An interesting quote by Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elytis on poetry and death

March 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was thumbing through a used copy of Odysseas Elytis’s Eros, Eros, Eros:  Selected & Last Poems  when I saw this highlighted passage from his “Open Papers” (translation from the Greek by Olga Broumas):

It is correct to give the unknown its due; that’s why we must write.  Because Poetry unlearns us from the world, such as we find it; the world of decay we come to see as the only path over decay, just as Death is the only path to resurrection.  I know I speak as if I had no right, as if I were almost ashamed to love life.  It’s true, once they forced me even to this.  No one knows; no one has ever discovered from where our passionate hatred toward the possibility of our salvation comes.  Perhaps we’d rather not know – but do know – that it exists, and that we are the reason we can neither know nor surpass it.  Willing or not, we are all hostages of the joy of which we deprive ourselves.  Here springs love’s pre-eternal sadness. (p. 104)

His comment about “Poetry unlearns us from the world” rings very true for me.  One of the reasons why I enjoy reading poetry of all sorts is that sense of being unraveled and spun into something different, an experience I do not get anywhere near as much when I read prose or even when I watch a drama being performed.  Elsewhere in the collection, he returns to this theme when he states:  “Poetry begins where death is robbed of the last word.”  This timeless yet deeply intimate quality of well-constructed poetry is something that I would love to teach others how to appreciate, but yet it is akin to walking up to a couple in a deep, engrossing conversation and trying to butt our ways in; decorum does play a role, sometimes.  But perhaps the key to entering into the poetic conversation will be easily discovered, if not in this time and place, then in another locale and period.

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