Themes and Meanings

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“The Autopsy” reflects the mature Elytis, the poet who has acknowledged and reconciled himself to the presence of the tragic, but who, despite this acceptance, mourns the loss of the clear blue sky of his youth in these “remorses.” He is no longer innocent; the once azure vault is now cloudy and polluted by the forces of chaos and destruction, and only a “dead echo” of it remains. His aim in the poem is to determine whether he has combated those malign forces fully and courageously.

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The poem examines the poet’s performance not only as an artist but as a human being as well. He assesses all the sources which have inspired his artistic life and evaluates, in addition, the events of his personal life. He finds that he has participated fully and served valiantly—“His eyes open, proud.” He has lived with dignity as well as passion.

The poem is also about nature, specifically as a vehicle for penetrating the inner, spiritual realm of human existence. In Elytis’s terms, that means the world evoked by the interplay of water and light, which dominates the Greek landscape—hence the prevalence of sea imagery in his work. Yet the prevalence of nature in the poem reflects, as well, the particular affinity of the Greek for the landscape which has nourished him for so many centuries. The lull of the Aegean, the dazzling light of the sun on the sparkling water cast blue in the sky’s reflection, wild birds crying above the edge of the horizon, and the omnipresent olive trees all permeate the Greek’s entire being to a degree to which he himself is not fully aware, and it is this specific meaning which motivates Elytis.

Finally, while the subject of the poem is the body of the poet, on a second level of meaning it is the body of Greece as well; in Elytis’s poetry, the poet and the country often seem inseparable. With tenderness and pride, the poet examines the timeless features of his country which constitute its unique essence, its Greekness. Taken from this perspective, the poem acquires a mythical dimension, which culminates in the reference to the resurrected Adonis in the enigmatic final line. Hence, it is not only the worthiness of the poet that is in question but also that of Greece itself. The final line, then, serves as an affirmation in both cases. Just as the poet has faced the forces of chaos and tragedy and emerged renewed, so too has his native land been strengthened by the centuries-long struggle against foreign domination and oppression. “The Autopsy” testifies to the worthiness of these sacrifices and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.

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