Kostas Karyotakis: Greek Gothic

Posted by Aspasia Stephanou on November 10, 2010 in Blog tagged with , ,

We are just some battered guitars,/When the wind blows over us,/it awakens verses and dissonant sounds/on strings that droop like watch chains”


Kostas Karyotakis (1896-1928), whose melancholic, symbolist and anarchic poetry has marked the Greek poetic landscape, wrote about death, alienation, and existentialism. He translated symbolist poets, among them Baudelaire, Verlaine and Jean Moréas.

I include here, some of his poems which convey dark, gothic landscapes and the speaker’s tortured psyche .

“Preveza” was written a month before his suicide:

Death is the crows clattering
on dark walls and roof-tiles;
death – those women who make love
as if they were peeling onions.

Death these grimy, insignificant streets
with their great, illustrious names,
the olive grove, in all directions the sea,
and even the sun – death amid deaths.

Death – that cop who wraps up
an ‘Insufficient’ serving and weighs it;
death – these hyacinths on the balcony
and that teacher with the newspaper.

Base, Garrison, Platoon of Preveza.
On Sunday we’ll hear the band.
I got a savings book from the bank,
first deposit – thirty drachmas.

Walking slowly on the wharf you say,
‘Do I exist’ and then, ‘You do not exist!’
The ship arrives, Raised flag.
Perhaps His Honor the Governor is coming.

If, among these people, just
one would die from disgust…
Silent, sad, decorous,
we’d all have fun at the funeral.


Helen S. Lamari, 1878-1912
Poet and musician.
Died with the most frightful pains of the body
and with the greatest calm of the spirit.

What peace reigns here!
As though the tombs also smile,
while the dead speak quietly
in capitals, deep in the dark.

From there they want to rise with
simple words into our peaceful hearts.
But their complaint, or what it is they say,
– they’ve gone so far away – is useless.

It’s all there is, there, two crossed bars
of wood, Martzokis. There Vasiliadis,
just a big stone book.

And a plaque half-hidden in the grass
– thus now it’s symbolised by Hades –
there’s Lamaris, a forgotten poet.

Karyotakis dead (21 July 1928).

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