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A world of words

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Written in the 9th century, here is an old traditional folk song which marks according to some researchers the beginning of the Modern Greek Literature:

The Dead Brother’s Song

Mother with your nine sons and with your only daughter,
the precious the most beloved daughter.
She was twelve years old and the sun had not seen her.
In darkness she bathed her and without moonlight she is making her hair,
under the star and the Bringer of Light she was tying her ribbons.
They’ve sent men from Babylon to ask her as a bride,
to take Arete too far away in the foreign lands.
The eight brothers don’t want and Constantine wants.
-My mother lets give Arete as a bride to the foreign lands.
Abroad, there that I am walking, in the foreign lands that I am travelling,
And if we go abroad, not to be considered foreigners.
-You are wise Constantis, but you replied wrongly.
And if, my son, to me comes death, and if, my son, illness happens to come to me,
If bitterness or joy comes, who will go to bring her back to me?
-I quote the Heaven as judge and the Saints as witnesses,
if death happens to come, if happens to come illness,
if bitterness or joy comes, I will go to bring her to you.
And once they gave Arete as bride in the foreign lands
and years of misery and months of anger came
and death fell upon them and the nine brothers died
the mother was left all alone.
In all the graves she was crying, in all she was mourning
In front of Constantine’s grave she was pulling her hair off.
“Damn you, Constantis, and damn you a myriad times,
cause you exiled my Arete in the foreign lands!
The promise that you gave me when will you fulfil?
You quoted the Heaven as judge and the Saints as witnesses
that if bitterness or joy comes, you will go to bring her to me”.
From the myriad anathemas and the heavy curse,
the earth was shaken and Constantis came out.
He turns the cloud into horse and the star into bridle
and the moon into companion and goes to bring her back.
He leaves the mounts behind him and the mountains in front.
He founds her making her hair out, under the moonlight.
From far away he greets her and from a close distance he tells her:
-Stand up sister to leave, lets go to our mother.
-Alas, my brother, and why that time of the night?
If maybe it is cause of joy, I should wear my jewels and come
and if it is cause of bitterness, tell me that, to get dressed in black and come.
-Come Arete in our home and let it be the way you are.
He kneels the horse and makes her sit behind.
In the way they were going, little birds were singing.
They were not singing like birds, nor like swallows,
but they were only singing and saying with human voice:
“Who has seen a beautiful lady being led by a dead?”!
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
-They are little birds and let them sing, they are little birds and let them say.
And a little further on their way other little birds are telling them:
“Isn’t pity and unfair, very strange,
the alive to walk along with the dead?”!
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
That the alive walk along with the dead.
-It is April and they sing and May and they are nesting.
-I am afraid of you my brother and you smell frankincense.
Last night we went far away to Saint John’s
and the priest incensed us with too much frankincense.
And even later on their way more little birds are telling them:
“Look what a miracle and evil takes place in the world,
such a beautiful delicate lady being led by the dead!”
Arete heard that again and her heart was broken.
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
-Stop Arete talking about the birds and let them say whatever they want!
-Tell me were is your beauty and your manfulness
and your blonde hair and the beautiful moustache?
-It’s been a long time since I got ill and my hair has fallen.
Over there, near there, they arrive to the church.
He mightily hits his horse and is lost from in front of her.
And she hears the gravestone clashing, the soil buzzing.
Arete sets off and goes home by herself.
She sees her gardens leafless, the trees sickly
she sees the mint dried, the carnation turned black
she sees in front of her door grass having grown.
She finds the door locked and the keys having been taken
and the windows of the house been tightly bolted.
She knocks the door mightily, the windows are crunching.
-If you are a friend, come in, and if you are an enemy, go away
and if you are bitter Charon, I don’t have more sons
and my poor little Arete is far away in the foreign lands.
-Stand up my mother, open the door, stand up my sweet mother.
-Who is the one who knocks my door and calls me “mother”?
-Open the door, my mother, open it and it is me, your Arete.
She came down, they hugged and they both fell dead.



C.P. Cavafy


Days yet to come stretch out before us
like a row of candles, burning brightly ―
vivacious candles, golden and warm.

The days that have passed fall behind us,
burned-out candles in a dismal row:
those closest at hand still smoking;
cold candles, melted and deformed.

I don’t want to look; their state saddens me;
it saddens me to remember their initial glow.
I look ahead, instead, to my lighted candles.

I don’t want to turn back to see, with horror,
how quickly the dark row of candles has lengthened,
how rapidly the number of dead candles has grown.

(C.P. Cavafy, The Canon. Translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras, Hermes Publishing, 2004)



When you set out on your way to Ithaca
you should hope that your journey is a long one:
a journey full of adventure, full of knowing.
Have no fear of the Laestrygones, the Cyclopes,
the frothing Poseidon. No such impediments
will confound the progress of your journey
if your thoughts take wing, if your spirit and your
flesh are touched by singular sentiments.
You will not encounter Laestrygones,
nor any Cyclopes, nor a furious Poseidon,
as long as you don’t carry them within you,
as long as your soul refuses to set them in your path.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
Many will be the summer mornings
upon which, with boundless pleasure and joy,
you will find yourself entering new ports of call.
You will linger in Phoenician markets
so that you may acquire the finest goods:
mother of pearl, coral and amber, and ebony,
and every manner of arousing perfume ―
great quantities of arousing perfumes.
You will visit many an Egyptian city
to learn, and learn more, from those who know.

Bear Ithaca always in your thoughts.
Arriving there is the goal of your journey;
but take care not to travel too hastily.
Better to linger for years on your way;
better to reach the island’s shores in old age,
enriched by all you’ve obtained along the way.
Do not expect that Ithaca will reward you with wealth.

Ithaca bestowed upon you the marvelous journey:
if not for her you would never have set out.
But she has nothing left to impart to you.

If you find Ithaca wanting, it’s not that she’s deceived you.
That you have gained so much wisdom and experience
will have told you everything of what such Ithacas mean.

(C.P. Cavafy, The Canon. Translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras, Hermes Publishing, 2004)


The God abandons Anthony

When abruptly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession pass by
with delightful music, and voices,
don’t grieve for your failing fortunes,
your spoiled deeds, the illusion of
your life’s plan; to mourn is useless.
Rather, with foreknowledge and boldness,
bid farewell to the departing Alexandria.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t claim
it was just a dream, that you heard a lie;
avoid all such futile notions.
As if long prepared, and ever courageous,
acting as one who deserves such a city,
make your way to the window,
and listen closely with your heart, not
with cowardly pleas and protests;
hear, as a last pleasure, those sounds,
the delightful music of the invisible procession,
and bid farewell to the Alexandria you are losing.

(C.P. Cavafy, The Canon. Translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras, Hermes Publishing, 2004)



Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

You may continue the reading of Cavafy ‘s poems and learn information about him in the following website:


Kostas Karyotakis


And so they go and die the same way they live.

I speak of lives given to the light
of serene love, and while they flow
like streams, they keep that light inside
eternally inseparable, just as
the sky glints in rivers,
just as suns flow through the skies.
I speak of lives given to the light. . .

I speak of brief lives draping
a woman’s rubied lips, just as
votive offerings, silver hearts, are draped
on the icon-screen up front.
These lives on a woman’s beloved lips
are likewise humble and true.
I speak of brief lives draping. . .

No one mistrusts them.
Just as – quiet and dark
and foreign and sad – they follow
the footstep, the idea of a lithe woman
(and she isn’t mistrusted), so they
will droop toward the earth, will fade quietly.
No one mistrusts them. . .

They moved uncertainly – faint
as stars at the hour of dawn –
through the thought of a passing woman
who, so she could keep going happily,
didn’t notice the lives which fade slowly
like the soul of a morning lamp.
They moved uncertainly – faint. . .


From the depth of good times
our loves greet us bitterly

You’re not in love, you say, and you don’t remember.
And if your heart has filled and you shed the tears
that you couldn’t shed like you did at first,
you’re not in love and you don’t remember, even though you cry.

Suddenly you’ll see two blue eyes
– how long it’s been! – that you caressed one night;
as though inside yourself you hear
an old unhappiness stirring and waking up.

These memories of time past
will begin their dance macabre;
and like then, your bitter tear will
well up on your eyelid and fall.

The eyes suspended – pale suns –
the light that thaws the frozen heart,
the dead loves that begin to stir,
the old sorrows that again ignite. . . .

Posted in Poetry.

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