The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Body of Summer” is a free-verse poem of four stanzas. The poem can be divided in half: The first two stanzas describe a landscape in the voice of a third-person narrator; the last two stanzas address the personified landscape directly in the song of the “little siren.”

A deceptively simple description of midsummer opens the poem: “A long time has passed since the last rainfall was heard.” The landscape is dry, parched from long drought. “Now the sky burns endlessly.” Populated by ants and lizards, the landscape seems inhuman, yet the fruit trees “paint their mouths” with the colors of overripe fruit splitting in the sun, and the earth is slowly opening its thirsty pores. Instead of the elemental sound of rain from above, the “syllabic” drip of water is heard from a hidden spring below that trickles the rudiments of language, as though the earth itself is beginning to speak.

Beside the spring, a “huge plant” gazes into the eye of the sun. Like the fruit trees and the water, which are nonspecific (neither pears nor pomegranates, neither fountain nor stream), the plant is generic and anonymous. Perhaps it is a sunflower, which, like the soul of man (especially Greek man), follows the sun.

The second stanza compares this landscape to a personage, not really a person, that is reclining sensuously on the shore, huge and naked, smoking olive leaves, like Gulliver stranded on the beach. Like Lilliputians,...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In an interview with Ivar Ivask (March, 1975), Odysseus Elytis cites “Body of Summer” as an example of the way in which he has kept “the mechanism of myth-making but not the figures of mythology.” In this poem, he says, it is “the idea of summer which is personified by the body of a young man.” Such transformations are typical of his first period of poetry, which was influenced by Surrealism and written before and during World War II. “In my first period nature and metamorphoses predominate (stimulated by surrealism, which always believed in the metamorphosis of things).”

Elytis is a visual artist as well as a poet, and his collages are reminiscent of his poetry in the way they transpose various photographic images. In “Body of Summer,” for example, there are visually surprising images that could occur only in the literal medium of collage—cicadas in the ear, lizards in the grass of armpits—images that employ synesthesia, using one sense to evoke another, the visual evoking the tactile: one hears, sees, and also feels the cicadas’ warmth and the lizards’ glide.

The figure of the little siren animates the physical world of the first two stanzas, in which the transformations are merely metaphorical, with the mythical world of the last two stanzas. By addressing the body of summer directly, the little siren turns the poet’s metaphorical language into living myth. She is the poem’s animating soul (its anima, in...

(The entire section is 406 words.)