Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996)
On 109th anniversary of his birthday, CYA honors famed Greek poet Odysseas Elytis and his massive influence on not just poetry in Greece, but internationally.
“Poetry is the truth beyond reality” Stéphane Mallarmé “Because, when all is said and done, this is poetry: the art of leading you toward what goes beyond you”. Odysseus Elytis “Poets are the Memory of their nation” Octavio Paz
Odysseus Elytis, poet, essayist, and art critic, was born on November 2, 1911. His first collection of poems, Orientations, published in 1939, established him as one of the major contemporary Greek poets. Twenty years later, the Axion Esti, one of the most complex poems written in the 20th century, placed him among the prominent poets in Europe. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness.”
“Odysseus Elytis is possibly the most praised poet of the second half of the twentieth century; asked to name our Rilke, our Yeats, our Eliot, poets, and critics more and more turn to him”, says Jeffrey Carson, poet, and co-translator with Nikos Sarris of Elytis’s Collected Poems. “Throughout his long career as a poet, he remained true to his vision of a poetry that addresses the power of language and links Greece’s two thousand years of myth and history with the social and psychological demands of the modern age. Renowned for their astonishing lyricism and profound optimism, Elytis’s poems employ surreal imagery and a remarkable variety of forms to capture the natural, sun-soaked beauty of Greece and to give voice to the contemporary Greek -and to a more universally human- consciousness.”
His poems are spells, and they conjure up that eternal Greek world which has haunted and continues to haunt the European consciousness with its hints of a perfection that remains always a possibility. The Greek poet aims his heart and his gift directly at the sublime–for nothing else will do. [Lawrence Durrell]
Respecting Copyright law, we will not publish sections of Elytis' poetry here. If you would wish to enjoy some of his poetry online, please visit dedicated sections in PoetryInternational.org and PoetryFoundation.org
Throughout CYA’s long engagement with Greek art, culture, and poetry, Elytis has been the subject of many classes and lectures.
Mimika Dimitra, beloved Professor of Modern Greek, had known Elytis personally. In 2011, Dimitra gave a lecture at CYA about Elytis’ work, examining the symbolism in his poetry, as well as the cultural context in which they were written. Dimitra began working at CYA in 1972. Until her retirement in 2008, Professor Dimitra impacted the lives of her over 1,100 students through her kindness and passion for Modern Greek language and culture, a passion that she transmitted to many of her students:
“When I first came to CYA in the fall of 1997, I had very definite ideas about what I thought Hellenism was, shaped by study of the Classics. After spending two semesters with Professor Dimitra, my old ideas were replaced by an understanding of the living culture of Greece…In her role as mentor and friend, I experienced the beauty of contemporary Greek poetry and art, always accompanied by glimpses of the past. In part, my experiences with Mimika inspired me to become the devoted Hellenist that I am today.”
Jennifer Reilly Kellogg, CYA ’97
Professor Mimika Dimitra, along with her close friend and colleague, fellow Modern Greek Professor Marinetta Papachimona, who still teaches at CYA, wrote the foundational textbook for learners of modern Greek, Greek 1+1 and 2+2, both of which are used in classes of Modern Greek around the world.
Through her wit, sense of humor, and passion for language and poetry, Professor Dimitra has left her mark on CYA as an institution and on all of her students, who still carry on lessons learned from her class to this day, including love for the work of Elytis:
“I loved Mimika’s Modern Greek Poetry class—I have my collection of Seferis’ and Elytis’ poems close at hand on my bookshelf.”
Susan Pomerleau, CYA ’89.
Works by Elytis in the CYA Library: Elytis, Odysseas. The Axion Esti. Translated by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1980. Elytis, Odysseas. The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis. Translated by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004. Elytis, Odysseas. The Oxopetra elegies. Translated by David Connolly. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996. Elytis, Odysseas. The Sovereign Sun. Translated by Kimon Friar. Philadelfphia: Temple University Press, 1974. A Greek Quinted: poems by Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis, Gatsos. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Evia: Harvey, 2000. Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Μαρία Νεφέλη. Αθήνα: Ίκαρος, 1978. Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Το Άξιον Εστί. Αθήνα: Ίκαρος, 1989. Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Ο Ήλιος ο Πρώτος. Αθήνα: Ίκαρος, 1996. Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Το Μονόγραμμα. Αθηνα: Ίκαρος, 1979. Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Χίλιες και Μία Τύψεις για τον Ουρανό. Αθήνα: Ίκαρος, 1994 Ελύτης, Οδυσσέας. Προσανατολισμοί. Αθήνα: Ίκαρος, 1998.