Odysseas Elytis. The Genesis

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Seven free-verse hymns with a refrain, each hymn describing a new stage of  Creation, of  Man, of Day

IN THE BEGINNING the light1 And the first hour

when the lips still in clay

taste the things of the world

Green blood and bulbs golden in the earth

And the sea so exquisite in its sleep spread

unbleached gauzes of sky

beneath the carob trees and the tall standing palm trees

There alone

grievously weeping

I faced the world

My soul sought a Signalman and Herald

Then I remember I saw

the three Black Women

Lifting their arms to the East

Saw their gilded backs and on their right

the slowly dissolving cloud

that they left And plants of strange design

It was the whole many-rayed sun with its axle

in me that beckoned And

he who I truly was He many aeons ago

He still green in the fire He uncut from the sky

I felt him come and lean

over my cradle

like memory become present

it took on the voice of trees, of waves:

"Your commandment:' he said, "is this world

written in your viscera

Read and try

and fight" he said

"Each with his own weapons" he said

And he spread his arms like

a young novice God to mold together pain and joy.

First high up on the walls

the Seven Axes2 were pried loose

with great force and fell


1. "In the beginning" brings to mind the openings of both John's Gospel and the Book of Genesis.

2. "the Seven Axes": On the wall of Heracleion, on Crete, near where Elytis was born, were

seven axes symbolizing the seven regiments enforcing Turkish rule. In 1912 Crete joined

Greece, and the axes were taken down.


like the Storm

at its zero point where a bird

is fragrant again from the beginning

the blood returned home clean

and monsters took on a human face

So sensible the Incomprehensible

And then all the winds of my family came

boys with puffed-out cheeks

and wide green tails like Mermaids

and other aged men known of old

testaceous long-bearded

And the winds divided the cloud in two And then again into four

and they blew the bit that remained and sent it North

And lofty the great Koules 1 set a broad foot on the waters

The horizon line brightened

visible and thick and impenetrable

THIS the first hymn.

AND HE who I truly was he many aeons ago

He still green in the fire He not created by Hand

with his finger drew the distant


sometimes ascending sharply on high

and other times curving gently lower down

one into the other

great lands that I felt

smell of earth like mind

So true was the earth

that followed me faithfully

it became redder in secret places

and elsewhere with many small pine needles

Later more indolently

the hills the downslopes

sometimes the hand slow in rest

ravines plains

and suddenly again savage naked boulders

very strong impulses


1. "Koules": Venetian fortress on the bay of Heracleion.


The moment he stood to contemplate

something difficult or lofty

Olympus Taygetus

"Something to stand at your side

"even after you dien he said

And he drew threads through the stones

and brought forth schist from earth's guts

he fixed in place the wide stairs all around the hillside

There alone he laid

white marble fountains

mills of winds

small pink cupolas

and tall perforate dovecotes

Virtue1 with its four right angles

And as he thought it beautiful to be in each other's arms

the big water troughs filled with love

where animals calves and cows innocently stooped

as if no temptation were in the world

as if knives had not been made yet

"It takes guts to endure peace" he said

and turning around he sowed with open palms

mullein crocuses bluebells

all species of earth's stars

pierced in one leaf as a mark of noble descent

and superiority and power


the world the small the great!


BUT BEFORE I heard wind or music

as I set off for a clearing

(ascending a boundless red sand dune

erasing History with my heel)

I wresded with the bedsheets It was this I sought

innocent and quivering like a vineyard

and deep and uncarved like the sky's other face


1. "VIrtue": The modem Greek word is arete. See "Sleep of the Brave (Variation)" in Six and

One Remorses for the Sky, written at the same time as The Axion Esti.


A bit of soul in the clay

Then he spoke and the sea was born

And I saw and I marveled

And in it he sowed small worlds in my image and likeness:

Stone steeds with manes erect

and serene amphorae

and dolphins' slanting backs

los Si.kinos Seriphos Melos


"Each word a swallow

to bring you spring in the midst of summer" he said

And so many olive trees

sifting the light through their hands

so it spreads soft in your sleep

and so many cicadas

that you don't feel them

as you don't feel the pulse in your wrist

but only a little water

so you hold it a God and understand what its word means

and the tree by itself

with no flock

so you make it your friend

and know its precious name

the soil thin at your feet

so there's no room to spread your roots

and to keep going deeper

and broad the sky above

so you yourself can read the infinite


the world the small the great!

"AND THIS THE WORLD you must see and receive"

he said: Look! And my eyes cast the seed

running the thousands of untrod acres

faster than rain

Sparks taking root in the dark and sudden jets of water

The silence I reclaimed to brood

germ -cells of letters and golden seeds of oracles

With the spade still in my hands

I saw the big short -legged plants, turning their faces

some barking some sticking their tongues out

Here's the asparagus here's the rabe

here's curly parsley

ginger plant and geranium

Queen Anne's lace and fennel

Secret syllables through which I strove to articulate my identity

"Bravo;' he said to me, "you know how to read

and there is still a lot you'll come to learn

if you study the Insignificant in depth

And a day will come when you will take on helpers


the infighting Zephyr, the ere bus-killing pomegranate

the flaming swift-footed kisses"

And his speech vanished like fragrance

Partridge the ninth hour beat into the deep heart of euphony1

the houses stood in solidarity

small and square

with white arches and indigo doors

Beneath the grape arbor

I daydreamed for hours

with tiny chirps

croaks, twitters, distant coos:

Here's the pigeon here's the stork

here's the gypsy bird

the oriole and the water hen

and the mayfly was there too

and the praying mantis called Virgin's pony

The seaboard with my limbs naked in the sun

and again the two seas

with a third between-lemon citrus tangerine trees

and the other northwester with its high upper strait

spoiling the sky's ozone

Low at the bottom of the leaves

the smooth seashingle

the flowers' little ears

and the impatient shoot which are


the world the small the great!


1. "partridge the ninth hour ... euphony": quoted from "The Whole World" (Orientations).


AND then I understood the surf and the long endless whisper of the trees

I saw the red water jugs lined up on the dock

and closer to the wooden window shutter

where I lay sleeping on my side

the northwind crowed more loudly

And I saw

Korai beautiful and naked and smooth as a beach pebble

with a bit of black in the nook of their thighs

and a rich spread of it along their shoulder blades

who standing blew into the Conch

and others writing in chalk

strange, enigmatic words:



At the stroke of eleven

small voices of birds and hyacinths

or other words of July

five fathoms deep

perch gudgeon seabream

with huge gills and short boat-stem tails

Ascending I found sponges

and starfish

and slender speechless anemones

and higher up at the water's lip

rosy limpets

and half-opened pina clams and sea grass

"Precious words," he said to me, "ancient oaths

spared by Time and the sure hearing of distant winds"

And near the wooden window shutter

where I lay sleeping on my side

I pressed a pillow tight to my chest

and my eyes filled with tears

I was in the sixth month of my loves

and in my belly a precious seed was stirring


the world the small the great!


1. "ROES

":anagrams. (In Greek a second choice for "ROES"would be "HOURS.")


"BUT FIRST you will see the wilderness and give it your own meaning," he said

"It will precede your heart

and will continue afterward

Know this above all:

what you save in the lightning

will last pure forever"

And high above the waves

he set villages of cliffs

The foam reached there as dust

I saw a frail goat lick the crevices

with a slant eye lean body hard as quartz

I lived the grasshoppers and the thirst and their rough-joined fingers

for the fixed number of years as Knowledge determines

Stooped over papers night after night

and descending into fathomless books

with a skinny rope

I sought the white up to the ultimate intensity of black

Hope up to the point of tears

Joy up to extreme despair

Then came the moment for help to be sent

and the lot fell to rain

streams purled all day

I ran like mad

to the slopes I tore broom and my hand offered

much myrtle for the breezes to bite

"Purity:' he said, "is this

on the slopes as in your guts"

And he spread his arms like

an old prudent God to mold together clay and heavenliness

and he lightly tinged the peaks a molten red

but he fixed the grass an unbitten green to the ravines

mint lavender verbena

and lambs' little hoofprints

or elsewhere again thin threads of silver falling

from the heights, cool hair of a girl I saw and desired

A real woman

"Purity:' he said, "is this"

and filled with yearning I caressed the body

kisses teeth to teeth; then one into the other

I quivered

like an anchor rope I stepped so deep

that the caves took in wind

White-sandaled Echo passed quickly for a moment

as a garfish under the water

and I saw the Great Ram ascend Unstepping on high

having the hill for a foot and the sun for its horned head

And he who I truly was He many aeons ago

He still green in the fire He uncut from heaven

whispered when I asked:

-What is good? What is evil?

-A point A point

and on it you balance and exist

and beyond it trepidation and darkness

and behind it the grinding teeth of angels

-A point A point

and on it you can infinitely proceed

or else nothing else exists anymore

And the Scales that, as I spread my arms, seemed

to weigh light against instinct, were


the world the small the great!


AND BECAUSE THE HOURS turned like days

with broad violet leaves on the garden clock

I was the clock's hand

Tuesday Wednesday Thursday

June July August

I was pointing to necessity which struck my face

like seaspray Insect of girls

Distant lightning flashes of Iris

''All these the time of innocence

the time of the whelp and the sprout

long before Necessity," he said to me

And he pushed danger away with one finger

He clothed the cape's ridge in a black eyebrow

From an unknown place he poured phosphorous

"For you to see," he said, "inside

your body

veins of potassium, manganese


and the calcified

ancient remnants oflove"

And then my heart clenched tight

it was the first creaking of wood inside me

perhaps of an approaching night

the voice of the owl

the blood of somebody killed

returning to the upper world

Far away, at the edge of my soul, I saw

secretly passing by

high lighthouses like field hands Crossbeamed castles on cliffs

The polestar Saint Marina with the demons1

And much further behind the waves

on the Island with bays2 of olive groves

It seemed for a moment that I saw Him

who gave his blood for me to incamate3

once more ascending the Saint's rough road

once more

Once more

placing his fingers on the waters ofYera4

and so the five villages ignite

Papados Plakados Palaiokipos

Skopelos and Mesagros

authority and inheritance of my kin

"But now," he said, "your other face

must ascend to the light"

and long before I had in mind

a sign of fire or shape of tomb

Where no one was able to see

bending over

his hands stretched out

he prepared the great Voids on the earth

and in the body of man:

the void of Death for the Coming Infant


1. St. Marina wards off demons.

2. "Island with bays": Lesbos, Elytis' ancestral island.

3. "who gave his blood ... ": St. Theodore ofMytilene, (eighteenth century), claimed as an ancestor of Elytis.

4· "Yera": a beautiful bay on Lesbos; the five villages listed here overlook it. Elytis's mother was from near Yera


the void of Murder for the Just Judgment

the void of sacrifice for the Equal Compensation

the void of Soul for the Responsibility to Others

and Night a pansy

of an old

Moon sawn by nostalgia

with ruins of an abandoned mill and the harmless fragrance of manure

took a place inside me

It changed the dimensions of faces; it portioned out burdens differently

My hard body was the anchor sunk in men

where is no other sound

but thuds wailings and lamentations

and cracks on the face's other side

Of what nonexistent race was I the descendent

only then did I realize

that the thought of the Other

like a glass edge diagonally

incised me from one side to the other as I stood

I saw clearly as if there were no walls

old women holding lanterns going about their houses

cracks on their foreheads and on the ceiling

and other mustached young men tying weapons around their waists


two fingers on the gunstock

centuries now.

"See;' he said, "they are the Others

and there's no way for Them without You

and there's no way for You without Them"

See," he said, "they are the Others

and you really must confront them

if you want your countenance to be ineffaceable

and to stay so.

Because many wear the black shirt

and others speak the language of oinks

and they are Raweaters and Louts ofWater

Wheatphobes and the Livid and Neocondors

a bunch and crowd of the Fourbeamed

cross's points.

If you truly stand firm and confront them," he said,

"your life will acquire keenness and you will lead," he said

"Each with his own weapons," he said

And he who I truly was He many aeons ago

He still green in the fire He uncut from the sky

He passed into me And became

he who i am

It was night's third hour

the first cock crowed

far over the huts

I saw for a moment the Standing Columns the Metope with Strong Anirnals1

and Men bearing Divine Knowledge

The Sun assumed its face The Archangel forever on my right

THIS then am I

and the world the small the great!

Odysseus Elytis. Helen


Odysseus Elytis


O.Elytis: Дреністің шуағын қанып ішіп...( Drinking The Sun Of



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