June 16, 2010

Míltos Sahtoúris

Míltos Sahtoúris [Greece]

Born in Athens on July 29, 1919, Míltos Sahtoúris regards his place of origin as Hýdra, the home of his great, great grandfather who was an admiral in the Greek War of Independence. Sahtoúris' father was a State legal consul, and his job soon necessitated the family's move to Thessaoníki, and later to Náfplion and back to Athens when the poet was five. But during the summer Sahtoúris was sent to the family estate in Pelopponesos, opposite Hýdra, where he fished and hunted in the woodside. As a youth he attended the University of Athens, studying law, but upon his father's death in 1939, left the university with a degree and burned his books.

As a student he had despised Greek literature, particularly poetry (with exception of Cavafy and Kariotákis). But during his first few years in the university, he published a small volume of verse, The Music of the Islands under the pseudonym Míltos Hrisánthis, but which he later rejected as juvenalia. In 1994, however, he became compelled again to write. But this time his work was influenced by Greek surrealism, represented particularly in the poetry of Níkos Engonópoulos and Andréas Emberícos, and the early work of Odysseus Elýtis. Writing to translator Kimon Friar, he wrote "Surrealism freed me from many things. It freed me, first of all, from an austere paternal education and from a narrow family tradition. As a technique, it taught me to listen to what's genuine in poetry and to use all words fearlessly."

Over the next decades, often living a hermetic and poverty-striken life, Sahtoúris produced many books of poetry, including The Forgotten Woman (1945), Ballads (1948), The Face to the Wall (1952), When I Speak to You (1956), The Phantoms or Joy in the Other Street (1958), The Stroll (1960), The Stigmata (1962), The Seal or the Eighth Moon (1964), The Vessel (1971), Poems, 1945-1971, and Color Wounds (1980). In 1962 he was awarded the Second State Prize in Greece for poetry, and he shared the Third State Prize in 1964. In 1972 he received a Ford Foundation Grant.


The Forgotten Woman (1945); Ballads (1948); With Face to the Wall (1952); When I Speak to You (1956); The Phantoms or Joy in the Other Street (1958); The Stroll (1960); The Stigmata (1962); The Seal or The Eighth Moon (1964); The Vessel (1971); Poems, 1945-1971 (1971); Color Wounds (1980).


With a Face to the Wall, trans from the Greek by Kimon Frair (Washington, D.C.: The Charioteer Press, 1968); Selected Poems, trans from the Greek by Kimon Friar (Old Chatham, New York: Sachem Press, 1982); Poems 1945-1971, trans. from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2006)

The Difficult Sunday

Since morning I've been looking upward at a better bird
since morning I've been rejoicing at a snake coiled around my neck

Broken water glasses on the rug
crimson flowers the cheeks of the prophetess
when she lifts the dress of fate
something will grow out of this joy
a new tree without flowers
or an innocent new eyelash
or an adored word
that has not kissed forgetfulness on the mouth

Outside the bells are clamoring
outside unimaginable friends are waiting for me
they lift a dawn high and twirl it round
what weariness what weariness
yellow dress—an eagle emroidered—
green parrot—I close my eyes—it shrieks
always always always
the orchestra plays counterfeit tunes
what suffering eyes what women
what loves what voices what loves
friend love blood friend
friend give me your hand what cold

It was freezing
I no longer know the hour when they all died
and I remained with an amputated friend
and with a blooded branch for company

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from The Forgotten Woman, 1945)


He sprinkled ugliness with beauty
he book a guitar
and walked along a riverbank

He lost his voice
the delirious lady stole it
who cut off her head in the crimson waters
and the poor man no longer has a voice to sing with
and the river rolls
the tranquil head with its eyelashes closed


—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from The Forgotten Woman, 1945)

The Dream

Notre voyage à nous est entierèment
imaginaire. Voilà sa force.

—C. F. Céline

The everliving dream
caresss its white hair

Boys undress in the light
throw the ball and shout in triumph
a Frankish priest points with his fingers at Lycabbétos
a naked boy smiles at the girls
they grow tall in their branches they shout
he is crippled he is crippled
afterwards they plunge in shame in the red water

Young women undress in the shadow
in the endless harbor frightened
a surgeon on the balcony opens and closes his lancets
tired stevedores lie in wait
to cut the ship's cables
to ear the unvirginal dresses to tatters
to mutiny and hang the captain
from the large mast of the sky
for women to clench their fingers
to close their eyes to sigh
to show their teeth their tongues

The voyage of joy begins

The suffering woman undressed in the dark
she swarmed up the wretched house and
stopped the futile music
she laughed in the mirror lifted her hands
painted her face with the color
of an expectation saw the sun
in her watch and then remembered:

"Look, the poem has come true
and the illegitimate boy and the color
make a gift of joy
and how can they photograph this place
it is a place of hypocrisy
it is a land where boys
who have lost their innocence lie in abush
and spread out their hands to the open windows
that the sick kisses might fall
that the young short-lived orphans
might fall weeping from the windows
squeezing in their wounded hands
a tuft of white hair

From the very ancient dream"

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from The Forgotten Woman, 1945)

The Forgotten Woman


This furrow is not a furrow of blood
this ship is not a ship of storm
this wall is not a wall of senuality
this crumb is not a crumb of holiday
this dog is not a dog of flowers
this tree is not a tree electrical
this house is not a house of hesitation

The white old woman is not an old woman about to die

They are a spoonful of sweet wine the vigor of foy
for the life of the forgotten woman


The forgotten woman opens her window
she opens her eyes
trucks with women dressed in black pass by below
who display their naked sex
who one-eyed drivers who blaspheme
by her Christ and her Virgin Mary
the women in black wish her evil
and let them throw carnations at her steeped in blood
from the effervescence of their sensual gardens
from the evaporation of gasoline in a cloud of smoke
the drivers
tear through the cloud and call her prostitute
but she a Dolorous Virgin
with her beloved amid the icons
precisely as time has preserved him
with the candles of all the betrayed
who marched to death between the daisies and the camomile
with beldames servants and mountain stars
with swords that slashed through throats and palm trees


The forgotten woman stretches out her white hand
takes however a piece of colored glass and sings
"I call to you not form within the dream
but from among these splinters of multi-colored glasses
yet you always recede
now indeed your face frightens me truly
no matter how much I try to match these broken glasses
I can no longer face you wholly
at times I only construct your head
among a thousand other savage heads that estrange me
at times only your beloved body
among a thousand other amputated bodies
at times only again only your blessed hand
among a thousand other outflung hands
that encumber my feet under my dresses
they blindfold me with their black handkerchiefs
they command me to walk and not turn back my head
to see your eyes shattering"


The forgotten woman in the depths of her victorious sleep
holding an apple in her right hand caressing the sea with the other
suddenly unfolds her beautiful eyes
it is only a breeze the roar of a cannon
it is only the bicyclist his beloved and a bouquet of flowers
it is the calmor of the heart the smoke of minefields
it is hatred bodies that couple in rage and sink
it is a dreadful kiss on the forntiers of sensuality
where five deaths may be found sown among the poppies
it is the shadow of her lover passing by


Forty years later the forgotten woman shall uproot these words. And shall I say that on this street miracles happen? No. Miracles happen only in haunted churches. Shall I speak of the man who became a tree and of his mouth that sprouted with flowers? I am shy but I must speak no matter if no one believes me. The only one who could have believed me was killed there before the altar, a few naked boys stoned him to death. They wanted to kill a wolf-hound they wanted to sing a song they wanted to kiss a woman. At all events they killed him and cut him in two with a saber. From the waist up they put him in a window as a statue. From the waist down they taught him to walk like a toddling child. He did not seem worthy enough to become a good statue for his eye would not turn white. And then again his feet cut a great many crazy capers and frightened the women who spend the night in windows. Now from the sides of his lips two small bitter leaves have sprouted. Extremely green. Is he a flower or a man? Is he a man or a statue? Is he a statue or a lurking death? Forty years later the forgotten woman shall uproot these words.


The forgotten woman is the soldier who was crucified
the forgotten woman is the clock that stopped
the forgotten woman is the branch that caught fire
the forgotten woman is the needle that broke
the forgotten woman is the tomb of Christ that blossomed
the forgotten woman is the hand that aimed
the forgotten woman is the back that shuddered
the forgotten woman is the kiss that sickened
the forgotten woman is the knife that missed
the forgotten woman is the mud that dried
the forgotten woman is the fever that fell

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from The Forgotten Woman, 1945)

The Factory

Factory factor
of night and fire
with large suns made of roses
fire ladders
poplar trees—ghosts with red leaves
despairing birds tied with harsh
white string
frightful toys

The bride smiles
with soiled arm
with cracked hand
with painted nails
the ship anchored by the pierside
and further down the storm
and furthr down the drowned man

He She

The tied horses by the rain's side
and further beyond thirst

The Poet

Kept his gardens hidden in his mouth
that burned and filled the land with smoke

Factory factory
fright and flame

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from Ballads, 1948)

The Sheep

O head of mind filled with dream
hands of mine filled with mud

Well should I also sing of the rain
when Pontius Pilate walked in the streets
no one recognized his face
in the darkness in the desert next to the cables
when Jesus was multiplying the fishes
one man leant on a hedge
another in a blind bridge
another on a ruined house
when Jesus was multiplying the fishes
and the sea was casting up on land
her wild white sheep
Pontius Pilate walked in the streets
no one however recognized his joy
Pontius Pilate the first river mate
with the cage his hungry birds
the garden his lost flowers
the two embraced on the hill
the two sighed in the arcade
the two swooned under the cypress tree
when the sea once more gathered
her wild white sheep
and put them to sleep in her bitter arms

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from With Face to the Wall, 1952)

The Clock

Black is the sun
in my mother's
with a tall green
top hat
my father
would bewitch the birds
and I
with a deaf
and distrustful clock
count the years
wait for my parents

—Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from The Stroll, 1960)


In my grave
I walk in agitation
up and down
up and down

I hear things around me howling

Men pass by
they speak, they laugh
for me

they tell truths
they tell lies
for me, for me!

—Don't, I shout to them
don't speak
about my dead loves

they will waken
they will gouge out your eyes!

Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

(from Color Wounds, 1980)


"The Difficult Stunday," "Beauty," "The Dream," "The Forgotten Woman," "The Factory, "The Sheep," "THe Clock" and "Ectoplasms"
Reprinted from Selected Poems, trans. by Kimon Friar (Old Chatham, New York: Sachem Press, 1982). Copyright ©1982 by Kimon Friar. Reprinted by permission of Sachem Press.

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