The Passion I, from The Axion Esti by Odysseus Elytis


     HERE then am I,
created for the young Korai and the Aegean islands,
     lover of the deer’s leaping,
initiate in the Mystery of olive leaves,
     sun-drinker and locust-killer.
Here am I, face to face
     with the black shirts of the ruthless
and of the years’ empty belly that aborted
     its own children, in heat!
Wind releases the elements and thunder assaults the mountains.
     Fate of the innocent, alone again, here you are in the Straits!
In the Straits I opened my hands.
     In the Straits I emptied my hands
and saw no other riches, heard no other riches
     but cool fountains running,
Pomegranates or Zephyr or Kisses.
     Each to his own weapons, I said:
In the Straits I’ll open my pomegranates.
     In the Straits I’ll post Zephyrs as sentries.
I’ll unleash the old kisses canonized by my longing!
     Wind releases the elements and thunder assaults the mountains.
Fate of the innocent, you are my own Fate!

Today is a national holiday in Greece, Επέτειος του «’Οχι» or “No” day. On this date in 1940 the government of Greece received an ultimatum from Fascist Italy demanding that Greece allow itself to be occupied by Mussolini’s armies. The rejection of this ultimatum, the “No” in the holiday’s name, resulted in an immediate Italian invasion of Greece. In a campaign of great heroism the small and poorly equipped Hellenic Army not only repelled the Fascist assault but launched a successful counter-attack in which an army of over half a million Italian troops armed with tanks and fighter planes were fought to a standstill until the intervention of Germany brought defeat to Greece and the horrors of the Nazi Occupation. I happened to be reading Elytis’ poem which reflects some of these events in his own oblique, allusive and lyrical manner.
photo by Rolf Gross

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