Ángelos Sikelianós

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Villa of Ángelos Sikelianós on the Island of Salamis, Greece.

This is the first poem I have translated from Modern Greek. I am indebted to the translations of others whose works I have consulted in the process, but I found that none of them exactly expressed the impression the poem makes on me, and felt compelled to create my own. It’s an emotional and sensual poem, oddly earthy and ethereal at the same time. One can almost feel the temperature and weight and take in the insistent sounds, fragrances and visual characteristics of the various natural phenomena depicted by the poet in this short work. It has a rushing and expanding quality to it–an osmotic poem, perhaps–a scant collection of images which seem to have a power all their own to go out to greet the reader, become one with him, then be exhaled in the very reading to become something they could never have become if left unnoticed upon the page. It’s a curious thing.

Ángelos Sikelianós was an Ionian, from the island of Lefkas, where he was born on March 27, 1884. His poetry, as this short example shows, is dense with metaphors and comparisons which at times can nearly overwhelm the reader–but pleasantly so, and I find what I have discovered of his work so far to be intriguing in its simultaneous depth and clarity. He is not considered a Surrealist exactly, but he was interested in Surrealist themes, and some consider him a forerunner of that movement. He spent most of his life in Greece and died in 1951. My translation here is followed by the original Greek text.

First Rain

We leaned from the window,
and all that lay before us
was one with our soul.
The clouds, pale as sulphur, deadened vineyards and fields;
winds from the trees
hummed with unsettled air;
a swallow breasted swiftly 
back and forth across the grass.
Then suddenly it thundered,
the torrent broke, and dancing came the rain!
The dust leapt up, light as air.
And we, nostrils trembling, opened our lips
to the heavy draught of earth, letting it,
like a spring, drench the depths of our entrails
(already the rain had sprinkled
our thirsty faces,
like the olive and the mullein).
And shoulder to shoulder we asked: ‘What fragrance is this
that cuts the air like a swarm of bees
from the cones of pines,
from balsam and thyme,
from besom and willow too?’
And I breathed forth a mist (so abundant were the scents)
I breathed forth a mist, and became like a lyre,
caressed by the munificence of the breath…

ΤΟ ΠΡΩΤΟΒΡΟΧΙ 

Σκυμμένοι από το παραθύρι…
Και του προσώπου μας οι γύροι
η ίδια μας ήτανε ψυχή.
Η συννεφιά, χλωμή σα θειάφι, θάμπωνε αμπέλι και χωράφι·
ο αγέρας μέσ’ από τα δέντρα
με κρύφια βούιζε ταραχή·
η χελιδόνα, με τα στήθη,
γοργή, στη χλόη μπρος-πίσω εχύθη· κι άξαφνα βρόντησε, και λύθη κρουνός, χορεύοντα η βροχή!
Η σκόνη πηρ’ ανάερο δρόμο…
K’ εμείς, στων ρουθουνιών τον τρόμο, στη χωματίλα τη βαριά
τα χείλα ανοίξαμε, σα βρύση
τα σπλάχνα να μπει να ποτίσει
(όλη είχεν η βροχή ραντίσει
τη διψασμένη μας θωριά,
σαν την ελιά και σαν το φλόμο).
κι ο ένας στ’ αλλουνού τον ώμο ρωτάαμε: «T’ είναι πόχει σκίσει
τον αέρα μύρο, όμοιο μελίσσι;
Απ’ τον πευκιά το κουκουνάρι,
ο βάρσαμος ή το θυμάρι,
η αφάνα ή η αλυγαριά;»
Κι άχνισα – τόσα ήταν τα μύρα – άχνισα κ’ έγινα όμοια λύρα,
που χάϊδευ’ η άσωτη πνοή… 

 

 

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