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1967 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-00-00
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Collected Poems 1924-1955, by
George Seferis; translated and
edited by Edmund Keeley and
Philip Sherrard. Princeton Univ.
Press. $10.
by Michael Madigan
The translations of Keeley and Sherrard
are unavoidably not the poems of
George Seferis, the poems that were
awarded the Nobel Prize in 1963. For,
while Seferis has given his "generous
interest and cooperation" to the transla-
tors, the tone of the original poems is,
as Robert Lowell suggests, "something'
that will always more or less escape.
transference to another language and
cultural movement." Yet the editors'
poems do have a tone and are written
in "alive English." They have not at-
tempted strict metric translations, have
excluded those poems which they thought
impossible to translate, and have re-
legated to an appendix those poems
whose rhymic and verbal configurations
do not admit a "close formal approxima-
tion" in English. Keeley and Sherrard
are poets, not taxidermists. Their poems
are, happily, not stuffed birds.
Although we cannot be sure - unless
we speak fluent modern Greek - that
all the editors' translations capture the
essence of the Greek poems, we can be
confident that under Seferis' guidance

theE4
many, if not most, of the translations do
justice to the originals. In Seferis' case
many seems to be almost as valuable
as most. For the poet tells us in a letter
to his friend George Katsimbalis in 1949
that his. poetry is simply one poem: "I
am a monstrous and obstinate sort of
a man, who for the last twenty years,
has gone on saying the same things over
and over again - things that are not
even my own." In Sherrard's book on
modern Greek poetry, The Marble
Threshing Floor, he goes to great pains
to prove that modern Greek poets - at
least four of the five major figures he
studies - are mythic poets, unlike most
post-Renaissance poets. They are uncon-
cerned with the individual and separate
self and see themselves as messengers
between the supernatural and the natural
world. The modern Greek poets, so Sher-

TOM
jrreek
rard tells us, have raised their con-
sciousness from observation to vision,
from the outward present to the inward
present. Seferis' first book of poems,
Turning Point (1931), a book of love po-
ems, seems on first reading to belie
Sherrard's hypothesis - at least in
Seferis' case.
After a casual reading of the col-
lected poems, one could mistakenly cry,
"Seferis' complex mythic vision did not
come from the gods, but from a few
sour love affairs which the editors are
trying to hide." This was my first re-
sponse and one which I thought was val-
idated by a quick reading of several of
Seferis' prose essays and letters.
In 1938, seven years after the publica-
tion of Turning Point, Seferis spoke to
an audiance of students at the Univer-
sity of Athens. He commented on "how

An honest nt

life would be if all (literary critics) de-
voted their attention simple and solely
to finding out the poetic essence of my
poem." This essence of his poem or
poems is I think capsulized by the poet
in a rather cryptic letter he wrote
George Katsimbalis in 1949 explaining
his poem "Thrush:"
Just think of these cords which unite
man with the elements of nature,
this tragedy that is in nature and in
man at the same time, this inti-
macy. Suppose the light were sud-
denly to become Orestes? It is so
easy, just think: if the light of the
day and the blood of man were one
and the same thing! How far can
one stretch this feeling? 'Just an-
thropomorphism,' people say; and
they pass on. I do not think it is as
simple as that. If anthropomorphism
created the Odyssey, how far can we
look into the Odyssey? We could go
very far; but I shall stop here.
We arrive at the light. And the light
cannot be explained... but let me
first recall the last words of Anti-
cleia to her son:
The soul, like a dream, flutters
away and is gone. But quickly turn
your desire to the light and keep
all this in your mind.
The most interesting thing about this
letter - which seemed to support first
Continued on page twelve

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masturbatory

THE NIGHT OF

THE WEEPING CHILDREN

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--I

people and reveals a deep concern for
the sufferings of both victim and per-
secutor alike. All her work is in her
native language, German. The first com-
plete translation into English of her
main writings is now finally available,
and it remains faithful to both the text
and the spirit of the German original.
The themes presented in the contents
of the bilingual American edition may
remind us of Emily Dickinson "In the
Habitations of Death," "And No One
Knows How to Go On," "Journey into
a Dustless Realm." Rich metaphors and
free rhythm flood the mind of the will-
ing and patient reader, leading him in-
to a realm of mood and imagery sel-
dom touched by routine daily living.
At this point the comparison with the
New England poet ends. Nelly Sachs
tries neither to impose any philosophy
nor to present a re-run of her own ex-
periences. Instead she creates around
her reader a mental atmosphere over
which she stays in complete control. 0
the Chimneys contains no poems which
can stand effectively apart from the
text, and even the play Eli is better
understood by being included with the
poems. The reader has little choice but
to read the work through as a whole.
The beginning poems are dominated
by bitterness and suffering. We find our-
selves in the Nazi concentration camps,
"the habitations of death." Our visit
ends in dust, ashes and smoke, but our
journey continues. Miss Sachs does not
dwell on long lamentations but neither
does she allow anyone to forget such
scenes 'as in the poem "0 the night of
the weeping children." In this manner
an acceptance of suffering for its own
sake is revealed as an evolving con-
cept, which becomes clearer with later
poems.

Suffering is only the framework of
an atmosphere, in whose creation each
poem plays its own special role. We
go on to find ourselves among the stars
and planets, on a beach, with old men,
or in oblivion. We can hear for one
moment the music of the spheres and
in the next a "landscape of screams."
Meanwhile our thoughts follow along
with a sequence of mystical images and
weird pictures, into which are woven
several recurring metaphors. This phe-
nomenon can be explained by Goethe's
concept of metamorphosis, which ex-
cludes any idea of defined steps or units
of change. The full nature of the se-
quence is not revealed by any single
poem.
In reading Nelly Sachs' poetry, one
must assume a spiritual outlook, which
can be found in both the poems and
the mystery play Eli. This play resem-
bles the medieval church plays and
also the more modern German mystery
plays of Rudolf Steiner and Albert Stef-
fen. The reader with no German lan-
guage background will find the style and
word usage at first challenging, but not
impossible.
The important ,element of Miss Sachs'
work is the achievement of a different
approach to the nature of humanity. We
are raised up over the boundaries of
good and evil, birth and death, into a
cosmic realm, from which we look back
down on earth, a "tear among the plan-
ets." In this manner Nelly Sachs helps
us discover our own souls, not with a
message but rather through genuine ex-
perience. Perhaps this discovery will
constitute an important step toward the
new beginning.
Mr. Hagens is a student at the College
of Wooster.

Stop-time, by Frank Conroy. Vik-
ing Press. $5.95.
by David Johnson
It's an honest novel. Perhaps that's
where the difficulty lies. A familiar opin-
ion about first novels, be it myth or fact,
is that they must necessarily be auto-
biographical. So closely does Conroy ad-
here to that dictum that he uses his own
name in the narrative, told from the
first person. We see young, rebellious,
persecuted Frank Conroy, alienated from
his "oh, so cruel" society, hardly a in-
novative theme.
A relative of the young anti-heroes in
the Salinger, Amis, and Benedictus
novels, Conroy's protagonist uses the
same type of pithy, adolescent wisdom
to comment on the vicious adult world
around him. But it is not a Holden Caul-
field, Lucky Jim, or big boy now we
are watching here. Conroy is using the
world, or more precisely his readers, as
a sort of vast psycho-analytical audience.
From the couch of his Jaguar motor car
("Fifty to sixty miles an hour through
the empty streets of South London. No
lights. Slamming in the gears, accelerat-
ing on every turn, winding the big en-
gine, my brain finally clean and white,
washed out by the danger and the roar
of the wind."), he tells us flashback
fashion of the tragic little life that pro-
vokes his mind-popping fast driving.
We are confronted with the inevitable
private school scene where our hero
comes face to face with injustice and
authority. The fat boy of the class, who
is, how shall we say, "different," is
beaten up by the entire junior class.
Conroy participates, the boy is taken to
the hospital, and Conroy comments,
"Although Ligget's beating is part
of my life (past, present, and future
coexist in the unconcious says Freud)
and although I've worried about it
off and on for years, all I can say
about it is that brutality happens
easily. I learned almost nothing
from beating up Ligget."
Yet he considers the incident worthy
of considerable space.
The rest of the novel is fairly predict-
able. We are told of Conroy's experi-
ences as his family moves from New
York to Florida and back. We follow him
through schools, jobs, sex, and trauma,
under such stimulating chapter heads
as "Shit", "Losing My Cherry", and
"The Coldness of Public Places". There
is even one entitled "Elsinore" where
our hero studies abroad. Could he in-
tend a connection?
Necessity in this type of novel of
course requires a troubled family life.
Daddy is in an insane asylum. Mommy
has a handsome lover, handsome lover
has multitudinous complexes, and sister
rounds out the quintet by having a com-
plete emotional collapse at the con-
clusion of the book. This appears to be
th central springboard for Conroy's
work. He asks how anyone could possibly
suffer what he has suffered and go on

living.
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0 The Chimneys: Selected Poems
and the Verse Play, Eli, by Nelly
Sachs. Farrar Strauss Giroux.
$7.50.
by Herbert 0. Hagens
The need for a new beginning in our
world is perhaps felt most deeply by the
youth of modern Germany. Here in
America the security of a continuous
past has somewhat sheltered our post-
war generation from this experience.
However we too are questioning the con-

text of our lives and are discovering
the scarcity of more relevant and sig-
nificant answers. Nelly Sachs tells us
we are living in a "night of nights,"
but she goes on to observe in one of her
poems: Still no love between the plan-
ets/but a secret understanding already
quivers.
In 1940 Nelly Sachs, a Jew, escaped
to Sweden from the fate which caught
many of her relatives in Germany.
Through poetry and drama she identi-
fies herself with the tragedy of her

4 . CHICAGO LITERARY REVIEW

. December, 1967

December, 1967

" CHICAG

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