from The Birds

12-10 Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Greek
c. 446 B.C. – c. 386 B.C.

 

Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly calamitous creatures of clay!
Attend to the words of the Sovereign Birds,
(Immortal, illustrious, lords of the air),
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggles of misery, labor, and care.
Whence you may learn and clearly discern
Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn;
Which is busied of late with a mighty debate,
A profound speculation about the creation,
And organical life, and chaotical strife,
With various notions of heavenly motions,
And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains,
And sources of fountains, and meteors on high,
And stars in the sky… We propose by and by,
(If you’ll listen and hear,) to make it all clear.
And Prodicus henceforth shall pass for a dunce,
When his doubts are explained and expounded at once.

Our antiquity proved, it remains to be shown
That Love is our author and master alone;
Like him we can ramble, and gambol and fly
O’er ocean and earth, and aloft to the sky;
And all the world over, we’re friends to the lover,
And when other means fail, we are found to prevail,
When a Peacock or Pheasant is sent as a present.
All lessons of primary daily concern
You have learnt from the Birds, and continue to learn,
Your best benefactors and early instructors;
We give you the warning of seasons returning.
When the Cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
In the middle air, with a creaking note,
Steering away to the Libyan sands,
Then careful farmers sow their lands;
The crazy vessel is hauled ashore,
The sail, the ropes, the rudder and oar
Are all unshipped and housed in store.
The shepherd is warned, by the Kite reappearing,
To muster his flock, and be ready for shearing.
You quit your old cloak at the Swallow’s behest,
In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.
For Delphi, for Ammon, Dodona, in fine
For every oracular temple and shrine,
The Birds are a substitute equal and fair,
For on us you depend, and to us you repair
For counsel and aid when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade:
Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye,
An ox or an ass that may happen to pass,
A voice in the street, or a slave that you meet,
A name or a word by chance overheard,
If you deem it an omen, you call it a Bird;
And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.

 

Translation by John Hookham Frere

For Efessos

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

11-02 Elytis
Oddyseas Elytis
Greek
1911 – 1996

 

Freely beside me the vineyards are running and unbridled
Remains the sky. Wildfires trade pinecones and one
Donkey bolts uphill
for a little cloud
St. Heracleitos’s day and something’s up
That even noses can’t diagnose:
Tricks of a shoeless wind snagging the hem
Of Fate’s nightgown and leaving
Us in the open air of capricorns exposed

Secretly I go with all the loot in my mind
For a life unbowed from the beginning. No candles no chandeliers
Only a gold anemone’s engagement for a diamond
Feeling its way to where? Asking what? Our moon’s half-
shadow needs
You to console even the graves
Homoethnic or not. The crux is that the scent of earth
Lost even to bloodhounds
With its weeds onions and creeks

Must be restored to its idiom

So what! A word contains you peasant of night’s green
Efessos! Forefather sulphur phosphorus your fourteenth generation
Inside the orange groves gold words
Sharing the scalpel’s chisel
Tents as yet unpitched
others midair
Lost poles suddenly grinding. Sermons
Rise from the seafloor of the facing coves
Twin scythes for theater or temple
Fresh valley springs and other curly streams
Of thus and so. If ever wisdom
Planned circles of clover and dog grass
Another world might live just as before
your fingerprint

Letters will exist. People will read and grab
History’s tail once more. Just let the vineyards gallop and the sky remain
Unbridled as children want it
With roosters and pinecones and blue kites flags
On Saint Heracleitos’s day
child’s is the kingdom.

 

Translation by Olga Broumas

Cinderella

10-21 Broumas
Olga Broumas
Greek
b. 1949

 

Apart from my sisters, estranged
from my mother, I am a woman alone
in a house of men
who secretly
call themselves princes, alone
with me usually, under cover of dark. I am the one allowed in

to the royal chambers, whose small foot conveniently
fills the slipper of glass. The woman writer, the lady
umpire, the madam chairman, anyone’s wife.
I know what I know.
And I once was glad

of the chance to use it, even alone
in a strange castle doing overtime on my own, cracking
the royal code. The princes spoke
in their father’s language, were eager to praise me
my nimble tongue. I am a woman in a state of siege, alone

as one piece of laundry, strung on a windy clothesline a
mile long. A woman co-opted by promises: the lure
of a job, the ruse of a choice, a woman forced
to bear witness, falsely
against my own kind, as each
other sister was judge inadequate, bitchy, incompetent,
jealous, too thin, too fat. I know what I know.
What sweet bread I make

for myself in this prosperous house
is dirty, what good soup I boil turns
in my mouth to mud. Give
me my ashes. A cold stove, a cinder-block pillow, wet
canvas shoes in my sisters’, my sisters’ hut. Or I swear

I’ll die young
like those favored before me, hand-picked each one
For her joyful heart.

The Last Day

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

09-20 Seferis
Giorgos Seferis
Greek
1900 – 1971

 

The day was cloudy. No one could come to a decision;
a light wind was blowing. ‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ someone said.
A few slender cypresses nailed to the slope, and, beyond, the sea
grey with shining pools.
The soldiers presented arms as it began to drizzle.
‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ was the only decision heard.
And yet we knew that by the following dawn
nothing would be left to us, neither the woman drinking sleep at our side
nor the memory that we were once men,
nothing at all by the following dawn.

‘This wind reminds me of spring,’ said my friend
as she walked beside me gazing into the distance, ‘the spring
that came suddenly in the winter by the closed-in sea.
So unexpected. So many years have gone. How are we going to die?’

A funeral march meandered through the thin rain.

How does a man die? Strange no one’s thought about it.
And for those who thought about it, it was like a recollection from old chronicles
from the time of the Crusades or the battle of Salamis.
Yet death is something that happens: how does a man die?
Yet each of us earns his death, his own death, which belongs to no one else
and this game is life.

The light was fading from the clouded day, no one decided anything.
The following dawn nothing would be left to us, everything surrendered, even our hands,
and our women slaves at the springheads and our children in the quarries.
My friend, walking beside me, was singing a disjointed song:
‘In spring, in summer, slaves . . .’
One recalled old teachers who’d left us orphans.
A couple passed, talking:
‘I’m sick of the dusk, let’s go home,
let’s go home and turn on the light.’

 

Translation by Edmund Keeley

from The Baths at Hamat Gader

Aelia Eudocia
Greek
c. 401

 

I have seen many wonders in my life, countless,
But who, noble Clibanus, however many his mouths, could proclaim
Your might, when born a worthless mortal? But rather
It is right for you to be called a new fiery ocean,
Paean and parent, provider of sweet streams.
From you the thousandfold swell is born, one here, one there,
On this side boiling-hot, on that side in turn icy-cold and tepid.
Into fountains four-fold four you pour out your beauty.
Indian and Matrona, Repentius, holy Elijah,
Antoninus the Good, Dewy Galatia, and
Hygieia herself, warm baths both large and small,
Pearl, ancient Clibanus, Indian and other
Matrona, Strong, Nun, and the Patriarch’s.
For those in pain your powerful might is always everlasting.
But I will sing of a god, renowned for wisdom
For the benefit of speaking mortals.

The Free World

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

07-05 Valaoritis
Nanos Valaoritis
Greek
1921 – 2019

 

The situation in Vietnam
is worse than the situation in Indonesia
which is worse than the situation in Guatemala
which is worse than the situation in Haiti
which is worse than the situation in South Africa
which is worse than the situation in Portugal
which is worse than the situation in Spain
which is worse than the situation in the Argentine
which is worse than the situation in Pakistan
which is worse than the situation in Persia
(which is not good in any case)
and which is worse than the situation in Bolivia
which is worse than the situation in Brazil
which is worse than the situation in Rhodesia
(which is not jolly either)
and which is worse than the situation in Costa Rica
which is worse than the situation in Honduras
which is worse than the situation in Santo Domingo
which is worse than the situation in Korea
which is worse than the situation in Ecuador
which is worse than the situation in Uruguay
which is worse than the situation in Peru
which is worse than the situation in the Congo
which is worse than the situation in Panama
which is worse than the situation in Angola
which is worse than the situation in Greece
which is worse than all these other situations
because it happens
to me.

from The Distaff

06-15 Erinna
Erinna
Greek
c. 500 B.C.

 

…From white horses with madcap bound into the deep wave you leapt: “I catch you,” I shouted, “my friend!” And you, when you were Tortoise, ran leaping through the yard of the great court.

Thus I lament, unhappy Baucis, and make deep moan for you. These traces of you, dear maid, lie still glowing in my heart: all that we once enjoyed, is embers now.

We clung to our dolls in our chambers when we were girls, playing Young Wives, without a care. And towards dawn your Mother, who allotted wool to her attendant workwomen, came and called you to help with the salted meat. Oh, what a trembling the Bogy brought us then, when we were little ones! – On its head were huge ears, and it walked on all fours, and changed from one face to another!

But when you went to a man’s bed, you forgot all that you heard from your Mother, dear Baucis, in babyhood: Aphrodite set oblivion in your heart. So I lament you, yet neglect your obsequies — my feet are not so profane as to leave the house, my eyes may not behold a body dead, nor may I moan with hair unbound, yet a blush of shame distracts me…

 

Translation by A.S. Hunt and C.C. Edgar

Unexpectations

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

06-06 Dimoula
Kiki Dimoula
Greek
1931 – 2020

 

Lord what’s still not in store for us.

I’m sitting here and sitting.
It’s raining without raining
just as when a shadow
returns to us a body.

I’m sitting here and sitting.
Me here, my heart opposite
and still further away
my weary relationship with it.
So we might seem many
whenever emptiness counts us.

Empty room blowing.
I hold tight to the way
I have of being swept off.

I’ve no news of you.
Your photo stationary.
You stare as if coming
you smile as if not.
Dried flowers at one side
incessantly repeating for you
their unadulterated name semprevives
semprevives—eternal, eternal
in case you forget what you’re not.

I’m asked by time
how I want it to pass
exactly how I pronounce myself
as edging or ageing.
Foolishness.
No end is ever articulate.

I’ve no news of you.
Your photo stationary.
Just as it rains without raining.

Just as a shadow returns to me a body.
And just as we’ll meet one day
up there.
In some lush sparseness
with shady unexpectations
and evergreen rotations.
As interpreter of the intense
silence that we’ll feel
—developed form of the intense
intoxication caused by a meeting
down here—will come a void.

And we’ll be enraptured then
by a passionate unrecognition
—developed form of the embrace
employed by a meeting down here.
Yes we’ll meet. Breathing fine, concealed
form attraction. In a downpour
of heavy lack of gravity. Perhaps on one
of infinity’s trips to ad infinitum;
at the ceremony for loss awards to the known
for its great contribution to the unknown;
guests at destination’s starlight,
at cessation’s galas on behalf of dissolving
causes and the skies’ farewell
importances once great.
Expect that this company of distances
will be somewhat downcast, cheerless
even if non-existence finds cheer from nothing.
Perhaps because the soul of the party will be absent.
The flesh.

I call to the ash
to disarm me.
I call upon the ash
by its code name: Everything.

You’ll meet regularly I imagine
you and the death of that dream.
The last-born dream.
Of all I had the best-behaved.
Clear-headed, gentle, understanding.
Not of course so dreamy
but neither worthless or mean,
no toady to all and sundry.
A very thrifty dream,
in intensity and errors.
Of the dreams I raised
my most loving: so I’d not
grow old alone.

You’ll meet regularly I imagine
you and its death.
Give it my regards, tell it to come
too without fail when we meet
there, at the loss awards ceremony.

Love me as long as you don’t live.
Yes yes the impossible’s enough for me.
Once I was loved by that.
Love me as long as you don’t live.
For I’ve no news of you.
And heaven forbid that the absurd
should show no signs of life.

 

Translation by David Connoly

Of Happiness to Mortal Man

Bacchylides
Greek
c. 518 BC – c. 451 BC

 

Of happiness to mortal man
One is the road, and one the goal
To keep unburthen’d, all he can,
From loads of care the tranquil soul.
But whoso toileth night and day,
Nor day nor night permits sweet rest.
To steal him from himself away,
Or still the fever of his breast,
Nought will it profit, though he bear
On gloomy brow the stamp of care.

 

Translation by John Herman Marivale