It wasn’t easy to preserve my language
amid languages that tried to devour it
but I went on counting in my language
I reduced time to the dimensions of the body with my language
I multiplied pleasure to infinity with my language
with it I brought back to mind a child
with a white scar on his cropped head where a stone had hit it.
I strove not to lose even a word of it
for in this language the dead spoke to me.
A TOWN IN SOUTHERN GREECE
This town has crippled me, just as long ago
a town might have crippled me,
with its barracks its empty factories
its black walls topped by broken glass
its narrow streets, treeless, dry
its swarthy, salty women
mobile, fluid, with coal-black eyes
olive skins lightly perspiring
just enough for transient, fleeting love
on shadowy, half-deserted sea-shores
with their stones, tar, rust and thorns.
This town cures me with its nights
the nights of my country that never change.
Words in their thousands pour out of dictionaries
as soon as you open them
like ants, black, red, white,
when you step on an ant-hill.
How can you find, how can you choose
amid the conflation of words
the only one that fits,
how can you escape from the others
that stick to your body in swarms
struggling to survive.
Yet the unspoken words beneath the tongue
the only ones that don’t emerge from your mouth
they too gnaw from within
leaving shrivelled corpses
of people who tried to speak
when it was too late.
As long as I’m able
to combine even two words
Al love is born within love
grows larger in its belly
spreads into its space, inhabits it
desires permanence, lays claim to time
prevails, enjoys its superiority
and as soon as it is satisfied with its gains
another love is born in its belly
grows larger, spreads into its space
threatens to tear it to pieces.
But sometimes lovers stop
feeding on their adversaries’ flesh
and exchange stone likenesses
that remain unaltered within the surrounding decay
and coexist without pointless hostilities
more or less amicably, like the busts
of rival leaders in cemeteries.
First there was the sea.
I was born among islands.
I too an island have temporarily emerged
until I see a light – that too like a stone –
and sink again.
The mountains came later.
I chose them.
I somehow had to share the weight
that had crushed my country for centuries.
The same arrogance again:
carving your life on another life
as though wanting to release
your own statue in the belief
that you’re freeing the stone.
Titos Patríkios held on to his ideals after the defeat of the Greek left in the 1940s and fought against their corruption in later years, against moral decay and compromise, against the repression of the individual. His combination of political engagement and scepsis about the human species, added to the ‘low tone’ of his poetry, had a profound impact on the ‘generation of ’70’. Patríkios was born in Athens, where he read law and took up a practice as a lawyer.
During the German occupation he joined a left-wing resistance group and narrowly escaped death at the hands of collaborators. He published his first poem in 1943. After the civil war he was arrested for his left-wing sympathies and imprisoned on ‘concentration islands’ for three years. In 1954 he published his first book of poems and helped set up the influential progressive magazine Epitheórisi Téchnis (Arts Review), to which he contributed features, reviews and poetry. In those years he worked as a lawyer, journalist and translator. In 1959-1964 he took postgraduate courses in sociology and philosophy in Paris. From 1964 he worked as head of research at the Greek Centre of Social Sciences, until the military dictatorship (1967-1974) forced him to seek refuge in Italy and France. Since his return to Athens he has worked as a lawyer, sociologist and translator. He has several sociological studies to his name.Apart from fifteen collections of poetry, Patríkios has published essays and three books of prose. He translated work of Lukács, Aragon, Stendhal, Balzac and Valéry. A three-volume edition of his poems appeared in 1998: Poems I, 1943-1953;Poems II, 1953-1959; and Poems III, 1959-1973. His poetry was translated into French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Arabic, and other languages. In 1992 Italy honoured him with the ‘Salerno ’92’ international poetry prize, and in 1994 he received the Greek national poetry prize for his entire oeuvre. HERO HOKWERDA (TRANSLATED BY KO KOOMAN)