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1967 - Image 11

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lb 4 At


Seferis: myth,


Continued from page four
reading of the poems - was the poet's
omission of the last words of Anticleia
to her son: "Note all things strange seen
here, to tell your lady in after days."
Seferis was convicted. He was a woman-
hater, and thus he was not Homeric,
was not Greek.
However having re-read his poems two
or three times I can presently only ac-
cuse the editors of denying the wisdom
of Seferis' pen changing shape, "grow-
ing/larger and smaller,/ we too chang-
ing, as we gazed, the shape of our de-
sire and,/ our hearts." Seferis, just as
El Greco, had good reason for putting
the hospital of Don Juan Tavera into his
picture "View and Plan of Toledo" in
the shape of a model.
Indeed Seferis' omission is significant,
but not in the way I first suspected. The
poet in his life and in his poetry is more
concerned with Achilles' pronouncements
on the after-life, than with Agamemnon's
assurances of Penelope's fidelity. For
unless Odysseus re-evaluates the real-
ities of two other bed-fellows, Time and
Love, unless he turns his desires to the
light, he would return home to be made
a cuckold by Time at some later date.
Seferis' poems from Turning . Point
(1931) to Logbook 111 (1955) describe
his attempts to turn his desires to the
light; he becomes increasingly aware
that, as Eliot put it, "Time present and
time past/are both perhaps present in
time future/and time future contained


in time past." Unlike Eliot, the miracle
of rebirth is "no where but circulating
in the veins of man," (253) "light is mir-
rored in (the) blood." (331) Love, for Se-
feris, is neither the transient, though
joyful, moments of the marital bed, nor
the benign eternity of the traditional
Christian God. Love "...belongs to the
Furies/ as it belongs to man and to
stone and to water and to grass/and to
the animal that look straight into the
eyes of its approaching death."(359)
Yet the intensity - and the attrac-
tion - of Seferis' poetry does not de-
rive from the purity of his mythic vision.
It is the tension between his individual
and mythic consciousnesses which gives
his poetry its fire and its light. In "Ero-
tikos Logos" (1932) Seferis realizes that
"the beauties nature grants us are born/
but who knows if a soul hasn't died in
the world." (431) It is this Fury, this
tragic paradox, that follows Seferis,
taunting him with the memories of the
past, both his own and that of the Greek
He never stops waiting "for the mir-
acle that opens the heavens and makes
all things possible." Even after he has
"touched the depths under memory,"
and he felt in his veins "a sound of sac-
rifice," he never completely surrenders
the dream of a resurrection. Seferis in-

sists, but never completely believes that
". . . there's no other way you've got to
become like stone if/you want (the an-
gels') company/and when you look for
the miracle you've got to scatter your/
blood to the eight points of the wind."
Even in "The King of Asine," perhaps
his best poem, he is not rescued from
the haunting paradox of his vision by
his discovery of the living presence of
the heroic Greek past and his own per-
sonal past in the silent voice of nature
and in his own veins. "Sometimes touch-
ing with our fingers (the King's) touch
upon/the stones," we are the forgotten
But by casting off the "gold burial
mask," the one reference to the King of
Asine in Homer, Seferis seemingly dis-
misses the poet, the word, and the poem,
as hollow, as a void. Yet the poet's feel-
ings about poetry, just like his feelings
about women, seem to be very ambiva-
lent. He again is divided by a conscious-
ness which is both mythic and indi-
Indeed, temporal love and the indivi-
dual poet's aspirations and accomplish-
ments are viewed somewhat alike in
Seferis' poetry. In "Memory 1" (1955)
the poet tells how "I thought of playing a
tune and then I was ashamed of the/

other world/the one that watches me
from beyond the night from within my
He is still the poet of the post-Renais-
sance period, still the individual separ-
ate self: "Memory hurts wherever you
touch it." Men suffer and have suffered
because they chase the delusions of the
gods, "...the thirst for blood/roused
by/the body's sperm as by salt." Wo-
man is not simply the sterile creature of
Eliot's poetry. Like man, she is sub-
jected to the furies of the flesh.
In the poem "Strates Thalassinos
Among the Agapanthi" Seferis creates
a parable about the course of his jour-
ney as a man and thus as a poet. "The
first thing God made is the long jour-
ney; that house there is waiting/with
the blue smoke/with its aged dog/
waiting for the homecoming so that if
can die."
Seferis has not reached the end of the
journey, his house is not dead. As he
noticed in the poem, "Thrush," "houses
you know, grow stubborn when you
strip them bare." Thus Penelope,
man's partner in his house of individual
consciousness, has not been dismissed
from Seferis' translation of Anticleia's
last words to Odysseus. She is there in
the form of the poem, in Odysseus, in
the light, in the ambivalence that Sefer-
is has yet to embrace before it can die.
Mr. Madigan is a Ph.D. candidate in
American Culture at the University
of Michigan.

Vol. 5 No. 2









from Journey into the Whirlwind, by E.
" a Criticism Esyb Ezra pound; $10'.
Pound/Joyce Letters and Essays, by $r
The Novel Now, by Anthony Burgess; $5.
Current Affairs'byNor
Present Tens: An American Editor's odyssey, by
Present Tense:7 95
man Cousins; $7.95.
Education: Maria Montessori; $6.95
The Uni est of ChicgoThe Absorbent Mifld, by araMnesi;$.5
The University of Cicago
Bookstore Fiction: ao;$.5
Master Margarita, by Mikhail BulaaoV; kB ctien$k $5.95.
General Book Department A Hall of Mirrors, by Robert Stone; $ -5


Journey into the Whirlwind, by
Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg,
translated by Paul Stevenson and
Max Hayward. Harcourt, Brace &
World. $6.95.
by Lisbeth Meisner
Western critics of Soviet life and lit-
erature have shown an almost universal
tendency to come down hard on the side
of humanitarianism and proclaim that
no gains wrought by the Stalinist sys-
tem are justified by the suffering it en-
tailed. Soviets, on the other hand, since
they lived through these years and hence
were deprived of the luxury of moral
and physical non-involvement, are not
nearly so sure about where they stand.
There is a persistent feeling of ambig-
uity about the Stalin years that is shared
by many, if not most, Soviets. It is well-
reflected in Mrs. Ginzburg's book.,
Arrested in 1937 on charges of "Trot-
skyism," Mrs. Ginzburg was taken from
her family and job as a teacher in Ka-
zan, and spent the next 18 years in pris-
ons and labor camps. Surprisingly, she
is still alive and working in Moscow, al-
though her memoirs, which circulated
around Moscow in manuscript form,
were sent a la Pasternak to Italy for
publication in the West.
Journey into the Whirlwind recounts
her life for the first three years after
her arrest - the unexpected summons to
NKVD headquarters, the brutal interro-
gation, during which she refused to sign
false confessions or betray her friends
and colleagues, and the final deportation
to the notorious Kamchatka region of
the Soviet Far East.
For her, as for so many party intel-
lectuals of the "revolutionary genera-
tion," Stalin's ugly transformation of So-
viet life produced an almost unbearable
moral dilemma: "Everything I had in
the world - the thousands of books I
had read, memories of my youth, and
the very endurance which was keeping
me from going under - all this had been
given me by the Soviet system and the
revolution which had transformed my
world when I was still a child. How ex-
citing life had been and how gloriously
everything had begun! What in God's
name had happened to us all?"
The Party has, of course, attempted to
answer this question by asserting that
Stalinism was an illness which has been
brought under control, if not completely
cured, by the swift surgery of 1956. Mrs.
Ginzburg ends her book with a routine
bow in this direction, "The great Lenin-
ist truths have again come into their
own in our country and Party. Today the
people can already be told of things that
have been and shall be no more." The
almost deliberate absurdity of these
statements jars with the admirable po-
etic style of the rest of the book, but not

... And a spoof
on Russia's own Shirle Temple

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Smetana and the Beetles, by Al-
bert E. Kahn. Illustrated by David
Levine. Random House. $2.95.
by Harvey Wasserman
When I first saw Svetlana Stalina
I thought the editors of Reader's Digest
had disguised Snooky Lanson and flown
him in from Europe to malign the 50th
anniversary of the Outside Agitators'
plot to overthrow the beloved Tsar.
But, alas, alack and well-a-day, Svet-
lana is real. Her image is real good. Her
book is real bad and has added nothing
to the world's understanding of Russia or
Papa Joe. But it's been fun.
And the book which captures all the
fun is Smetana and the Beetles, a well-
written and magnificently illustrated vol-

ume which accurately portrays the flight
of Russia's own Shirley Temple in
search of Lennon, and its exploitation
by People's Publishers and People's
Clerk in Attendance (CIA) in illustrating
that in Freeland Inc., "Just follow the
Red-White-and-Blue Rainbow. There's a
Pot of Gold at the end."
Perhaps Svetlana doesn't deserve all
that dumped on her head. She seems,
after all, nice enough, even if "she was
no go-go Gogol; her Diary, no Zhivago-
go." But in the land where "Flower
children danced in the Streets,/and
there were fireworks even in the Ghet-
toes," anybody with a tear to shed about
Life with Father in the Gremlin is bound
to make it big.
Mr. Wasserman is a first-year graduate
student in the Department of History
at the University of Chicago.



December, 1967

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