The Doomed by Kostas Varnalis

Here’s another poem I came across recently by the Greek poet Kostas Varnalis (1884-1974). Born in Burgas in what is now part of Bulgaria he studied literature and then became a teacher and journalist, before moving to Paris in 1919 to continue his studies. It was here that he became a Marxist and this poem of 1925 reflects both an awareness of the social conditions the poor together with a critique of their fatalism.

The Doomed
In the cellar of the taverna,
Amidst the smoke and swearing
(and the loud shriek of the hurdy-gurdy)
all of us were getting dunk yesterday evening:
yesterday evening, as every evening,
to drown our sorrows.

We were pressed together side by side
and someone was spitting on the ground.
O what a great torment
this life is!
No matter how much our mind is tortured
it’s forgotten in the cold light of day.

Sun and blue sea
and boundless, deep sky!
Ο! crocus-coloured gauze of dawn,
carnation of the sunset,
you shine and set far away from us,
without entering our hearts!

Someone’s father, paralysed
for ten years, same thing
for another whose wife
wastes away from consumption at home:
Mazis’s son is in Palamidi
and Giavis’s daughter in Gazi.

‘Our vicious fate’s to blame!’
‘God’s hatred for us is to blame!’
‘Our poor brains are to blame!’
‘Wine’s the main thing to blame!’
Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame?
No mouth
has yet found the word or said it.

So in the dark taverna,
bowed down, we get drunk.
Like worms, each heel
stamps on us where it finds us.
Fearful, doomed and weak-willed together
we wait for some future miracle!
(my translation)