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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

SECULAR LITURGY Odysseus Elytis, Selected Poems tr. Edmund Keeley, Philip Sherrard and others (Anvil) £6.95 (Penguin) £2.95
Odysseus Elytis, The Sovereign Sun, tr. Kimon Friar (Temple University Press, Philadelphia) n.p.

Since Elytis received the Nobel Prize, a number of translations of his work have appeared in English, most of them in the nature of selected works. Kimon Friar is perhaps wise to give his volume a forty-page introduction, though it does not dispel the difficulty of relating a very untranslatable poet to a language which perhaps exposes his most bewildering qualities. The introduction to the Anvil selection tries to propose some points of reference: the tradition of modern Greek poetry in works which have not been entirely colonised by Europeans with historical axes to grind-the folk songs, for instance, the Eroto-kritos, the liturgy of the Church-are presented as more reliably national 'roots' than those of Classical or classicising literature. In other words, there is a distant realism and a variety of modes of expression which have nothing to do with the imaginings of, for example, a Matthew Arnold. And there are elements in Elytis which sustain this approach: the Axion Esti, which resembles liturgy in form, and to some extent in intention as well, since it balances on a type of faith, partly an exuberant trust in the relation between the world and the imagination, if indeed these are seen as distinct in the poem. And like some kinds of religious texts, it bases its trust on mystical signs or linguistic formulae. At the same time, however, the style of Elytis is in great part self-realisation and dramatic salvation, a personal history with its private symbols, which are loosely ...

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