Giorgos Seferis


Giorgos Seferis

Infobox Writer
name = Giorgos Seferis


birthdate = birth date|1900|2|29|mf=y
birthplace = Urla, Ottoman Empire
deathdate = death date and age|1971|9|20|1900|2|29|mf=y
deathplace =
occupation = Poet, Diplomat
nationality = Greek
awards = awd|Nobel Prize in Literature|1963

Giorgos Seferis (Γιώργος Σεφέρης) (March 13, 1900, or February 29 according to the Julian calendar then in use; September 20, 1971) was one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th century, and a Nobel laureate. He also pursued a career in the Greek foreign service, culminating in his appointment as Ambassador to the UK, a post which he held from 1957 to 1962.

'Seferis' was a pseudonym, that had a better poetic and freer syllabic pronounceability than that of his family name, Seferiadis (Σεφεριάδης).

Biography

Seferis was born in Urla ( _el. Βουρλά) near Smyrna in Asia Minor, Ottoman Empire (now İzmir, Turkey). His father, Stelios Seferiadis, was a lawyer, and later a professor at the University of Athens, as well as a poet and translator in his own right. He was also a staunch Venizelist and a supporter of the demotic Greek language over the formal, official language (katharevousa). Both of these attitudes influenced his son. In 1914 the family moved to Athens, where Seferis completed his secondary school education. He continued his studies in Paris from 1918 to 1925, studying law at the Sorbonne. While he was there, in September 1922, Smyrna was recaptured by the Turks after a two year Greek occupation and its Greek population, including Seferis' family, fled. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950; the sense of being an exile from his childhood home would inform much of Seferis' poetry, showing itself particularly in his interest in the story of Odysseus. Seferis was also greatly influenced by Kavafis, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

He returned to Athens in 1925 and was admitted to the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the following year. This was the beginning of a long and successful diplomatic career, during which he held posts in England (1931-1934) and Albania (1936-1938 ). He married Maria Zannou ('Maro') on April 10th 1941 on the eve of the German invasion of Greece. During the Second World War, Seferis accompanied the Free Greek Government in exile to Crete, Egypt, South Africa, and Italy, and returned to liberated Athens in 1944. He continued to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs end held diplomatic posts in Ankara, Turkey (1948-1950) and London (1951-1953). He was appointed minister to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (1953-1956), and was Royal Greek Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1961, the last post before his retirement in Athens. Seferis received many honours and prizes, among them honorary doctoral degrees from the universities of Cambridge (1960), Oxford (1964), Salonika (1964), and Princeton (1965).

Cyprus

Seferis first visited Cyprus in November 1953. He immediately fell in love with the island, partly because of its resemblance, in its landscape, the mixture of populations, and in its traditions, to his childhood summer home in Larnaca. His book of poems "Imerologio Katastromatos III" was inspired by the island, and mostly written there–bringing to an end a period of six or seven years in which Seferis had not produced any poetry. Its original title was "Cyprus, where it was ordained for me…", a quotation from Euripides’ "Helen", in which Teucer states that Apollo has decreed that Cyprus shall be his home; it made clear the optimistic sense of homecoming Seferis felt on discovering the island. Seferis changed the title in the 1959 edition of his poems.

Politically, Cyprus was entangled in the dispute between the UK, Greece and Turkey over its international status. Over the next few years, Seferis made use of his position in the diplomatic service to strive towards a resolution of the Cyprus dispute, investing a great deal of personal effort and emotion. This was one of the few areas in his life in which he allowed the personal and the political to mix.

The Nobel Prize

In 1963, Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture." [http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1963/press.html] Seferis was the first Greek to receive the prize (followed later by Odysseas Elytis,who became a Nobel laureate in 1979). His nationality, and the role he had played in the 20th century renaissance of Greek literature and culture, were probably a large contributing factor to the award decision. But in his acceptance speech, Seferis chose to emphasise his own humanist philosophy, concluding: "When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: 'Man'. That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus." [http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1963/seferis-speech.html] While Seferis has sometimes been considered a nationalist poet, his 'Hellenism' had more to do with his identifying a unifying strand of humanism in the continuity of Greek culture and literature.

tatement of 1969

In 1967 the repressive nationalist, right-wing Regime of the Colonels took power in Greece after a coup d'état. After two years marked by widespread censorship, political detentions and torture, Seferis took a stand against the regime. On 28 March 1969, he made a statement on the BBC World Service [http://pieiria.spark.net.gr/tutor/Sefdilosi.htm] , with copies simultaneously distributed to every newspaper in Athens. In authoritative and absolute terms, he stated "This anomaly must end".

Seferis did not live to see the end of the junta in 1974, the direct result of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, which had been prompted by the junta’s attempt to overthrow Cyprus’ Archbishop Makarios.

At his funeral, huge crowds followed his coffin through the streets of Athens, singing Mikis Theodorakis’ setting of Seferis’ poem 'Denial' (then banned); he had become a popular hero for his resistance to the regime.

Other

There are commemorative blue plaques on two of his London homes - 51 Upper Brook Street, and in Sloane Avenue.

In 1999, there was a dispute over the naming of a street in Ízmir "Yorgos Seferis Sokagi" (a Turkification of Giorgos Seferis), due to continuing ill-feeling around the Greco-Turkish War in the 1920s.

In 2004, the band Sigmatropic released "16 Haiku & Other Stories," an album dedicated to and lyrically derived from Seferis' work. Vocalists included recording artists Laetitia Sadier, Alejandro Escovedo, Cat Power, and Robert Wyatt. Seferis' famous stanza from "Mythistorema" was featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games:

"I woke with this marble head in my hands;"
"It exhausts my elbows and I don't know where to put it down."
"It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream"
"So our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again."

Works

Poetry

* "Strofi" "Στροφή" (Strophe, 1931)
* "Sterna" "Στέρνα" (The Cistern, 1932)
* "Mythistorima" "Μυθιστόρημα" (Tale of Legends, 1935)
* "Tetradio Gymnasmaton" "Τετράδιο Γυμνασμάτων" (Exercise Book, 1940)
* "Imerologio Katastromatos I" "Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος Ι" (Deck Diary I, 1940)
* "Imerologio Katastromatos II" "Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος ΙΙ" (Deck Diary II, 1944)
* "Kichli" "Κίχλη" (The Thrush, 1947)
* "Imerologio Katastromatos III" "Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος ΙΙΙ" (Deck Diary III, 1955)
* "Tria Kryfa Poiimata" "Τρία Κρυφά Ποιήματα" (Three Hidden Poems, 1966)

Prose

* "Dokimes" ("Essays") 3 vols. (vols 1-2, 3rd ed. (ed. G.P. Savidis) 1974, vol 3 (ed. Dimitri Daskalopoulos) 1992)
* "Antigrafes" ("Translations") (1965)
* "Meres" ("Days"–diaries) (7 vols., published post-mortem, 1975-1990)
* "Exi nyxtes stin Akropoli" ("Six Nights at the Acropolis") (published post-mortem, 1974)
* "Varvavas Kalostefanos. Ta sxediasmata" ("Varnavas Kalostefanos. The drafts.") (published post-mortem, 2007)

English translations

* "Complete Poems" trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. (1995) London: Anvil Press Poetry. ISBN
* "A Poet's Journal: Days of 1945-1951" trans. Athan Anagnostopoulos. (1975) London: Harvard University Press. ISBN
* "On the Greek Style: Selected Essays on Poetry and Hellenism" trans. Rex Warner and Th.D. Frangopoulos. (1966) London: Bodley Head, reprinted (1982, 1992, 2000) Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey (Publisher), ISBN 960-7120-03-5

Biography

* Beaton, Roderick (2003). "George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel - A Biography". New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10135-X.
* Tsatsos, Ioanna, Demos Jean (trans.) (1982). "My Brother George Seferis". Minneapolis, Minn.: North Central Publishing.

External links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/greek/seferis.shtml Listen to Seferis on the BBC ("in Greek")]
* [http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1963/press.html Nobel Prize presentation speech]
* [http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1963/seferis-speech.html Nobel Prize acceptance speech]


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