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F O R E W O R D T H E poetry of George Seferis, whatever relation it may have to the literature of other countries, stems first of all from a tradition that is eminently Greek. This means that it not only shares in the modern revival which has produced , during the last hundred and fifty years or so, such distinguished Greek poets as Solomos, Kalvos, Palamas, Sikelianos, and Cavafy; it also proceeds, like most of the poetry that belongs to this revival, from earlier sources. One of these is the long tradition of Greek ballads and folk songs. Both the spirit of Greek folk literature and its dominant form, the "dekapentasyllavos,"1 can be traced back directly at least to the Byzantine period, and both have been consistently influential since that time, though the form has naturally been modified in keeping with new needs. Seferis's early poem, "Erotikos Logos" (1930), is a major example of such modification: a successful attempt to adapt the dekapentasyllavos line to the expression of a contemporary sensibility . Another area of the post-medieval poetic tradition that has remained equally influential is the more complex and sophisticated literature which developed on the island of Crete during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The dramatic literature of Crete includes plays such as Abraham 's Sacrifice, a religious work, and the Erophile, a bloodthirsty tragedy in which all the main characters are killed or kill themselves; but the masterpiece of this more complex (and, in contrast with the folk ballads, more introspective ) tradition is the epic romance, the Erotokritos, by Vitzentzos Kornaros, a work of 10,052 verses telling of the love of Aretousa, daughter of the king of Athens, and the valiant Erotokritos, son of one of the leading court families. iA line of fifteen syllables, with a caesura after the eighth syllable and two main accents, one on the sixth or eighth syllable and one on the fourteenth. V F O R E W O R D This epic became immensely popular throughout the Greek world, great sections—and sometimes even the whole of it— being recited by heart as though an ordinary folk epic: the kind of recitation that haunts Seferis's persona in "Upon a Foreign Verse," where he speaks of . . . certain old sailors of my childhood who, lean­ ing on their nets with winter coming on and the wind angering used to recite, with tears in their eyes, the song of Erotokritos; it was then I would shudder in my sleep at the unjust fate of Aretousa descending the marble stairs. Seferis has written the best Greek critical commentary on the Erotokritos, 2 and its influence, as a monument to the poetic possibilities of the demotic Greek language, 8 is ap­ parent from the use he makes of it in his "Erotikos Logos," where he introduces actual phrases from the epic into the text of his poem in order to establish an analogy between his diction and that of another vital, relevant moment in his nation's literary past. Cretan literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen­ turies and the folk tradition are, then, among the more important local sources of Seferis's art, particularly because of their creative exploitation of the Greek language; at the same time, however, the poetry of Seferis and that of his immediate predecessors differs in an important respect from the poetry of both these literatures: in the use made of images, characters, and myths that derive from ancient 2 Included in Δοκιμή (see Bibliographical Note). s Demotic Greek, as opposed to purist Greek (known as "katharevousa") is now the literary language of modern Greece, though it was not generally ac­ cepted as such until this century. vi F O R E W O R D Greece. Whether it is Palamas contrasting the "people of relics"—who reign among the temples and olive groves of the Attic landscape—with the modern crowd crawling along sluggishly, like a caterpillar over a white flower (in Life Immovable); or Cavafy evoking—perhaps ironically, perhaps erotically—some scene out of his poetic world of Hellenistic Alexandria; or Sikelianos endeavoring to resurrect the whole pantheon of the ancient gods and to be a hierophant to their mysteries; or Seferis searching for the archaic king of Asine—the substantial man who fought with heroes—and finding only the unsubstantial void of contemporary existence; whichever it is, the ancient world in all its aspects preoccupies the imagination of these poets constantly . This preoccupation is...


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