NEW YORK.- By VICKY YIANNIAS
The Greek poet George Seferis, in addition to his poetry, wrote two volumes of essays titled “Dokimes”. One of the essays, “Delphi”, written two years before Seferis won the 1963 Nobel Prize, was discussed by Diskin Clay, Professor of Classical Studies at Duke University in the lecture “Seferis’ Delphi: 1961” at the Foundation for Hellenic Culture in New York, October 2.
The lecture, which included slides by Diskin was followed by an English-subtitled screening of Stelios Haralambopoulos’s Greek Ministry of Culture award winning documentary film, “Log Books – George Seferis”.
This first event in the Foundation’s 2003-2004 Lecture Series drew a packed house.
The ancient Greek literature and philosophy scholarship of the tall, soft-spoken Diskin seems inseparable from his interest, connection to, and deep understanding of, modern Greek life. He lived in Greece, speaks Greek, and one can humorously say that Diskin was a Hellenophile from birth, since he asserts that the clear air and mountainous landscape of his home state, Nevada, inspired his great affinity for the Greek landscape.
Diskin, who met Seferis just before the poet died in 1971 at the age of seventy-one, introduced his topic saying that more than any of his other essays, Seferis’s “Delphi” reveals his “complex sense of his Greek past so evident in his poetry; and what Lawrence Durrell characterized as “the spirit of the place”.
“For Seferis, the ancient — and modern — Greek poetry it [Delphi] inspired was as much a living feature of the dramatic landscape of the sanctuary of Apollo, and Dionysus, as were the Phaidriades”, said Diskin, “Stones and marble are themes that stand out in his early poetry… In his essay “Delphi”, the worked stones of the Stoa of the Athenians inspired the poet to do what is now forbidden: touch the stones once touched by his ancestors. Something he has often done.”
In an excerpt from “Delphi” Seferis, describes the site from the height of the stadium as one climbs toward Parnassos. “The cleft runs from the summit down to the spring of Kastalia and continues down to the depths of the Valley of Pleistos. One senses the fear of a wounded life that struggles to breathe in the light as much as it still can and rejoices that morning has broken and the sun is rising.”
Diskin’s own sense of awe and wonder of Delphi is conveyed in his own slides, (taken in July, 2003), used “to illustrate in small part what Seferis saw and described so unforgettably”, as they are concerned with not only with manmade antiquities but the mystery of that primordial landscape.
Delphi, Diskin informed the audience, is the only essay Seferis wrote devoted to a classical site.
The documentary “Log Books – George Seferis” (“Imerologia Katastromatos: Yorgos Seferis”), which was included in the New Greek Cinema Film Festival April 2002, complemented Professor Diskin’s lecture, providing an intimate graphic view of Seferis’s life.
Poignant black and white photographs of the parents of Seferis and other important people in his life, his childhood, his various residences, beginning with his birthplace in Smyrna and the family’s country house in Skala of Vourla where Seferis spent the first fourteen summers of his life before the family left for Athens in 1914, make the poet accessible to those who did not know him.
The film brings the viewer to Paris, where Seferis lived from 1921 – 1925. The poet’s creativity developed so significantly here, enlivened by the work of other poets, notably Valery. Seferis wrote that he “spat blood” to finish his poems. In 1925, not wishing to be “a lawyer, a journalist or a bohemian”, he wrote that “the only thing I want is to make poems.” To be a writer, Seferis said, he had to write in his own language, Greek. He decided to return to Greece, where his mother awaited him at the port, and which he said was the “lightest most beautiful day in the world.”
One of the film’s vividly descriptive high points is a slow motion panning of the interior of his residence on Poros, the villa Galini, where, distracted and overcome by the beauty of the landscape from his windows, Seferis had difficulty writing. About this he wrote “Life is so beautiful that if Homer had not been blind he would have written nothing.”
Seferis and his wife, Maro, travelled abroad from 1953 to 1960. In the Logbooks, the most graphic illustrations of his development as a writer are of the landscapes from which Seferis drew his profound and awe-inspiring poetic images, among them Delphi, Skiathos, Cyprus; landscapes that infused his emotions and heightened his sensibilities
A Recollection of Seferis
“In my book he is one of the greatest Greeks in history,” says Steve Stylianoudis, a Washington, DC defense consultant, of the Nobel prize-winning poet George Seferis. Seferis while Greek ambassador to the United Kingdom was Stylianoudis’s guardian in London. “He was a very responsible and concerned man, very soft spoken. He followed my education, what I was doing, and who I saw.” The poet recited his poetry and that of others during their weekend lunches, says Stylianoudis, and would give him poems to take home. “He always had time for me, for everybody, even as ambassador he made time to see people and help them out.” Seferis was very calm, never lost his temper or raised his voice, according to Stylianoudis, and his conversation was always weighed. “He was knowledgeable in many fields and in every one of them he knew what he was talking about.” And, Stylianoudis concludes, “He was a good eater – he liked good food – never complained… even about English food!”