- A Levant Journal
More than three decades after the publication of Athan Anagnostopoulos's translation of Seferis's Μέρες Ε: 1 Γενάρη–1945 Απρίλη 1951 (translated as A Poet's Journal: Days of 1945-1951), Roderick Beaton presents us with a second selection of translations from the poet's diaries. A Levant Journal concentrates on the years 1941-1944 and 1953-1956 and, in addition to the translator's introduction, it includes thorough explanatory notes on names, places, biographical details, historical information, and literary references as well as six poems that are either composed during or relate to the periods in question. The selections are grouped into two parts: Part I, entitled "Wartime," documents the time Seferis spent in Egypt and Palestine during World War II when he served with the Greek government-in-exile (covering the period 1941-1943). Part II, "The Passing of Empire," is an account of Seferis's experiences in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan (including Jerusalem, which was at the time annexed by Jordan), and Cyprus (covering the period 1953-1956).
To create a more cohesive and comprehensive narrative of Seferis's experience in and of the Levant, Beaton generally omits most entries that deal exclusively with Greek affairs and concentrates instead on those descriptions that center on his interaction with his immediate environment. In translating his entries for MayJune 1941, for example, Beaton generally leaves out those descriptions of the German offensive on Crete, the situation in occupied Athens, or the more trivial entries detailing conversations with Greek politicians in Egypt. The result is, indeed, a rather cohesive representation of Seferis's understanding of the eastern Mediterranean: his interaction with both familiar and unfamiliar places and people, his encounter with Islamic holy sites, his search for a sense of belonging away from Greece, and his poetic anxieties, but also his projections, preconceptions, and stereotypes.
Much of the scholarship on Seferis has centered either on his significance as one of the leading figures in the redefinition of Greek identity (along with the so-called generation of the 1930s) or on attempts to draw parallels between his work and European modernism in general. In short, scholars considered Seferis in either a Greek or European context. Useful as this kind of contextualization might be, other approaches are also valuable. A Levant Journal lays the foundation for an alternative locus of comparison; instead of focusing on Seferis's preoccupation with myth, or his exchange with such key figures of western modernism as T. S. Eliot and Henry Miller, these selections from the poet's journals allow the reader to consider Seferis in a distinctively Middle Eastern context. In other words, they follow the poet's ruminations as he moves eastwards, rather than westwards, toward territories whose significance in modern Greek literary development has remained largely unexplored. This, I believe, is the book's most significant contribution, as it opens up paths of communication between Greek and Middle East studies and presents English-speaking students [End Page 446] of Seferis, and modern Greek Studies in general, with the opportunity to engage in a hitherto understudied context. One could imagine, for example, a fertile study of Seferis's conception of the eastern Mediterranean alongside Jacqueline Kahanoff's redefinition of Levantinism or consider Seferis's journal alongside The Letters of Gertrude Bell (London: Ernest Benn 1927), to which Seferis refers extensively in his July 1956 entries.
The reader who expects to find in The Levant Journal an analysis of the main events of World War II in the 1940s, or of the Cyprus Problem in the 1950s, will be disappointed. Seferis himself succinctly writes that "these jottings aren't about the things that matter. More like the sorry traces we leave behind us, our cast off clothes" (p. 25). What the reader will find in these entries, and in Beaton's outstanding translation, is Seferis's encounter with spaces, which he tries to understand in relation to Greece and with people through whom he recognizes the constrictions of his own perspective. This movement, from the self...