difficult to translate, and critics faulted many who have tried for losing the lyricism of his work.
Prosanatolismi [Orientations] (poetry) 1940
Ilios o protos [Sun the First] (poetry) 1943
Azma iroiko ke penthimo yia ton hameno anthipologhagho tis Alvanias [Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of Albania] (poetry) 1945
To Axion Esti [The Axion Esti] (poetry) 1959
Exi kai mia tipsis yia ton ourano [Six and One Remorses for the Sky] (poetry) 1960
To Fotodhendro Ke i Dhekati Tetarti Omorfia [The Light Tree and the Fourteenth Beauty] (poetry) 1971
O ilios o iliatorus [The Sovereign Sun: Selected Poems] (poetry) 1971
Thanatos ke Anastasis tou Konstandinou Paleologhou [Death and Resurrection of Konstandinos Paleologhos] (poetry) 1971
The Monogram (poetry) 1972
Ta Ro tou Erota (poetry) 1972
O Fillomandis [The Leaf Diviner] (poetry) 1973
Anihta Hartia [Open Papers] (essays) 1974
Ta eterothale (poetry) 1974
Sappho—Anasinthesi ke apodosi [translator] (poetry) 1976
Simatologion [The Siblings] (poetry) 1977
Maria Nefeli: Shiniko Puma [Maria Nephele: A Poem in Two Voices] (poetry) 1978
Tria poiemata me simea efkerias [Three Poems under a Flag of Convenience] (poetry) 1982
To imerologio enos atheatou Aprilou [Diary of an Invisible April] (poetry) 1984
O mikros naftilos [The Little Mariner] (poetry) 1986
What I Love: Selected Poems of...
(The entire section is 195 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poets' Greece," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXVII, No. 11, June 26, 1980, pp. 40-4.
[In the following excerpt, Green traces Elytis's relationship to the tradition of Greek poetry.]
When the Swedish Academy announced its choice for the Nobel Prize in literature last year, the general reaction was one of bewilderment. Who on earth, people asked, was Odysseus Elytis? Some students of the international literary scene ("irritated," as a friend wrote me, "at the selection of a man who hadn't been published by Penguin") hinted that the Academy's recent habit of honoring elderly obscure poets such as Vicente Aleixandre or Harry Martinson was rapidly becoming an affectation. This is unfair to Elytis, a poet of large achievement; but it does pinpoint, with some force, the problems involved in getting Greek poetry across to a Western audience. An unfamiliar alphabet and language are only the first hurdles to be overcome. Behind them lie an attitude to life and a cultural tradition that are at odds with the Anglo-American literary scene.
Poetry in Greece remains a natural part of popular life in a way that has long ceased to be true in the West. The editors of Twenty Contemporary Greek Poets claim that, on average, Greece sees two new volumes of poetry published daily, and from my own experience I would think their estimate no exaggeration. A spate of literary...
(The entire section is 4093 words.)
SOURCE: A review of I Mayia tou Papadhiamandhi, in World Literature Today, Vol. 54, No. 1, Winter, 1980, pp. 149-50.
[In the following review, Decavalles praises Elytis's rediscovery of the turn of the century prose writer Alexandros Papadhiamandhis in his I Mayia tou Papdhiamandhi.]
Deep intellectualand emotional affinity has obviously inspired this perceptive and brilliant, touching and revealing evaluation of Alexandros Papadhiamándhis by the outstanding contemporary Greek poet and 1979 Nobel laureate. Papadhiamándhis was a saintly man from the island of Skiathos whose several narrative tales, written around the turn of the century, made him the first original and unsurpassed master in modern Greek prose. His stories were all drawn from that Aegean island, the integrity of its closed and tiny world, its rocky natural beauty, its simple, unsophisticated and religiously inspired people, the picturesquenessand tragic nature of their lives. A poetic genius and a wise innocence in their author lent those narratives, in their strange mixture of elevated language and the demotic tongue, of exquisite art and careless journalistic improvisation, an irresistible charm. In subsequent years the prosaic narrow-mindedness of critics failed to see the inherent greatness and lasting universality of the stories.
Hence Elytis's affectionate concern to rediscover, reveal and defend, in his...
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SOURCE: "On the Parnassian Slopes," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4097, October 9, 1981, p. 1175.
[In the following excerpt, Beaton finds fault with the contemporary language of Edmund Keeley's and George Savidis's translation of Elytis's The Axion Esti, but asserts that they have achieved a readable version of a complex poetic work.]
A consequence of Greece's recent accession to the EEC predicted in a light-hearted mood by an academic colleague was the likely establishment of a Greek "poetry mountain". With a population of less than a fifth of that of Great Britain, Greece nonetheless produces annually a greater volume of published poetry. Who reads it all is another matter; but it is not only in quantity of published work that Greek poets excel. Since the time of Constantine Cavafy in the early part of this century, several of them have established international reputations, while others have produced work of exceptional quality which remains little known abroad.
Odysseus Elytis was surprisingly little read in this country until the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979 brought him into the international limelight. This is not wholly the fault of translators—he is well represented in the early translations of Greek poetry by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translations of his poetry have been appearing in magazines such as Agenda for many years,...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
SOURCE: "Eliot and Elytis: Poet of Time, Poet of Space," in Comparative Literature, Vol. 36, No. 3, Summer, 1984, pp. 238-57.
[In the following essay, Malkoff compares and contrasts Elytis's To Axion Esti to T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets and asserts that both poets are seeking a unity of being in their work.]
In this essay I propose to explore the differences between T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and Odysseus Elytis' To Axion Esti, in the hope of discovering patterns that may contribute to an understanding of their poetry in general. As a preliminary to such an investigation, it would be prudent to establish a common ground of discourse for two poems that are only rarely mentioned in the same breath, and which, at first glance, may seem quite unrelated. Is is a commonplace in criticism of modern Greek literature to note that while George Seferis, Greece's first Nobel Prize-winning poet, came very much under Eliot's spell, her second, Elytis, though admiring his American contemporary, has gone out of his way to characterize Eliot's work as being far too despairing. Nonetheless, the Quartets and the Axion Esti often coincide in theme—that is, in historical focus, and in the attempt to bridge the gap between man and God—and in form, as Eliot and Elytis use strikingly similar structural principles in their struggle to perceive order in the world's apparent chaos....
(The entire section is 7679 words.)
SOURCE: "Elytis's Sappho, His Distant Cousin," in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 226-29.
[In the following review, Decavalles asserts that although Elytis and Sappho were separated by time, their common language and culture enabled Elytis to bring new life to Sappho's work.]
To those familiar with Odysseus Elytis, it is no surprise that the 1979 Nobel laureate has now lent his modern voice to that old "distant cousin" of his, as he calls Sappho. This was almost bound to come. After a lengthy flirtation, these two representatives of a three-millennia poetic tradition have finally joined in a poetic-erotic embrace, an identification through which the younger poet has poured new life and voice into the older one. Elytis has even restored the much-fragmented Sappho to her inherent fullness.
The fate of Sappho and her poetry through the ages is well known. The originality she once brought to poetry and the popularity and fame she gained and enjoyed in the ancient world were later darkened by defamation, persecution, and even extinction, first through the zeal of the early Christians and later through others and through historical events from the third to the thirteenth century. She was for a while painstakingly and partially restored during the Renaissance, only to disappear again, then later be recovered once more, mostly in fragmentary quotations, papyri, and...
(The entire section is 2676 words.)
SOURCE: A review of O mikros naftilos, in World Literature Today, Vol. 60, No. 3, Summer, 1986, p. 500.
[In the following review, Decavalles praises Elytis's O mikros naftilos stating that it "stands unquestionably on a level with Elytis's other major poems and also constitutes a comprehensive summation of his life and creativity."]
Odysseus Elytis has dominantly and insistently been the poet of the bright and affirmative view of life. A worshiper of the sun, he has seen its light bathe and make lucid and diaphanous his eternally youthful Aegean world, which he has wished to see inspired, purified, and sanctified by Eros or Love in both its physical and its spiritual sense. Hence his "solar metaphysics."
Increasingly, however, personal and historical experience, age, mortality, and the approach of death have brought into Elytis's vision the darker, more pragmatic aspects of life as well, to which he constantly opposes his heavenly light. In one major poem after another—e.g., The Axion Esti (1959), "The Light Tree and the Fourteenth Beauty" (1971), Maria Nephele (1979), and now "The Little Mariner"—he has given an account of that struggle. What varies most in these poems is the form, manner, tone, and range of his craft in expressing an unswerving faith in his convictions, yet with an increasing and deepening recognition and consideration of the darkness...
(The entire section is 605 words.)
SOURCE: A review of What I Love, in Library Journal, Vol. 111, No. 12, July, 1986, p. 88.
[In the following review, the critic praises Elytis's What I Love.]
This selection, covering the years 1943 to 1978, will please readers already familiar with Greece's 1979 Nobel Laureate and serve as a good introduction to those reading him for the first time. Elytis has said that Paradise and Hell are made of the same materials and that "only the perception of the order of the materials" differs, an idea illuminated here. If we perceive the moon as "hemorrhaged" or believe that "the beautiful can't happen twice," we have perceived wrongly. To perceive rightly, we must look at "the shells," "the leaves," and "the stars" in the right way. Elytis thus takes us back beyond the Latin word ars to its Greek root harmos—that is, to the weaver's loom, where, in the warp of reality, we perceive our realities and create our human designs.
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SOURCE: A review of What I Love: Selected Poems, in Booklist, Vol. 83, No. 1, September 1, 1986, p. 22.
[In the following review, the critic complains that much has been lost in Olga Broumas's translation of Elytis's What I Love.]
Eternal freshness, clarity, the ability to convey the abstract through the concrete, even the mundane, a sheer musicality—these are among the gifts the Greeks have given to poetry, from earliest times. One of the most famous of post-World War II Greek poets, Elytis maintains this great tradition, but he does so with a personal voice, especially in his love lyrics. In this selection of about two dozen poems, translator Broumas presents a range of the poet's interests and styles, some of which borrow heavily (perhaps too much so) from French surrealism of the early part of the century. The result is a curious amalgam of sensual particulars set amid almost mythic frames. Broumas has attempted high fidelity to Elytis' music and rhythms, but somehow, perhaps inevitably, much seems to have been lost in translation.
(The entire section is 171 words.)
SOURCE: A review of What I Love: Selected Poems, in Choice, Vol. 24, No. 4, December, 1986, p. 632.
[In the following review, Fantazzi states that Olga Broumas's translation of Elytis's What I Love loses the music, the images, and sometimes the sense of the original.]
Broumas, who translated these poems, has an obvious devotion to her fellow countryman, Odysseas Elytis, whose voice she professes to recreate in English, "with an accent, idiosyncratic," as she states in her prefatory note. She does indeed give him a distinct voice in English, but the accent and the idiosyncrasies are so pronounced that the renditions are often incomprehensible. Elytis is a difficult poet in Greek, shunning punctuation, running words into one another in clusters with little syntactic joining, but one can catch the sense, and the music of his language is enchanting, the imagery limpid and luminous, reflecting the effulgence of the Greek air and the sparkling waves of the Aegean. The same cannot be said of the facing English translation. The music is gone, the images faded, the sense often lost altogether or mutilated beyond recognition. The first line of the first poem from "Sun the First" may serve as an illustration: "I don't know anymore the night terrible anonymity of death." Add a little rhythm and punctuation and the line begins to make sense: "I no longer know the night, death's terrible anonymity"...
(The entire section is 273 words.)
SOURCE: "Poetry with an Accent," in American Book Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, January-February, 1987, pp. 22-3.
[In the following excerpt, Malkoff discusses some of the problems of Olga Broumas's translation of Elytis's What I Love, but asserts that it does shed light on the original work.]
New translations of poems (which, like most of those selected by Olga Broumas for What I Love, have been recently rendered into English by more than competent translators) promise something new. In this respect, Olga Broumas, for better and for worse, does not disappoint. She informs us at the outset that she intends to preserve the strangeness, the foreignness of Elytis's texts. It ought to be, she asserts, "English with an accent."
This raises basic questions. In the very first poem, "Sun the First," a critical sentence is translated: "I don't know anymore the night." Clearly, English with an accent. Broumas's line indeed follows the original word order. To the Greek reader, however, this order is natural and idiomatic, as other translators have more or less made clear (Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard: "I no longer know the night"; Kimon Friar: "I know the night no longer"). Sometimes the point of reproducing Elytis's foreign accent seems to make sense. For example, another section of "Sun the First" begins, "Day shiny shell of the voice you made me by…. "The ambiguous positioning of...
(The entire section is 950 words.)
SOURCE: A review of What I Love: Selected Poems, in World Literature Today, Vol. 61, No. 1, Winter, 1987, pp. 139-40.
[In the following review, Carson criticizes Olga Broumas's translation of Elytis's What I Love for its inaccuracy.]
Odysseas (or Odysseus) Elytis's great poetry is so rooted in the Greek language that transplantation into the alien soil of English is unlikely to take. How can one make readers unrooted in his Aegean world feel his seeming abstractions as emotions or respond deeply to "olive-tree," "whitewash," "Kore"? Each new graft by a serious translator brings fresh hope that the shoots will live, that more of Elytis will leaf in our foreign air.
Elytis's Greek varies, often in a single strophe, from literary to slang, from rhetorical to simple, from learned to folk-song-like. Profoundly personal without being at all confessional, he requires us to make the harsh and timeless Hellenic world of the poems into our own truth, and so professes a Shelleyan belief in Poetry's transforming magic. His poetry depends on musical values for its urgency and to conjoin word and inner feeling, so to change us through our relationship with language—something like a mixture of Stevens and the Pound of "Drafts and Fragments."
Thus Elytis demands more than the translator's usual patience and discipline, a discipline to which Olga Broumas has evidently...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Little Mariner, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 233, No. 16, April 22, 1988, p. 79.
[In the following review, the critic asserts that Elytis's The Little Mariner is about a journey.]
This major work by Nobel laureate Elytis is composed in an elaborate symphonic form but has the simplest and oldest of story lines: a journey or quest—in this case, as the poet writes, "to find out who I am." The "I" is multipartite—representing not just the poet or the Greek nation but all humankind; and the journey takes place on many levels—geographical, historical, philosophical, linguistic, spiritual—alternating among four different kinds of "movements" that approach the problem of human self-realization from various angles using multifarious styles of verse. The poems are by turns lyrically luminous and simply direct; the sheer beauty of the Aegean pelago shimmers throughout as does the tradition of Greek ideals, which are set counterpoint to a millennium of political injustices and betrayals. The translation by Broumas, Greek-born and -bred and a Yale Series of Younger Poets prizewinner, is a wonder in itself. Where the poems are not quite translatable (because they are written in ancient or demotic Greek, for example), Broumas supplies notes to clarify Elytis's intention.
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SOURCE: A review of The Little Mariner, in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 64, No. 4, Autumn, 1988, pp. 134-35.
[In the following review, the critic states that Elytis's The Little Mariner is "more interesting for its experiments in form than for its lyrical content."]
Elytis, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for literature, is the last in a distinguished line of modern Green poets, beginning with Cavafy and including George Seferis and Yannis Ritsos. This book includes, as the jacket tells us, his major work since he received the prize. It is also the second translation of his poetry by Olga Broumas since she won the Yale Younger Poets Award. All honors aside, I found the book more interesting for its experiments in form than for its lyrical content (is this Elytis or is it the translation?). The book is framed by an "Entrance" and an "Exit"; and each section entitled "The Little Mariner" opens with a "Spotlight," or a series of scenes from Greek history. Elytis includes prose poems, lists of his favorite words, his favorite places, and his favorite cultural artifacts (for better or worse, this reader was reminded of E. D. Hirsch's lists for the culturally literate). He has even written his own Sapphic fragment, in parts of words strewn over a page; and one poem in Ancient Greek, rendered by Broumas in slightly archaic English. This poet believes that Paradise "was a right," but...
(The entire section is 253 words.)
SOURCE: "Time versus Eternity: Odysseus Elytis in the 1980s," in World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 1, Winter, 1988, pp. 22-32.
[In the following essay, Decavalles discusses the themes of death and eternity in Elytis's Diary of an Invisible April and asserts that this poem is darker than the poet's other work.]
For close to five decades, the poetry of Odysseus Elytis grew and blossomed with unaging and hopeful youthfulness in its battle against time and decay. It kept its undiminished commitment to extend and raise the material world to a higher sphere, to its pure, immaterial, imperishable essence. It kept alive its power to transform sorrow into joy, darkness into light, and negation into affirmation of life. Insistently it repeated its belief in man's potential and capacity to detect, to discover in the world of matter the lasting, spiritual, visionary messages that reveal a superearthly realm abiding within it. It created its own universe through Eros, the beauty of nature, and the Aegean sunlight as embodiments and expressions of an ancient yet still-vital Greek spirit of which they are the forces and analogies.
That youthfulness matured in wisdom through experience and the increasing awareness of sufferings—personal, racial, historical—the products of time that poetry needed to face, purge, and surpass through its belief in the existence of a paradise made of exactly...
(The entire section is 8919 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Little Mariner, in Choice, Vol. 26, No. 6, February, 1989, pp. 946-47.
[In the following review, Picken calls Elytis's The Little Mariner his "most important work since he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature," but complains that Olga Broumas's translation fails to convey the musicality and imagery of Elytis's poetry.]
The Little Mariner, published in Greece in 1985, and here translated into English for the first time, is quite clearly Odysseas Elytis's most important work since he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979. In it he attempts, as he has done in so much of his poetry, to correlate his ecstatic, lyrical response to the physical world with a somber, reflective, even philosophical meditation on his country's long history. It is a highly structured work, in which alternating prose poems and lyrical passages are separated by four "spotlights," shining into dark corners of Greek history and illuminating scenes of injustice and betrayal. Olga Broumas, who has already translated a selection of Elytis's poems (What I Love), fails to convey in English very much of the poet's celebrated musicality, verbal magic, or sparkling imagery. More lamentably, certain passages of her translation are quite incomprehensible, while the Greek text always makes sense despite the poet's sometimes obscure use of language. There is a preface by Carolyn...
(The entire section is 248 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Little Mariner, in Small Press Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, June, 1989, pp. 47-8.
[In the following review, Crane complains that there are problems with the structure of Elytis's The Little Mariner.]
Out of his long life Odysseas Elytis has made a long poem, The Little Mariner. Ironically, it consists mostly of prose, as even a poet's life must. Another imbalance, in the structure, sharpens this point. Four types of sections—"The Little Mariner," "Anoint the Ariston," "With Light and Death," and "What one Loves"—are presented in succession three times, but with one more each of "The Little Mariner" and "Anoint the Ariston" rounding out the total to fourteen. Only the three sections of "With Light and Death," together with the "Entrance" and "Exit," are written in verse. The remaining prose modulates from "The Little Mariner" sections—where it reads like the captions of a bitter slide show of Greek history—through the ethical meditations in poetic prose of "Anoint the Ariston," to the catalogs of "What One Loves," a checklist of cultural literacy, a glossary of Elytis' poetic vocabulary, and "Snapshots" of islands and ports. Prose is, thus, the mode of the temporal and of defeat. The losses of "The Little Mariner" sections literally surround and out-number the personal experiences of "What One Loves." But the final image of the former, the escape of Bishop...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
SOURCE: "Encounters on a Voyage," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4595, April 26, 1991, p. 24.
[In the following review, Peckham discusses the themes of voyaging and seafaring found in Elytis's Idiotiki Odos.]
"The first thing God made", George Seferis once observed, "was the long journey." Images of voyaging and seafaring abound in modern Greek poetry, from Solomos to Cavafy and Seferis, and they also pervade many of Odysseus Elytis's own collections. Elytis has published a critical appreciation of the writer Alexandros Papadiamantis (1976), whose masterful short stories evoke the sea and coastline of his native Skiathos, and from Elytis's early volume Prosanatolismi (1940), through to his celebrated poem To Axion Esti (1959), and his more recent Anichta Chartia (1974) and O Mikros Naftilos (1985), a preoccupation with travelling and the sea is conspicuous.
The motif of sea and navigation is manifest in Elytis's new book, Idiotiki Odos, which consists of two prose meditations on poetry and painting. As the title suggests, many of its themes echo those of his previous booklet, Ta Demosia ké ta Idiotika, (1990). While the phrase "private way" itself carries connotations of travelling, the heading of the second section "Full and By" is explicitly nautical (as are many of the thirty-five coloured illustrations by the poet which accompany the...
(The entire section is 1107 words.)
SOURCE: "Elegiac Elytis: 'Elegies of Jutting Rock'," in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 3, Summer, 1992, pp. 445-46.
[In the following review, Carson discusses Elytis's use of elegy as the form for his Ta elegia tis Oxopetras.]
Odysseus Elytis's eightieth birthday, on 2 November 1991 was widely celebrated in Greece. Literary journals undertook dedicatory issues, television and radio produced special programs, concerts were given. Elytis answered us with the best gift of all, a new volume of poems, Ta eleyía tis Oxópetras (The Elegies of Jutting Rock), his fourth since his Nobel Prize in 1979.
Jung suggests that the artist in old age must reverse the expansions of youth and focus on what is most meaningful and permanent. The aged Rembrandt's sitters radiate a dim halo of inner, unnatural light, and Titian's later backgrounds smolder with sanguine brushstrokes. The old Yeats climbs in his last works toward a joyful simplicity based on reality's archetypes, and the euphonious Stevens grows harsher in his imagination's recasting of memory and desire. Beethoven's mysterious late quartets plumb imagination and introspection as a deliverance from the tragedy of experience, and Bach wrote fugues in his last year that to this day no one is sure how to execute. With the concentration and ardent assurance of his recent period, Elytis joins this group.
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SOURCE: A review of Open Papers, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 241, No. 40, October 3, 1994, pp. 64-5.
[In the following review, the critic discusses how Elytis's Open Papers tells of a career guided by luck, risk, and a belief in modernism.]
Part autobiography, part statement of artistic principles, the five essays collected here cover Elytis's journey to poetry, from discovering the works of Sappho at age 16 to winning the Nobel Prize in 1979. Born in Crete in 1911, at 18 Elytis heard "a secret voice" that led him to abandon everything for his art. As a student in the 1930s he was totally absorbed in the Surrealists with Éluard, Breton and Lorca offering new perspectives to a young man already influenced by Freud, Baudelaire and Novalis. He pays tribute to these and other writers in the essay "For Good Measure," which also honors Picasso for his insistence on turning upside down one's view of the natural world. In the most interesting section of the book, "Chronicle of a Decade," Elytis recounts the time spent seeking out writers and periodicals that would be sympathetic to newfound passion for a lyrical and mystical vision of life. Elytis's credo is set forth in the title of the last essay—"Art-Luck-Risk." If, through the decades, Elytis did take political and artistic risks, this clear articulation shows that his art was not guided by luck or risk alone but by a real belief in...
(The entire section is 234 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Open Papers, in Library Journal, Vol. 119, No. 21, December, 1994, p. 91.
[In the following review, Cooksey praises Elytis's Open Papers.]
Ostensibly, these five essays by the Greek poet Elytis, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Literature, explore his development as a poet and his continuity with classical and modern Greek and European literature and myth. In a deeper sense, the selections represent autobiographical prose poems that reproduce the poetic process as Elytis meanders from an awareness of light and nature to passion and ecstasy, from the possibilities of metaphor in Greek to the influences of Rimbaud, Jouve, Lautréamont, Lorca, Ungaretti, and others. Joining the ranks of George Seferis and Yannis Ritsos, Elytis attempts to establish the contours of an authentic modern Greek poetry that is true to the Hellenic spirit. Of interest to students of modern poetry in general.
(The entire section is 142 words.)
SOURCE: "The Voyages of a Poet," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 1, 1995, p. 9.
[In the following review, Merrill discusses Elytis's development as a poet which the artist traces in his Open Papers.]
The flowering of Greek poetry in the 20th Century is one of the most interesting counterweights to the endless tragedy named modern European history. Constantine Cavafy, Angelos Sikelianos, George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos, Odysseus Elytis—these poets have shaped the internationalliterary landscape. And none is more exuberant in praising the things of the world than Elytis, about whom Lawrence Durrell wrote, "The Greek poet aims his heart and his gift at the sublime—for nothing else will do." Elytis calls himself a solar metaphysician; in the essays that make up Open Papers, his primary statement on poetry, he explores "the mystery of light," the dazzling heart of his work.
Born in 1911 on the island of Crete, Elytis has spent most of his life in Athens, writing poetry and creating collages. In the 1930s he helped introduce French Surrealism into Greek poetry—a signal event in contemporary letters. Elytis adapted the ideas of André Breton and Paul Eluard to the Mediterranean world, and thus he heard that "secret voice [moving] within and beyond reasonable order, above and independent from time and in constant duration. To render its presence sensible even for a moment,"...
(The entire section is 990 words.)
SOURCE: "Odysseus Elytis, 84, Poet and Nobel Laureate Who Celebrated Greek Myths and Landscape," in The New York Times, March 19, 1996, p. D23.
[In the following essay, Gussow presents an overview of Elytis's life and career.]
Odysseus Elytis, a Nobel Prize-winning Greek poet celebrated for his lyrical and passionate evocations of his country's history, myths and rugged landscape, died yesterday at his home in Athens. He was 84.
When Mr. Elytis (pronounced ee-LEE-tis) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, the Swedish Academy said that his poetry, "against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clearsightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness." He was the second Greek poet to be named a Nobel laureate; the first was George Soferis in 1963. Both were part of a group of poets sometimes called the Generation of the 30's, and had a profound effect on Greek literature.
The Swedish Academy praised Mr. Elytis's most famous work, The Axion Esti (Worthy It Is) as "one of 20th-century literature's most concentrated and richly faceted poems." First published in 1950, it was his spiritual autobiography. In an appreciation in The New York Times at the time of the award, Edmund Keeley, who translated Mr. Elytis's work into English, compared him to Walt Whitman in his presentation of "an image of the...
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Deligiorgis, Stavros. "Elytis' Brecht and Hadzidakis' Pirandello." In Modern Greek Writers, edited by Edmund Keeley and Peter Bien, pp. 192-204. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Discusses the role of translation and foreign influences in the modern period of Greek writing, specifically using Elytis's Brecht and Hadzidakis's Pirandello.
Friar, Kimon. "The Imagery and Collages of Odysseus Elytis." Books Abroad 49, No. 4 (Autumn 1975): 703-11.
Discusses the relationship between Elytis's painting and poetry.
Gregory, Dorothy M-T. "Odysseus Elytis." In European Writers: The Twentieth Century, edited by George Stade, pp. 2955-88, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990.
Traces Elytis's career in light of his relationship with Greek poetry.
Ivask, Ivar. "Analogies of Light: The Greek Poet Odysseus Elytis." Books Abroad 49, No. 4 (Autumn 1975): 627-30.
Asserts that Elytis is one of the three major modern Greek poets.
Ivask, Ivar. "Odysseus Elytis on His Poetry." Books Abroad 49, No. 4 (Autumn 1975): 631-45.
Elytis discusses his poetry, including the place of...
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