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28 March 2011 / 17:03:05  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova
Exclusively for GRReporter

In Greece March is the month of poetry. 2011 marks 15 years of the physical absence only of Greek Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis. Elytis belongs to the lineage of great poets, the profound meaning of whose oeuvre could only be deciphered through the decoding of language and vocabulary. In his collection of essays Open Cards the poet emphasizes his belief that “each language liberates concrete contents”. Elytis transforms the hyperrealism of poetry in a mode of life, Surrealism accustoms the poet to surpass time and space. Greece of the marine element and of mountain solidity co-exists in peaceful syncretism with the landscapes of memory. Surrealism with its irrational force helps the poet to introduce a revolution in the concept of the so-called “Greek truth”. “For me the space of the Aegean is not only part of nature but a kind of “divine fingerprint”, Elytis writes. Without being a chauvinist, for him Greece symbolizes “certain values which could enrich universal spirits wherever they are”. He is one of the few poets who developed a complete theoretical framework for their own work, while simultaneously it is a way of interpreting the universe and man too. His essays are the theoretical key for understanding his poetry, his political and ideological views. In order to provide better comprehension of his writing, the poet unfolds this theory in his essay about Picasso titled “Theory of Analogies” (Open Cards). In one of his interviews titled Analogies of Light Elytis writes: “I and my generation – Seferis included – we tried to discover the true face of Greece. This was necessary because until then the “true” face of Greece projected was the one that Europeans figured about the image of Greece. For achieving our aim we had to overcome the tradition of rationalism burdening the West. This could explain the great impact of Surrealism when it appeared on the literary scene in our country”. As the poet himself underlines, he was never a particular adherent of Surrealism, but only finds in it certain congruent elements and adapts them to Greek light. As a “visual affirmation” of his poetry, Elytis’ collages seem to emerge from the depth of his verse.

On the occasion of the month of poetry dedicated to Odysseas Elytis, Zdravka Mihaylova talks about his work with his companion and muse, the poet Ioulita Iliopoulou.


QUESTION: Odysseas Elytis was one of the few poets with a comprehensive world-view that allows a better grasp of his poetry and ideology as an artist. In his essay on Picasso entitled Open Cards the poet speaks of his "theory of analogies." The line drawn by an artist or the word written by a poet are not closed in themselves, they have their analogies in the world of moral values. For example, the mountains have one or another line and this should somehow have an impact on the human spirit, it should have its analogies. As a perfect example of such an analogy Elytis quotes the observation of Le Corbusier, who says that the contour of the Attic mountains is repeated in the pediment of the Parthenon. The Greek landscape has its metaphorical use by the poet, it glorifies freedom, transparency of emotions (transparency is a fundamental concept in his poetry), and condemns war (Heroic and Mournful Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant in the Albanian Campaign), any hypocrisy and subjugation of the spirit. How the lines of the Greek landscape are re-rendered as moral values ​​in his poetry?

ILIOPOULOU: It seems to me that in your extended question you gave the answer about the theory Elytis developed in Ivar Ivask’s interview. In it, he muses on the correlation between aesthetic and moral values. Elytis often talks about the spelling of the landscape, the impact that nature has on the mental and spiritual world, on the aesthetic values ​​of space at this point in the Mediterranean. The reader often distinguishes in his texts the projection of a clear line that runs from the landscape, goes through the language and continues to reach transcendental meditation. This is a continuous metaphor from the world of tangible things to the universe of transcendent concepts, which makes the unknown close and comprehensible, revealing too unknown aspects of familiar things. We would simply say that Elytis is persistently seeking to lift the habitual veil over the reality surrounding us and to reveal some of the hidden perfection - aesthetic and moral – “which lies somewhere in completion”.

QUESTION: Elytis’ attitude to light, to the infinite azure of the Aegean Sea and its island archipelago is almost idolatrous. His poetry contains elements of mythology and ancient Greek tradition. He was an epic poet, sensual, respectful of religion, metaphysical, surrealist, who does not fit within prescribed categories because his poetry springs from all aspects of life. His early poems are classified by the famous Greek writer Yorgos Theotokas as "a mystical dawn over the Aegean." Dominant elements in his first books of poetry Orientations (1940) and The First Sun (1943) are the Aegean Sea with its salty aura, colours and sunlight. He himself regarded his poetry as a source of pure defiance. How does it contribute to the turning point in Greek poetry in its search for a different image of Greece, which the so-called representatives of the Generation of the Thirties in Greek literature sought after?

Tags: Odysseas ElytisPoetryZdravka MihaylovaNobel PrizeNine muses
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