George Seferis

Seferis in London, 1925.

George Seferis was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor, the son of a lawyer-poet. When the First World War broke out the family moved to Athens, where he completed his secondary education, and subsequently to Paris, where he studied law and, in 1924, took his degree. After a long visit to London the following year, he returned to Athens and was appointed to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He subsequently spent most of his professional life in the diplomatic service outside Greece, his last appointment being Ambassador to London (1957–62). He married Maria Zannou in 1941. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963.

Seferis's first collection of poetry, Turning Point (1931), which he himself saw as a turning 'towards the world', away from the introverted and negative tendencies of much of the writing of the 1920s, became also a turning point for modern Greek poetry and was the forerunner of a period of literary innovation and freedom; and later, in 1935, the publication of his Mythistorema indisputably established him as the seminal voice of Modernism in Greece. 'Like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, he sought to revivify poetic diction which he believed should be an enriched form of contemporary speech . . .', writes Katerina Krikos-Davis. 'A desire for clear, precise, more objective expression and the need to give voice to collective rather than personal feelings . . . grew more imperative.' (Encyclopaedia of Greece and the Hellenic Tradition, p. 1513).

Of the other collections that followed, perhaps the most significant is Thrush (1947) in which love has a central role and which concludes, in Seferis's words, with 'an affirmation of a moment of dazzling and eternal life'. The last collection published in his lifetime Three Secret Poems (1966), although reflective in mood and concerned with the last times, also ultimately holds out hope and promise for the state of mankind.

Parallel with writing his own poetry Seferis also translated into Greek an eclectic number of works including Eliot's The Waste Land and The Revelation of St John, and wrote many essays on diverse subjects (but mostly with Greek connections) which in their content, the particularity of their thought and the clarity of their language have made a substantial contribution to the formation of a modern Greek literary sensibility. Furthermore, nine volumes of his edited diaries, spanning the years 1926–1960, have so far been published as well as a number of collections of his correspondence with other significant Greek men of letters.

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