Greek modern poems

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Constantine P. Cavafy

The windows

In these dark rooms where I live out
empty days, I circle back and forth
trying to find the windows.
It will be a great relief when a window opens.
But the windows are not there to be found—
or at least I cannot find them. And perhaps
it is better that I don’t find them.
Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will expose?


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

George Seferis


On the secluded seashore
white like a dove
we thirsted at noon
but the water brackish

On the golden sand
we wrote her name
when the sea breeze blew
the writing vanished

With what heart with what spirit
what desire and what passion
we led our life what a mistake
so we changed our life


Si j’ aid u gout, ce n’est gueres
Que pour la terre et les pierres.

~ Arthur Rimbaud

“If I have taste it is only
for the earth and the stones”

The angel
we had waited for him for three years concentrated
closely examining
the pines the seashore the stars
Joining the blade of the plough with the ship’s keel
we searched to discover once more the first sperm
that the old drama may recommence

We went back home broken hearted
with incapable limbs with mouths ravaged
by the taste of rust and salinity
When we woke we traveled to the north strangers
immersed into the mist by the perfect wings
of swans the wounded us
During winter nights the strong eastern wind
maddened us
in the summers we got lost in the agony of day
that couldn’t die

We brought back
these petroglyphs of a humble art

Odysseas Elytis

The Monogram

I will always mourn — do you hear me? — for you,
alone,in heaven

The Fate will turn away the furrows of
The palm,like the keeper of the keys
Sometime the Time will consent

How else,since people are loved

The sky will represent our entrails
And the innocence will hit the world
With the scythe of the black death


I mourn the sun and I mourn the years that are coming
Without us and I sing the others that passed by
If they’re true

Spoken the bodies and the boats that were knocking sweetly
The guitars that blinked under the waters
The “believe me” and the “don’t”
Once in the air once in the music

The two small animals,our hands
That seek to get up secretly to each other
The flowerpot with the dew in the open yard gates
And the pieces of the seas that were coming together
Over the stones,behind the fences
The windflower that sat in your hand
And you were shaking three times the purple three times over the falls

If these are true I sing
The wooden girder and the square illusion
In the wall with the Mermaid with the disevelled hair
The cat that looked at us in the dark

Child with the incense and with the red cross
The time that it’s getting dark in the approachable of the rocks
I mourn the cloth that I touched and the world came to me.

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