Stratis Thalassinos Among the Agapanthi

Stratis Thalassinos among the agapanthi - George Seferis, Photographic Portrait of the Poet
George Seferis, Photographic Portrait of the Poet

The poem Stratis Thalassinos Among the Agapanthi was written by Nobel Prize winner George Seferis (1900, Smyrna – 1971, Athens) in Transvaal, South Africa, in 1942. There he was found, following the Greek self-exiled government as a diplomat, after the German invasion and occupation of Greece.

It is included in the poetic collection of Seferis Deck Diary B’ (Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος Β´), which was printed in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1944.

According to scholars of Seferis’s work, the protagonist of the poem, Stratis Thalassinos, is but a persona of the poet himself.

In our view, exactly the opposite is the case: it is George Seferis, the persona of Stratis Thalassinos, who the latter devised to differentiate the professional diplomat to the poet.

G. Seferis - Stratis Thalassinos Among the Agapanthi

There are no asphodels, violets, or hyacinths;
how then can you talk with the dead?
The dead know the language of flowers only;
so they keep silent
they travel and keep silent, endure and keep silent,
beyond the community of dreams, beyond the community of dreams.

If I start to sing I ‘l call out
and if I call out –
the agapanthi order silence
raising the tiny hand of a blue Arabian child
or even the footfalls of a goose in the air.

It’s painful and difficult, the living are not enough for me
first because they do not speak, and then
because I have to ask the dead in order to go on farther.
There’s no other way: the moment I fall asleep
the companions cut the silver strings
and the flask of the winds empties.
I fill it and it empties, I fill it and it empties;
I wake
like a goldfish swimming
in the lightning’s crevices
and the wind and the flood and the human bodies
and the agapanthi nailed like the arrows of fate
to the unquenchable earth
shaken by convulsive nodding,
as if loaded on an ancient cart
jolting down gutted roads, over old cobblestones,
the agapanthi, asphodels of the negroes:
How can I grasp this religion?

The first thing God made is love
then comes blood
and the thirst for blood
roused by
the body’s sperm as by salt.
The first thing God made is the long journey;
that house there is waiting
with its blue smoke
with its aged dog
waiting for the homecoming so that it can die.
But the dead must guide me;
it is the agapanthi that keep them from speaking,
like the depths of the sea or the water in a glass.
And the companions stay on in the palaces of Circe:
my dear Elpenor! My poor, foolish Elpenor!”
Or don’t you see them
– ‘Oh help us!’ –
on the blackened ridge of Psara?

Transvaal , January 14 ’42

Poem by George Seferis from the Collection of Ημερολόγιο Καταστρώματος Β’ (Deck Diary B’), 1944

Seferis, G. (1989). Complete Poems of George Seferis. (Edmund Keeley, and Philip Sherrard, Trans.). London: Anvil Press Poetry.

Giorgos Seferis: Academy of American Poets

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