Beauty and the Illiterate

Odysseus Elytis (1911–1996)

Often, in the Repose of Evening her soul took a lightness from
                  the mountains across, although the day was harsh and
                  tomorrow foreign.

But, when it darkened well and out came the priest’s hand over
                  the little garden of the dead, She

Alone, Standing, with the few domestics of the night – the blowing
                  rosemary and the murmur of smoke from the kilns –
                  at sea’s entry, wakeful

Otherly beauty!

Only the waves’ words half-guessed or in a rustle, and others
                  resembling the dead’s that startle in the cypress, strange
                  zodiacs that lit up her magnetic moon-turned head.
                  And one

Unbelievable cleanliness allowed, to great depth in her, the real
                  landscape to be seen,

Where, near the river, the dark ones fought against the Angel,
                  exactly showing how she’s born, Beauty

Or what we otherwise call tear.

And long as her thinking lasted, you could feel it overflow the
                  glowing sight bitterly in the eyes and the huge, like an
                  ancient prostitute’s, cheekbones

Stretched to the extreme points of the Large Dog and of the Virgin.

“Far from the pestilential city I dreamed of her deserted place
                  where a tear may have no meaning and the only light be
                  from the flame that ravishes all that for me exists.

“Shoulder-to-shoulder under what will be, sworn to extreme silence
                  and the co-ruling of the stars,

“As if I didn’t know yet, the illiterate, that there exactly, in extreme
                  silence are the most repellent thuds

“And that, since it became unbearable inside a man’s chest, solitude
                  dispersed and seeded stars!”

Translated by OLGA BROUMAS

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