The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“In the Ruins of an Ancient Temple” is a free-verse poem in two stanzas of nine and six lines. The title shows a concern shared by much modern Greek poetry with its ancient inheritance, although here that concern is ironic and unromanticized.

The first stanza presents a series of short, declarative sentences, almost one per line, describing the life of common people in a modern Greek rural setting. These straightforward statements set the tone of the down-to-earth life depicted. Each subject has its own verb, just as each worker has his or her own distinctive action to perform. The museum guard observes, the women wash, the blacksmith hammers, the shepherd whistles.

When the animal and mineral worlds are introduced, the lines are longer, enjambed, and colored with metaphor. Responding to the shepherd’s whistle, “The sheep ran to him/ as though the marble ruins were running.” The water of the river is personified, its “thick nape/ shone with coolness.”

The final sentence of the first stanza is more than two lines long and focuses on a woman hanging clothes to dry. She spreads them on “shrubs and statues,” her husband’s underpants hung from the shoulders of a statue of the goddess Hera. Her action might appear satirical (imagine someone hanging their underwear from a crucifix), except that it is an action, not a gesture.

The second stanza consists of only two sentences. The first is a fragment:...

(The entire section is 443 words.)