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Neohelicon

, Volume 4, Issue 3–4, pp 261–282 | Cite as

George Seferis' “Thrush” and T. S. Eliot's “four quartets”

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Keywords

Stylistic Variety Fourth Movement Greek Translation Comparative Literature Study Greek Poet 
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Literature

  1. 1.
    An earlier version of this paper was read in June 1974 at the annua meeting of the Canadian Comparative Literature Association at the University of Toronto. Research for the present paper as well as for those preceding it: “George Seferis' “Thrush” and the Poetry of Ezra Pound” (scheduled to appear inComparative Literature Studies, XI. 4. 1974) andCanadian Review of Comparative Literature, 4, 1, 1977) “George Seferis' “Thrush”: A Modern Descent to the Underworld” (still unpublished) has been carried out partly at the Harvard College Library thanks to a grant by the University of Toronto Office of Research Administration.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Both essays are included in, George Seferis,On the Greek Style. Selected Essays on Poetry and Hellenism. Edited and Translated by R. Warner and Th. Frangopoulos (Boston, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    George Seferis,A Poet's Journal. Days of 1945–1951. Translated by Athan Anagnostopoulos (Harvard University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On the Greek Style, p. 178. Cf. Harry T. Antrim,T. S. Eliot's Concept of Language. A Study of its Development (Univ. of Florida Press, 1971), p. 2: “... the movement from the irony and self-isolation of a Prufrock to an affirmation of thereality of an Incarnate Absolute”.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    We read inDays of 1945–1951, under that date: “... I finished the poem. Title: “Thrush”. I don't know if it's good; I know that it's finished. Now it mustdry.”. “Thrush” can be read in English in three different translations: by Rex Warner, inGeorge Seferis. Poems (London and Boston, 1960); by Kimon Friar, inNew Directions in Prose and Poetry 13 (1951), 493–499; and by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, inSeferis. Collected Poems (1924–1955) (Princeton Univ. Press, 1967). It is this last translation which I am quoting from in this paper with the kind permission of the translators.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Dokimes, Athens, 1974, II., 30–56 (in Greek). The last part of this letter-essay was included in translation inOn the Greek Style, pp. 101–105.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Eliot argued that the notes which he appended to “The Waste Land” were an after-thought; his purpose was to compensate the publisher for the comparative brevity of his poem. Seferis reduced the number of notes used in the first edition of “Thrush” in the subsequent editions of his poems and allowed only part of his original “A Staging for Thrush'” to appear in the 1962 Greek edition of his essays, the last part which is also printed inOn the Greek Style. The discomfort of either poet on this matter is of course understandable; for the poem is the thing.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The sea imagery of “The Waste Land”, especially of the fourth movement of the poem called “Death by Water”, can be compared to the sea imagery of “Thrush”, especially of Part III subtitled “The Wreck ‘Thrush”; also, Seferis' “Elpenor” can be likened to Eliot's Stetson of “The Waste Land” I and Phlebas the Phoenician of “The Waste Land” IV. See also special note on Socrates.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    As far as I can tell, the question of connections between “Four Quartets” and “Thrush” was first raised, but not investigated by Andonis Decavalles in his introduction to the Greek translation of Eliot's work (Athens, 1952), pp. 13, 40–41. Then, George Spyridakis and Edmund Keeley contributed some noteworthy observations on the matter. See pp. 164 and 169 of this paper. See also N. Vayenas,The Genealogy of Thrush, Athens, 1974, (in Greek).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Philip Sherrard,The Marble Threshing Floor. Studies in Modern Greek Poetry (London, 1956), ch. V: “George Seferis”, pp. 185–231; Edmund Keeley, “Seferis and the ‘Mythical Method’”,Comparative Literature Studies 6, 2 (1969), 109–125; P. Levi, s. j., “Seferis' Tone of Voice”, inModern Greek Writers, ed. by Edmund Keeley and Peter Bien (Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 174 ff.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    I will avoid summarizing at this point the content of “Thrush”, as I am doing this in the other two papers mentioned above (n. 1).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The five part division is also found in “The Waste Land”, where, nevertheless, the transitions between parts are not as smooth as in “Four Quartets” and “Thrush”.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    in Graham Martin, ed.,Eliot in Perspective. A Symposium (London, 1970), pp. 132–147.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    InDays of 1945–1951, entry for November 1, 1946.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    I have in mind, for instance, BN I, 1–10; EC II, 68–71; DS II, 85–100; LG III, 156–165.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See, in particular, Helen Gardner,The Art of T. S. Eliot (London, 1950); C. A. Bodelsen,T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. A Commentary (Copenhagen, 1958); Georges Cattaui,T. S. Eliot. Transl. by Claire Pace and Jean Stewart (London, 1966), ch. 4.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    B. J. Pendlebury,The Art of the Rhyme (New York, 1971), p. 79.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    “T. S. Eliot and the Poetry of George Seferis”,Comparative Literature 8 (1956), 222–223. The same Eliot passage is more closely paralleled in another poem by Seferis: “An old man on the river bank”. See Keeley,ibid. Edmund Keeley, “Seferis and the ‘Mythical Method’”,Comparative Literature Studies 6, 2 (1969) , 221–222.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Cp. also Seferis' lines: “now that the world's become/a limitless hotel” with Eliot's (EC 157): “The whole world is our hospital”.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    These last lines (EC V, 190–196): As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. are singled out by Seferis inDays of 1945–1951 after the entry quoted above (262) with the comment that had he read them in 1935 he would have placed them as an epigraph to hisMythistorema (orMythical Story).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    With special reference to “Elpenor” that is what Seferis says in “A Letter on ‘The Thrush’”, 503: “I am Elpenor, as Flaubert is Bouvard or Pecuchet. I partake in this character, as every man partakes in his creations, or better, to recall Keats' words which are most worthy of our consideration, Elpenor belongs to me as much as the colour which the chameleon shows belongs to itself”.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Harry Blamires,Word Unheard. A Guide through Eliot's Four Quartets (London, 1969), pp. 79ff.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    C. A Bodelsen,T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, p. 83, observes that in a more particular sense “the river” symbolizes “human time” with the past represented by the lower reaches of the river, the present by the point where the observer stands, and the future by the river's spring.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    In the figure of “Elpenor”, as Mr. George Savidis, Seferis' editor in Greece, has pointed out to me, we find a kind of Cavafis-like sentimentalization of carnal love. On “Elpenor” see, in general, Edmund Keeley, “Seferis' Elpenor: A Man of no Fortune”,Kenyon Review 28, 3 (1966), 378-390. On “Circe” cf. Eliot's “Circe's Palace”, inPoems Written in Early Youth (New York, 1967), p. 20. The distinction between desire and love is made by Eliot in “Four Quartets”, BN II, 161–168; cf. also BN II, 70ff.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Grover Smith,T. S. Eliot's Poetry and Plays. A Study in Sources and Meaning (Chicago, 1950), p. 256.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    “A Letter to a Foreign Friend”, inOn the Greek Style, p. 174.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Cf. alsoibid. “A Letter to a Foreign Friend”, inOn the Greek Style, p. 170: “We are a people who have had great Churchmen, but no mystics; we are devoted to emotions and ideas, but we like to have even the most abstract notions presented in a familiar form, something which a Christian of the West would call ‘idolatry’”. The statement that Greece has had no mystics is challenged by Seferis' friend Zissimos Lorentzatos, in hisMeletes (Studies) (Athens, 1966), pp. 157–160. Seferis' distrust of mysticism is also noted by Kimon Friar, in hisModern Greek Poetry (New York, 1973), p. 70.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See Elio Benedetti, “Poesia e Pensiero della Grecia Classica nell'opera di Giorgio Seferis”, inOmaggio a Seferis, ed. by F. M. Pontani (Padova, 1970), p. 82, for the ancient Greek echoes in this part of “Thrush”.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    It could be only added that the word “angelic” seems to carry no Christian reference but simply the popular Greek notion of purity and beauty.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    This is not inconsistent with Seferis' (and Eliot's) general technique of mixing the general with the particular, the mystical with the ordinary, the past with the present, in order to express complex thoughts. See also the remarks made at the end of the paper.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    For the image of the rising goddess, the poet had probably in mind the Ludovisi relief and also Sikelianos' “Anadyomeni”.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    SeeOn the Greek Style, p. 171, and cf.Days of 1945–1951, entry for December 2, 1946: “... I also leave (Poros) with certain “ideas” about thelight. It is the most important thing I've “discovered” since the ship that brought me home entered Greek waters (Hydra, October 1944). “The King of Asine” expresses some of this, the “Thrush” something of it also. But I don't know if I'll ever be able to express this essential as I feel it, this foundation of life. I know I must live with the light. I know nothing further ...”.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Georges Spyridaki,La Grèce et la Poésie Moderne (Paris, 1954), pp. 33ff.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    See Georges Séféris,Discours de Stockholm (Athens, 1963), p. 12.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Cf. Eliot, EC III, 113–117.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    In the paper “George Seferis' “Thrush”: A Modern Descent to the Underworld”.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    It seems that the conclusion of the poem intrigued Seferis himself at the time he was putting the finishing touches to it. InDays of 1945–1951, entry for November 1, 1946, he speaks of a reversal of lines he effected in order to set the right tone, but it is not clear of what lines he speaks or what was their original order.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    See Eliot's “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, inThe Sacred Wood. Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London, 1950), p. 49, and cp. with Seferis,On the Greek Style, p. 150.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Sherrard,The Marble Threshing Floor, p. 187. See alsoibid. Studies in Modern Greek Poetry (London, 1956), ch. V: “George Seferis”, pp. 185ff.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Keeley, “Seferis and the ‘Mythical Method’”, 121. Keeley's remark concerns Seferis' “The King of Asine” but it can be applied as well to “Thrush” and Eliot]s “Four Quartets”. Cf. Helen Gardner,The Art of T. S. Eliot, p. 57: “Those poems (Four Quartets) do not begin from an intellectual position, or a truth. They begin with a place, a point in time, and the meaning of the truth is discovered in the process of writing and process of reading”.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Northrop Frye,Fables of Identity. Studies in Poetic Mythology (New York, 1963), p. 17.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    On the Greek Style, p. 179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó 1976

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