Varnalis was born in Burgas, Eastern Rumelia (now in Bulgaria), in 1884. As his name suggests, his family originated from Varna; his father’s family name was Boubous. He completed his elementary studies in the Zariphios Greek high school in Plovdiv and then moved to Athens to study literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. While there, he became involved in the Greek language dispute, taking the side of the demoticists over the supporters of the katharevousa. After his graduation in 1908 he worked for some time as a teacher in Burgas, before returning to Greece and teaching in Amaliada and Athens. During the next years, he worked as a teacher and part-time journalist, also engaging in translation work. In 1913, he took part in the Second Balkan War.
In 1919 he gained a scholarship and travelled to Paris where he studied philosophy, literature and sociology. It was during his Parisian studies that he became a Marxist and reviewed his ideas on poetry in theory and in practice. His political alignment resulted in his being dismissed from his teaching position at the Paedagocical Academy in 1926 and barred from any state employment. Varnalis thus took to journalism, a profession he practised until the end of his life. In 1929, he married the poetess Dora Moatsou. In 1935, he participated in the Soviet Writers’ Conference in Moscow as Greece’s representative. Under the 4th of August Regime, he was sent to internal exile in Mytilene and Agios Efstratios. During the German Occupation of Greece, he took part in the resistance movement as a member of the National Liberation Front (EAM). In 1959, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Varnalis died in Athens on 16 December 1974, and is buried in the First Cemetery of Athens.
Everything is black in front of you, each and every day
seem darker than the nights. Behind the mountains
the photosphere was put out years ago.
And if your eyes turn back to look
your pain is double as you realize
today is more black than yesterday
Όλα μπροστά σου μαύρα, η κάθε μέρα
πιο μαύρη από τη νύχτα. Η φωτοσφαίρα
σβημένη χρόνια πίσω απ’ τα βουνά.
Κι αν κάποτες τα μάτια σου γυρνάνε
πίσω, διπλά πονάς, `τί βλέπεις να `ναι
πιο μαύρα απ’ τα παλιά, τα τωρινά.
~ Kostas Varnalis, ΟΡΓΗ ΛΑΟΥ, RAGE OF THE PEOPLE, translated by Manolis Aligizakis