George Seferis-Collected Poems

On A Foreign Line of Verse

For Elli, Christmas 1931

Fortunate the one who has made the voyage of Odysseus.

Fortunate he who starting out felt the rigging of a love

strong in his body, spreading on it like the throbbing

             blood in his veins.

A love of indestructible rhythm, invincible like music

             and infinite

as though it was born when we were born and when we die

             if it dies too neither we know nor anybody else.

I ask god to help me say, at a moment of great happiness

             what that love is

when I sit sometimes surrounded by exile I hear its distant buzz like

             the soft echo of sea joining with the inexplicable hurricane.

And again and again Odysseus’ phantom appears before me

             his eyes red from the wave’s salinity,

overwhelmed by his yearning to see once more the smoke climbing up

             from his warm hearth and his old dog waiting by the door.

He stands in greatness, murmuring through his whitened beard

            words in our language, as it was spoken three thousand years ago.

He extends his palm, calloused by the ropes and the rudder, his skin

            weathered by the dry north wind the heat and snow.

You could say that he wants to expel the superhuman one-eyed

            Cyclops from among us, the Sirens who make you forget once

             you hear their song, Scylla and Harybdis

so many complex monsters that stop us from remembering that he

too was a man who fought in the world, with soul and body.

He is the great Odysseus, he who designed the wooden horse and

            the Acheans captured Troy.

I imagine that he comes to advise me how I can build a wooden

              horse to capture my own Troy.

Because he speaks humbly and calmly, without any effort

              as though he knows me like my father

or like some old seamen, who leaning on their nets

              when winter approached and the wind raged

teary eyed they narrated to me, in my childhood years,

              the Erotokritos song when I shudder in my sleep hearing the unjust fate

              of Aretousa descending the marble steps.

He tells me of the deep pain you feel when the sails of your ship

              swell with memory and your soul becomes a rudder.

And you are alone, dark in the night and helpless like the chaff

             on the threshing floor;

of the bitterness to see your comrades one by one foundered

             and pulled by the elements and scattered

and of how strangely you regain your strength talking to the dead

             when the living who remain are not enough.

He speaks of…I still see his hands that knew how to feel

             whether the mermaid of the prow was ideally carved

gifting me with the wave less blue sea in the heart of winter.

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