Nikos Pentzikis Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Nikos Pentzikis might be called the odd case of modern Greek literature, for he combines in his poetry as well as in the much larger body of his prose a restless and inquisitive spirit typical of the modern era with a kind of pre-Renaissance, more particularly Byzantine, religious mysticism. The young hero of his first novel, Andreas Dhimakoudhis, published in 1935, suffers from unrequited love and commits suicide. This death is symbolic of Pentzikis’s own early disappointments in love, the “death” of his sentimental self. His second book, O pethamenos ke i anastasi (wr. 1938, pb. 1944; the dead man and the resurrection), a stream-of-consciousness narrative, deals again with a young man (unnamed this time, but an obvious persona of his creator), who, though he regains his trust in life, regains it at the level of myth. He upholds the religious traditions of his country and accepts a metaphysical explanation of the world while returning and developing his sense of the concrete, his love for the world of shapes and colors. From that time on, Pentzikis cultivated his metaphysical and physical certainties in the parallel activities of writing and painting.

Pentzikis’s love of the concrete is particularly evident in his book Pragmatognosia (1950; knowledge of things), which deals mostly with the realities of Thessaloníki, his native town, and in two works in diary form, Simiosis ekato imeron (1973; notes of one...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Nikos Pentzikis’s principal achievement is to have survived at all as a writer, to have persisted in his own idiosyncratic ways of seeing the world and so registering it in his poetry and prose. In his unswerving commitment to an utterly individual metaphysical vision only tangentially shaped by the currents of his time, Pentzikis shares affinities with Elias Canetti and Jorge Luis Borges.

In the context of modern Greek letters, Pentzikis has successfully integrated national and personal memory with the stuff of his everyday experience, producing prose narratives and poems which explore both the human condition and the nature of writing. In the words of the distinguished translator Kimon Friar, Pentzikis’s texts are

a dizzying depository of words that are demotic, purist, formal, colloquial, archaic, modern, medieval, ecclesiastical, obsolete, scientific—all strung together in an eccentric syntax of his own devising. By flying beyond convention and good taste, by concentrating on things and not on rhythms or cadences or composition, he has evolved an inner style of his own, a “nonstyle” that is the man.

The Middle Poems

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Between 1949 and 1953, Pentzikis published in successive issues of the journal Morfes a series of poems which one might call his “middle poems,” because they fall between Ikones and the later series of poems, Anakomidhi (transferal of relics) and were given no general name. The “middle poems” are more lyric and topical than the poems of Ikones; they tell stories and evoke legends associated mostly with Greek Macedonia, describing various geographical areas and combining reality with myth in an effort to enlarge upon the central theme by means of concrete detail.

The poem “Topoghrafia” (topography) is in free verse, but the lines are grouped in quatrains. As its title promises, the poem provides an exact topographical and historical description of a particular spot in Thessaloníki, but the description ends on a sentimental note which is the secret core of the poem. Here, Pentzikis confounds the reader’s expectations. He might have started with the image of the sitting girl, the poet’s beloved, and then located or described the surrounding landscape outward. Instead, he progresses from the borders to the center of the scene, through allusions to the life and martyrdom of Saint Demetrius, Thessaloniki’s patron saint. Thus, the image of the sitting girl at the end of the poem comes as a revelation. It is a lyric image, but the sentiments it evokes have been colored and deepened by the girl’s precise placement in a space hallowed by time.

In the much longer poem “Symvan” (event), a group of soldiers on leave visit a country chapel. One of the soldiers narrates an old story of the miraculous rescue of Thessaloniki by Saint Demetrius from a hostile invasion from the north. The soldiers gain a vision of the city not as a group of buildings but as a living person. The past comes alive, and the present becomes meaningful. Pentzikis...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Friar, Kimon. Modern Greek Poetry. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Translations of Greek poetry in English with some commentary on the biographical and historical backgrounds of the poets.

Thaniel, George. Homage to Byzantium: The Life and Work of Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis. St. Paul, Minn.: North Central, 1983. A critical study of Pentzikis’s work. Includes bibliographic references and an index.