George Seferis in Galini

September 24 2022 · poems george-seferis hellenic

Extracts from A Poet’s Journal - Days of 1945 - 1951 by George Seferis covering his time in Galini. Recommended.

Poros. 1801. William Gell.

Poros. 1801. William Gell.

Link to this section Sunday, August 11, 1946. Galini, Poros

I finally tore myself away from Athens last Friday on the landing craft Sophades. Slow voyage, terribly hot, but nothing matters since I’m getting away. First time here since Holy Week 1940; first time in the Greek countryside in six years; a landmark. You look back and add it all up. What will I do after the referendum? Chaotic unknown; another turning point in my life. The trouble is that in such circumstances it’s good to start out with fresh strength. Unfortunately for me, the exhaustion of the last seven or eight years is finally surfacing.

This voyage is like a return to Greece.

Link to this section Tuesday, August 13

I count the days – when I count them – like a miser. When I think of Athens it’s as a nightmare, a noisy nightmare.

Poros isn’t my place. Though one of the few Greek countrysides where I’ve “lived”, it is certainly not my place. Anyhow, ten years ago, coming here from Aegina, I called it a whore’s bedroom. It has something of Venice – a canal, communication between houses by boat, luxury, languor, sensual temptation (Lemon grove, etc.) – a place for famous lovers of the international set. There’s a sort of hemmed-in space here, with many charms to be sure, something of a pit of lustfulness, with the moon overhead and brassy music from the Naval Training Camp all day. Last night, going up to bed, I stood for a moment on the balcony of my room looking at the mountaintops opposite. I remembered the foreign friend who said “for me, the sea is a pit”. I thought of this channel’s passage out to the cliffs of Hydra and I felt relieved: if I had to leave it would be to return to the dreadful life of Athens. Two winters of good work, even here, would cleanse me of the horror of always feeling like an exile in the world – not amount men; I love men – but in this world of repressive sterile attrition.

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and hot. I went down to the dining room after pouring a number of buckets of water over myself. As I was writing, Aglaope passed in her bathing suit, lightfooted as a dancer, coming out of the sea. She said, “I couldn’t sleep”. Drops of sea-water on her skin.

Yesterday, for the first time since our arrival, late, around eight in the evening, we went shopping in the city with Marouli, who left this morning. I amused myself, as if it weren’t me watching the bustle in the port, sailboats and big power boats moored at the pier. One little boat had a badly painted girl right in the middle of the sail. The boatman (an ugly fellow) said, “it’s my fiance” – the stuff of Elytis [Odysseus Elytis, poet]. Shops and grocery stores with much atmosphere, with lithographs and other pictures, with unlikely merchandise. One barbershop was called “Eve”. Above the face of a customer think with shaving suds, a picture of Adam, Eve, the snake, the tree, the apple – all the proofs. The attentive, stumpty barber, razor in hand, looked strikingly like the Adam (in the lithograph).

How much rust must I scrape off myself?

Link to this section Wednesday, August 14

The village clock is a kind of campanile on top of the rock of Poros. You can see the hour (from Galini) with binoculars. The houses have the colour and luster of white enamel at times – this light.

A walk towards the lighthouse yesterday. Not all the way; we stopped a little beyond the Russian naval station. We passed through camps, sometimes a hotel-like installation under a pine tree: a shiny brass bed, a wash-stand, a chair with a towel hanging over its back – “the walls of my room fell down so I lived in the garden”, as Tonio said. The space between the naval station and the beach is fenced in with wire. Who owns that? A little further and there’s a hut on the hill. The dog is ferocious. An old woman shouts “Get inside, you devil!” Beneath the hut, a melon field. “You’ve got a nice melon field, Madam”, we said. “It’ll get better” she said, “when we bring the water down from up there”, pointing to the mountain as if the whole region were hers. Here apparently you can be a landlord if you own a dog and se up a hut somewhere.

Afternoon. The days pass, the days pass. Touti is spread out in front of me on the table.

This morning at the sea. Afterward newspapers, like the sudden ripping of bandages from miserable wounds. How can the same man who swam in the water be the one who now reads the newspaper? This I just can’t understand.

Poros. 1811. Charles Robert Cockerell.

Poros. 1811. Charles Robert Cockerell.

Link to this section Friday, August 16

Tomorrow we leave. Since the day before yesterday the moon has been on the wane. The lagoon of Poros with its lights that I spell out every night, appears to sink deeper each day. Poros, enclosed as it is, nonetheless reminds me how few things I need, that I should dispense with things that prevent me from seeing. What I have here before me is enough: a piece of driftwood on the beach, the brassy sounds from the Training Camp, the lithographs in the grocery stores of town, the blank faces suffice for me to write what I wish. I no longer believe very much in wide horizons.

Amazing survival: as soon as I’m in the country – the habits of childhood. A boatman’s chat, a fisherman’s gesture have an authenticity for me that I have felt only very rarely in the company of so many ministers or professors or intellectuals. They belong, even today, to a ceremonial world. But the others …

At the Galini everything emits an odor of the faded romanticism (in the English sense) of the last quarter of the past century. Most of the books in the library are by forgotten English authors. Boite a musique bought in Geneva in 1876: lovely inlaid wood, brass cylinder with tiny spikes, little bells, seven or eight tunes – “La sensitive”, “Les cloches du monastere”, “Faust”, “Traviata”, “La fille de Madame Angot”, etc, written in calligraphy on a piece of cardboard nailed to the cover, with the crest of the kings of Great Britain – “Diue et mon droit” – and beneath, “Valse, rien ne peut changer mon ame”. This box is a small ark which has made time stand still for seventy years now with its seven or eight pieces. “Flacon debouche” is a measure of today’s dizziness.

This morning we took the boat and went around to Daskaleio for a swim. Between the tiny island and the beach lies the sunken Thrush. Only the funnel rises up above the surface a few inches. “They sank her so the Germans wouldn’t take her”, they told me. We looked down. The gently rippling water and dancing sunlight made the submerged little ship, seen quite clearly with its broken masts, flutter like a flag or a dim image in the mind. The boatman said, “After she sank, the black-markeeters stripped her bare”.

Artwork 1, 2 from the British Museum licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

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