Stratis the Sailor Describes a Man


This one is long and is going to take me a while to type out.

Stratis the Sailor Describes a Man

by George Seferis (tr. Rex Warner)


But what's the matter with this man?
All through the afternoon (yesterday, the day before yesterday and today) he has been sitting with his eyes fixed upon a flame.
In the evening he bumped into me on his way downstairs.
He said:
'The body dies, water turns cloudy, the soul
And the wind forgets, the wind is always forgetting,
But the flame does not change.'
He also said to me:
'You know I love a woman who has gone away, possibly to the world below. But that is not why I look so deserted.
I am trying to hold myself in from a flame,
Because it does not change.'
Then he told me the story of his life.

2. Child

When I started to grow up, I was tortured by the trees.
Why do you smile? Were you thinking of spring, which is cruel to children?
I was very fond of the green leaves;
I think I learnt a few things at school because the blotting paper on my desk was green too.
It was the roots of the trees that tortured me, when in the winter warmth they came to twine about my body.
These were the only dreams I had in childhood.
In this way I became acquainted with my body.

3. Adolescent

In the summer of my sixteenth year a strange voice sang in my ears.
I was standing, I remember, by the sea's edge, among the red nets and the shell of an abandoned boat like a skeleton.
I tried to get nearer to that voice by putting my ear down on the sand.
The voice vanished
But a shooting star
As though I had never seen a shooting star before,
And on my lips the salt taste of the waves.
That night the roots of the trees no longer came.
Next day a voyage unfolded in my mind, then shut again like a picture book.
I thought of going down every evening to the shore
To learn first about the shore and then to take to the sea.
On the third day I fell in love with a girl on a hill;
She had a little white house like a mountain chapel;
An old mother by the window, spectacles bent over the knitting
Never a word,
A pot of basil, a pot of carnations.
She was called, I think, Vasso, Frosso, or Bilio;
So I forgot the sea.
One Monday in October
I found a broken jar in front of the little white house.
Vasso (let us say for short) appeared in a black dress,
Her hair disordered, her eyes red.
To my question she replied:
'She is dead; the doctor says she died because we didn't slaughter the black cock on the foundations... How could we get hold of a black cock here?... There is nothing except white flocks... and the poultry in the market are sold already plucked.'
This was not how I had imagined grief and death.
I left and went back to the sea.
That night on the deck of the St. Nicholas
I dreamed of a very old olive tree in tears.

4. Young man

I sailed for one year with Captain Odysseus.
I felt fine.
In fair weather I would settle down in the prow next to the siren figure-head;
I sang of her red lips while I stared at the flying-fish.
When it was rough I huddled up in a corner of the hold with the ship's dog to keep me warm.
At the end of the year one morning I saw minarets.
The ship's mate said:
'That is Saint Sophia. Tonight I'll take you to find some girls.'
So I came to know those women who wear only stockings,
The ones we choose, yes, those ones.
It was a funny sort of place,
A garden with two walnut-trees, a vine-trellis, a well
And a wall all around with broken glass on the top.
A ditch was singing 'On the stream of my life.'
Then I saw for the first time a heart
Pierced by the famous arrow.
It was drawn on the wall with a piece of charcoal.
I saw the leaves of the vine
Fallen to the earth, all yellow,
Plastered to the paving stones in the wretched mud,
And I made a step to go back again to the ship.
Then the mate took me by the collar and threw me into the well;
Warm water, and so much life all round the skin.
Afterwards the girl told me, while she was playing idly with her right breast,
'I come from Rhodes. They betrothed me at thirteen for a hundred paras.'
And the ditch was singing 'On the stream of my life...'
I remembered the broken jar in the cool afternoon and I thought
'She too will die. How will she die?'
But all I said to her was
'Look out, or you will spoil it. It's your livelihood.'
That night on the ship I did not dare go near the siren;
      I was ashamed of her.