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Seferis and England: A Greek Poet in an English Landscape George Thaniel The special relationship which George Seferis (1900-71) developed in the last 40 or so years of his life with Britain is obvious even to the casual observer of his life and his work. He started and finished the foreign part of his diplomatic career in London, and on various other occasions, before, during and after the Second World War, he had to deal with British politicians, diplomats, and military officers. Seferis developed a close tie with T. S. Eliot, but he had many connections with other influential English writers as well. It would be fair to say that without the publicity which these writers provided for his literary work and the honors which he received in Britain towards the end of his career (1960-62), the Swedish Academy could not have known enough about Seferis to consider him a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature and finally to award it to him in 1963, the first Greek writer to have received it. The connections of Seferis with England and the English intelligentsia were celebrated, after his death, by exhibitions held in Athens and London, the eulogies which British friends published on his behalf, and the scholarship which his poetry and essays generated in the English-speaking world. One might add that the associations of Seferis with North American intellectuals and institutions seem really to postdate the awarding of the Nobel prize and may be seen as extensions of his longer-standing ones with Britain. These facts are fairly well known; yet, apart from Seferis' association with the poetry and critical thought of Eliot, there has never been an attempt, beyond generalities, to explore them. The topic has many ramifications and should be meaningful to comparatists as well as English and Greek specialists. I propose to investigate it, taking as my base Seferis' own work: poetry, essays, diaries, correspondence, and other relevant material. I begin with the question of Seferis' reactions to the natural and human landscape of Britain in the formative years of 1931-34, when he served his country as acting Consul 85 86 George Thaniel General in London, as well as in the summer of 1944, when Seferis flew to England from Egypt, carrying certain messages to the British Government from the Greek Government in exile. The recently published Meres F, which covers Seferis' second extended stay (195152 ) in England, mirrors his associations with a number of wellknown English writers and other intellectual men rather than his reactions to the natural and human landscape of Britain. Seferis' Meres G, which covers the years 1957-62 (when Seferis served as Greek Ambassador in Britain) is not available yet, with the exception of a few entries which have been printed in magazines. Seferis was born at Smyrna, in Asia Minor. He was raised both there and subsequently in Athens, and, for the rest of his life, he remained an emotional captive of the Greek landscape with its frequent views of the sea. Astrology-minded persons might see a significance in that Seferis was born under the sign of Pisces, on 29 February, by the old Greek Calendar (13 March, by the new), in 1900. Many of the happier notes in his poetry are related to the sea. The diaries reflect this fascination with the sea more directly: "My second swim, at Vouliagmeni. Magic of the sea hard to explain. How it changes me all at once: my wonder, a wonder deep to the bone. I cannot understand . I should go closer, I should try to cross that borderline into another world" (Meres E 1973: 33). Between 1918 and 1924 Seferis studied in Paris and, although he sometimes felt emotionally alienated, he loved the city and its rich cultural atmosphere. "I spent six and a half years in Paris," Seferis noted in his diary. "I lived fully and wholeheartedly, loving each moment, each corner of the city and each stone" (Meres B 1975: 80). In the second half of 1924, after he had received his diploma in law, Seferis traveled to London with the purpose of learning English, in view of the fact that his family wanted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 85-109
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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