Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Body of Summer” aims, as does all Elytis’s poetry, to reveal what he calls the mystery of light: limpidity, clarity, transparency. This is why the sun (hylios) and sky (ouranos) figure so prominently in his poems. Some translators have exchanged the two terms, as in line 3: “Now the sun burns endlessly,” although Elytis has written ouranos (sky or heavens) and not hylios (sun).

This is a key difference in this poem because it points out the distinction between the pagan Greek sun worship and the Byzantine Greek yearning for heavenly transcendence. Elytis would hope to unite the two, the Christian and the pagan, in his modern poem.

The final lines of the poem illustrate this theme, which can best be seen by comparing two translations. The Keeley-Sherrard translation reads: “As the sun finds you again on the sandy shores/ As the sky finds you again in your naked health.” The pagan sun beats down, earthward, while the Byzantine sky lifts up, heavenward. The final emphasis is on the sky’s approval of “naked health.”

The poem ends with the word ouranos, however, which in Greek (like the French ciel) means both sky and heaven. This detail is captured in Kimon Friar’s translation: “As once more you are found on the beaches by the sun/ And amid your naked vigor by the sky.” Here, the final position of the subject of the verb (which is active in Greek syntax) makes the sky’s discovery more forceful and memorable. The naked vigor and health of the body is approved by both the sun and...

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