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Saturday, 23 July 2016

Tasos Leivaditis: The Blind Man with the Lamp

'Tasos Leivaditis (1922–1988) is one of the unacknowledged greats of Modern Greek literature. Not only is he unacknowledged in the English-speaking world, largely because nearly all of his writing remains untranslated, but he also has limited recognition within modern Greek literary circles, where he is often overshadowed by twentieth-century giants such as Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos and Kazantzakis, who have become established names in the literary world at large.'

'His literary output is usually divided into three periods. In his first period (1946–56), Leivaditis develops a ‘poetry of the battlefield’ informed by his commitment to the Leftist struggle during WWII and after. In the tradition of social realism, he evokes the horrors of war but also retains an optimism regarding the future. He paid a high price for these ideals: along with many other leftist writers and intellectuals (including Yannis Ritsos), he was exiled to various camps in Greece, though he continued to write poetry ...

In his second period (1957–66), after the defeat of the Left in the civil war, existentialist concerns begin to surface and his work takes on a bleaker, more introspective and even more religious tone. This religious element becomes most intense during his third period (1972–87), where much of his work is concerned with the question of God and has an almost prayerful and hymn-like quality. Perhaps the best example is his masterly collection, The Blind Man with the Lamp (1983), which includes a ‘Credo’ that has a similar form to the traditional Christian Credo, but is now suffused with highly expressive and surrealistic imagery. The same collection also includes twelve ‘Conversations’, which are actually heartfelt pleadings from the poet addressed to Christ, such as the following:

Lord, we both live in the dark, the one cannot see the other. But stretch out your hand, and I will find it. Let me talk to you, and you will hear me. Only give to my words something of that great ineffability which reduces you to silence.

Leivaditis had an extraordinary ability to capture the depth of things, small and great. In ‘Lighted Window’, for example, he talks of ‘silent moments in which all words weep’, and writes that ‘alone a lighted window at night renders the world more profound’. And in ‘Aesthetics’, he writes: ‘As to that story there are numerous versions. / The best one though is always the one where you cry.’'

'The Blind Man with the Lamp, originally published in Greek in 1983, is the first English translation of a complete collection of poetry by Leivaditis. A pioneering book of prose-poems, Leivaditis here gives powerful voice to a post-war generation divested of ideologies and illusions, imbued with the pain of loss and mourning, while endlessly questing for something wholly other, indeed for the holy Other.'

Conversations: 5

LORD, what would I do without you? I am the vacant room and you are the great guest who has deigned to visit it. Lord, what would you do without me? You are the great silent harp and I am the ephemeral hand which awakens your melodies.


Nikos Kazantzakis - Askitiki.

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