Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Nobel Prize for Poetry

Winners of this have to wear penguin suits and deliver a long speech to the Swedish Academy; they also have to deliver a shorter speech at, I think, the celebratory dinner. Soon after the Greek poet Odysseus Elytis won, the longer of his speeches appeared in Greek newspapers, and was subsequently translated into English. (Twice; the better of the two translations is by my friend David Connolly, who had the privilege of working with Elytis himself.) But I don’t think the shorter speech has ever been published, at least not in English translation. I have just been translating it for a forthcoming book to be published by Aiora of Athens. Here it is:


Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Gentlemen of the Academy, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The journey of Odysseus — whose name I happen to have been given — never ends, it would seem. And that is fortunate. One of our greatest contemporary poets told us that the deepest meaning of the journey isn’t the arrival in Ithaca, which is a finishing, an end: it’s the journey itself; the adventures and the learning.

Man’s need to discover, to understand, to make myths about all that surpasses Him seems incurable. We all have a thirst for miracles; an urge to believe in miracles; all we have to do is to be ready; to wait. I, in my turn, in devoting more than forty years of my life to poetry, did nothing else. I crossed mythical seas, stopping, and getting to know, so many places.

And, lo and behold, here I am today in Stockholm, my only treasure a few Greek words. Humble words but living, because they are on the lips of a whole people. They are three thousand years old, but as fresh as if just drawn from the sea, from the pebbles and weed of an Aegean shore: from the deep blue and total transparency of the æther. The word ‘Ouranos’ (sky); the word ‘Thalassa’ (sea); the word ‘Helios’ (sun) and the word ‘Eleftheria’ (freedom). I lay them respectfully at your feet. To thank you; to thank the generous people of Sweden and their leading intellectuals who, turning away from majority criteria, show every year that they have that secret ability to renew the Miracle.

Thank you.


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