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Amorgos

Nikos Gatsos

Translated by Sally Purcell

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Paperback
ISBN: 978 0 856463 02 0
Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Published: September 1998
180 x 153 x 7 mm
64 pages
Publisher: Carcanet Press
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    from Amorgos

    In the backyard of the embittered no sun rises
    Only worms come out to deride the stars
    Only horses are in bud on ant-hills
    And bats are eating birds and pissing seed.

    In the backyard of the embittered night is king
    Only the throngs of leaves throw out a river of tears
    When the devil goes by to ride on the backs of dogs
    And the crows are diving in a well of blood.

    In the backyard of the embittered the eye has run dry
    The brain has turned to ice and the heart petrified
    Frogs’ flesh hangs from the teeth of the spider
    Crickets howl starving at the feet of vampires.

    In the backyard of the embittered grass comes up black
    Only, one May evening, a breeze went by
    A light footstep like the movement of a meadow
    A kiss of the foam-embroidered sea.

    And if you are thirsty for water we shall milk a cloud
    And if you are hungry for bread we shall slaughter a nightingale
    Only hold out a moment for the bitter herb to open
    For the dark heavens to flash, for the candlewick to blossom.

    But it was a wind that went, a lark that perished
    It was the face of May, the whiteness of the moon
    A light footstep like the movement of a meadow
    A kiss of the foam-embroidered sea.

    Translated by Sally Purcell

    Nikos Gatsos’s profoundly mysterious and magnetic poem Amorgos, named after a Greek island he never visited and written during the Nazi occupation, is the single work on which his reputation rests. It is a wonderful incantation on the theme of loss and hope – a unique blend of surrealism, symbolism and folk song – lyrical and erotic, sometimes celebratory, sometimes bitter. It was much admired by the Nobel laureates Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis, and was hugely influential on the postwar generation of Greek poets. However, after its publication in 1943, Gatsos abandoned poetry, and wrote only popular songs, for which he was later renowned.

    Nikos Gatsos
    Nikos Gatsos was born in Arcadia in 1914, and educated in Athens from the age of 16, studying Literature, Philosophy and History at Athens University. Well versed in English, French and Spanish, he translated poetry and plays by Lorca, O’Neill, Strindberg, Lope de Vega, Genet and Tennessee Williams into Greek. He ... read more
    Sally Purcell
    Sally Purcell was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire in 1944. She studied Mediaeval and Modern French at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and continued to live and work in Oxford (as typist, barmaid, researcher and, above all, writer) until her death in 1998. A specialist in mediaeval literature, she edited selections of George ... read more
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