Myris – Alexandria 340 AD

I came across this strange poem by Cavafy a couple of years ago when I was reading and translating some of his poems about Alexandria. Something about it lodged in my brain and I thought it would be good to translate it but put it aside until I came across it again a few days ago.

What struck me about it when I first read it- and again now – is the concrete detail of the Myris’s parents’ house and the description of the strangeness of the Christian funeral rite to a pagan. But most of all , I was struck by that sense of horror at the end of the poem when the poet flees the house, gripped by doubt that he never knew Myris at all, and not wanting his memory of him to be tainted by the Christianity that was a major part of his life.

When I heard about the tragedy of Myris’s death
I went to his home, although normally I avoid
Going into the homes of Christians
Particularly when there are bereavements or celebrations.

I stood in the hall. I didn’t want
To go further inside as I was aware
That the deceased’s parent were looking at me
Questioningly and with dislike.

They’d put him in a large room
That I could see partially
From where I stood: all precious carpets,
And vessels made from clay and gold,
I stood and wept to one side of the hall.
And I thought that our gatherings and outings
Without Myris would no longer have any value:
And I thought that I would not see him again,
At our lovely and indecent night parties,
Happy and laughing and reading aloud verses
With his perfect sense of Greek rhythm:
And I thought I had lost for ever
His beauty, that I had lost for ever
The youth I had adored intensely.  

Some old ladies near me were speaking in low voices
About the last day of his life –
Constantly on his lips the name of Christ,
In his hands he held a cross.
Then into the room came
Four Christian priests who ardently
Said prayers and supplications to Jesus,
And to Mary (I don’t know their religion well).

Of course, we knew Myris was a Christian.
Since first we got to know him.
When, the year before last, he became part of our group.
He lived just like us.
More devoted to pleasure-seeking than any of us:
Lavishly frittering away his money on entertainments.
To the rest of the world happy-go-lucky,
He willingly launched himself into night quarrels on the roads
When our group chanced upon an opposing group.
He never spoke about his religion.
Indeed once we told him
We would take him with us to the Serapion.
But, I remember now, it was as if
He was offended by our jest.
Another couple of occasions come to mind now.
When we were making libations to Poseidon,
He withdrew from our circle and looked away.
When one of us, inspired by the god, said
‘May our party be under the favour and protection of the great
And sublime Apollo’ – Myris whispered
(the others didn’t hear him) “with the exception of me”.

The Christian priests in loud voices
Made supplications for the soul of the youth.
I noticed with how much attention
And intense care for the formalities of their religion
They prepared everything for the Christian funeral.
And suddenly a strange impression
Took hold of me. I somehow felt
As if Myris had left me:
I felt that, as a Christian,
He had been united with his family
And that I had become a stranger, very different;
I felt in addition a doubt come over me:
Perhaps I had been deceived
By my passion and had always been a stranger to him.
I rushed out of their hideous house,
Leaving quickly before my memory of Myris
Was taken over and corrupted by their Christianity.

Just a little more

Nick Theodoropoulos shared this poem on Twitter on 20 September 2021, the 50th anniversary of Seferis’s death.

As Nick commented:’A short poem but one that encapsulates so much of the human condition. Despite all the sufferings we face we remain forever hopeful that tomorrow will be better.’

For some reason, I find it very touching and somehow it does gives me hope.

Just a little more

Just a little more
And we shall see the almond trees in blossom
The marbles shining in the sun
The sea, the curling waves.
Just a little more
Let us rise just a little higher.

Raising the sun over Greece

I am finding it difficult to write at the moment, partly due to the fact it’s winter and that always slows me down, and partly due to having a lot going on in my life recently. There are many things I want to blog about though that, come the spring, I hope to be able to cover: visits to Crete, Osios Loukas and Naxos; Minoan palaces and artefacts; and an account of my recent pilgrimage to Mt Athos, amongst other things. In the meantime, here’s a translation of a poem I came across recently thanks to my Greek tutor. It’s by a twentieth century poet called Angelos Sikelianos who had a house at Delphi and in the late 20s and early 30s tried to revive a Delphic festival.

The poem was written in 1945 as Greece was emerging from the war and the Nazi occupation and expresses the hope of a restoration of the country. Of course at that stage, the Civil War had not started and little did Sikelianos realise that the country had to suffer even more before it could start to renew itself. The central image of raising the sun has a very personal resonance for me in these dark days of winter.

“Spiritual March”

“Forward: help raise the sun over Greece;
forward, help raise the sun over the world!
Do you see its wheel stuck deep in the mud
And do you see its axle stuck deep in blood!
Forward, lads, you can’t raise the sun on your own
push with your knees and chest, let’s get it out of the blood
Look, let us lean on it, blood-brothers!
Forward, brothers, let it surround us with its fire!
Forward, forward, let its flame enfold us, my brothers!

Forward, creators!… Support your forward movement
With heads and feet, don’t let the sun sink!
Help me too, brothers, so I don’t sink with it…
What else can I do, it’s above me and inside me and around me,
I can’t do anything but revolve in a sacred vertigo with it!…

Thousands of bulls’ rumps support its base:
a double-headed eagle above me shakes
its wings and its cry roars
in my head, beside me and inside my soul,
and the far off and near-at-hand are all one to me now!…
Unprecedented, deep harmonies surround me! Forward, comrades,
Help me raise it, so that the Sun Spirit can come into being!

The new Word is approaching and will colour everything
in its new flame, mind and body, pure steel…
Our earth has been fertilised enough with human flesh…
Let us not let our rich and fertile lands
dry out from this deep blood bath,
richer and deeper than the first autumn rains!
Tomorrow each of us will go out with twelve pairs of oxen
to plough this blood-drenched earth…
May the bay tree flower over it and the tree of life spring up,
and our Vineyard stretch out to the ends of the earth…

Forward, lads, you can’t raise the sun on your own…
Push with your knees and chest, let’s get it out of the mud;
Push with your chest and knees, let’s get it out of the blood;
Push with hands and heads, so that the Sun Spirit blazes forth!”



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.