September 21, 2022

Míltos Sahtoúris (Greece) 1919-2005

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-stricken 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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