I

With their country tied to their sails and their oars hung on
the wind
The shipwrecked slept tamely like dead beasts on a bedding
of sponges
But the eyes of seaweed are turned toward the sea
Hoping the South Wind will bring them backwith their
lateen-sails new-painted
For one lost elephant is always worth much more than the
quivering breasts of a girl
Only if the roofs of deserted chappels should light up with the
caprice of the Evening Star
Only if birds should ripple amid the masts of the lemon trees
With the firm white flurry of lively footsteps
Will the winds come, the bodies of swans that remained im-
maculate, unmoving and tender
When steamrollers rolled through shops, when hurricanes
whirled through vegetation
When the eyes of women became coal and the hearts of the
chestnut hawkers were broken
When the harvest was done and the hopes of crickets began.

And indeed this is why, my brave young men, with kisses, wine,
and leaves on your mouth
I would like to stride naked by the rivers
To sing of the Barbary Coast like the woodsman hunting the
mastic shrub
Like the viper slithering through gardens of barley
With the proud eyes of irritation
Like the lightning-bolt as it threshes youth.

And do not laugh and do not weep and do not rejoice
And do not squeeze your shoes in vain as though you were
planting plane trees
Do not become DESTINY
For the king-eagle is not a closed drawer
It is not the tear of the plum tree nor a smile of the water-lily
Nor the undershirt of a pigeon or a Sultan’s mandolin
Nor a silken shawl for the head of the whale
It is a saw of the sea which rips the seagulls apart
It is a capenter’s pillow, a beggar’s watch
It is a flame in the blacksmith’s shop teasing the wives of the
priests and lulling the lilies
It is a wedding proccession of Turks, a festival of Australians
It is the hideaway of Hungarian gypsies
Where the hazel trees in autumn secretly congregate
They watch the sensible storks painting their eggs black
And then they also weep
They burn their nightgowns and dress themselves in the duck’s
petticoat
They strew stars on the earth for kings to walk upon
With their silver amulets with their crowns and their purple
mantles
They strew rosemary in garden plots
That mice may pass on their way to other cellars
And to other cathedrals to eat of the Holy Altars
And the owls, my lads,
The owls growl
And dead nuns rise up to dance
With tambourines and drums and violins, with bagpipes and
lutes
With bannerets and censors, with wimples and magic veils
With the pantaloons of bears int he frozen valley
They eat the mushrooms of martens
They play heads or tails with the ring of St. John and the
gold florins of the Blackamoor
They mock all witches
They cut off the beard of a priest with the yataghan of Koloko-
tronis
They bathe themselves in the vapours of incense
And afterwards, slowly chanting, enter the earth again and fall
silent
As waves fall silent, as the cuckoo bird at dawn, as the oil
lamp at evening.

And thus in deep jar the grape shrivels and in the belfry of
a fig tree the apple turns yellow
And thus flaunting a gay-coloured necktie
Under a grapevine bower the summer suspires
And thus naked among white cherry trees a tender love of
mine lies sleeping
A girl as unwithering as a branch of almond
Her head resting on her elbow and her palm on her golden
treasure
On its dawning warmth while slowly and softly like a thief
From the window of spring the Morning Star comes to awake
her.

Translated by Kimon Friar and published in Poetry [Special volume on New Greek Poets, An Anthology and Commentary], 78:3 (June, 1951).

Note: Nikos Gatsos’s profoundly mysterious and magnetic poem ‘Amorgos’, named after a Greek island he never visited and written during the Nazi occupation, is the single work on which his reputation rests. It is a wonderful incantation on the theme of loss and hope – a unique blend of surrealism, symbolism and folk song – lyrical and erotic, sometimes celebratory, sometimes bitter. It was much admired by the Nobel laureates Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis, and was hugely influential on the postwar generation of Greek poets. However, after its publication in 1943, Gatsos abandoned poetry, and wrote only popular songs, for which he was later renowned.