Here’s an unusual poem, a haiku by Seferis. It uses the traditional form of 17 syllables that you find in classic Japanese haiku, but doesn’t quite adhere to the spirit of this verse form which often has a twist in the final line.
In my translation I’ve tried to maintain the same number of syllables in each line as Seferis used in the original Greek
When it’s getting dark
or day’s breaking
it stays the same
the white jasmine.
One of the common features of fairy tales across cultures is the formulaic beginning and ending and the use of repetitions: ‘One upon a time…and they all lived happily ever after.”
So in my Greek lesson this week, as were translating a piece of English into Greek and it had the title ‘Once upon on a time’, I couldn’t resist asking Maria my tutor, how these formulas were used in Greek fairy stories.
‘Once upon a time’ is pretty much the same (mia fora ki enan kairo), but the Greeks use a subtle twist in their ending formula. ‘And they lived well, but we lived better’ (ki autoi zisan kala, kai emeis kalitera).
For some reason I find it peculiarly touching to suggest to children that the endings of fairy tales cannot match the happiness of their own lives.