Thursday, April 11, 2013

Light and laws, letters and numbers

     We viewers of the world see it through a variety of lenses -- for some of us music shapes our view, for others it is color, for others history; still others see through a lens of mathematics  -- perhaps geometry, or number, or randomization or . . .
     The Greek Nobelist (1979), poet, and essayist Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996) was once nicknamed "the sun-drinking poet" for views seen in The Axion Este / Worthy It Is.   A sample from this collection, "They Came," is offered below -- this poem is not only rich in the imagery of light but also pays tribute to geometry and numbers.   

They Came     by Odysseus Elytis

They came
dressed up as  “friends,”
    came countless times, my enemies,
trampling the primeval soil.
    And the soil never blended with their heel.
They brought
    The Wise One, the Founder, and the Geometer,
Bibles of letters and numbers,
    every kind of Submission and Power,
to sway over the primeval light.
    And the light never blended with their roof.
Not even a bee was fooled into beginning the golden game,
    not even a Zephyr into swelling the white aprons.
On the peaks, in the valleys, in the ports
    they raised and founded
mighty towers and villas,
    floating timbers and other vessels;
and the Laws decreeing the pursuit of profit
    they applied to the primeval measure.
And the measure never blended with their thinking.
    Not even a footprint of a god left a man on their soul,
not even a fairy’s glance tried to rob them of their speech.
    They came
dressed up as “friends,”
    came countless times, my enemies,
bearing the primeval gifts.
    And their gifts were nothing else
but iron and fire only.
    To the open expecting fingers
only weapons and iron and fire.
    Only weapons and iron and fire.

The Axion Este (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979) was translated by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis. I first found "They Came" online, along with the original Greek, at Others of Elytis' poems also are available at the site. 

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