ODYSSEAS ELYTIS, «There is Only One Swallow» (a new English translation)



«There is Only One Swallow» (ENA TO HELIDONI)

-a new English translation

There is only one swallow
so precious is the spring

to bring back the Sun
it takes a lot of work

it takes the dead, to be under
the wheels by the thousands
and it takes from the Living
their own blood to be giving

Snatched by (dark) magicians
is the (sacred) body of May
thrown into a deep well
it is closed; shut; far away

the Darkness has got a smell
and All the Abyss is stinking


[…to be continued…]

  • Today I decided to do an English translation of the original song that led to «MIKIS TRANCE», a trance remix which you can also hear if you click here:
  • Not easy, in fact. Translating poetry can be very difficult, and it’s by nature imperfect.
  • In order to do the best job (and the most authentic one, too) I decided to refrain completely from reading… other translations!
  • E.g. there is another translation by Jeffry Carson (who translated the «Collected Works of Odysseus Elytis«), but I have NOT checked it out; NOT before my own translation of the entire poem is completed.
  • If this translation turns out to be… very similar to Carson’s, then this means I am a… good translator (hehe); Carson being one of the best. If not, then it might be interesting to see WHY…
  • Today only about 2/3 of the poem was done; however this was the most important part.
  • Please remember I wasn’t… paid to do the translation! More may follow; but I also have to do OTHER kinds of work.

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  2. Hi there

    I hope you’ve had a good summer….how’s your translation of this poem going? This is the poem that sucked me into reading (or at least trying to read) the rest of Elytis’ work. I really enjoy how he uses words to wrap up so many layers of meaning….there’s generally more than one way to take each line in this poem…..I never tire of reading it and I’m not game enough to post my own translation.

    I think you’re getting onto the right track with it, andI’d like to make a few points. There is a school of thought with translating Elytis, that is, it translate literally and respect the grammar (Carson’s translation of this poem doesn’t).

    Being literal can help when going from Greek to English as there are many idioms that match, eg «standing at the wheel».

    Remember that μυρρίζω can also mean to make fragrant with myrrh – it’s what the priest does in church with his censer. The smelling (good and bad) we usually associate with the word is a later meaning.

    I like that the Magi make a guest appearance in this poem as they are usually relegated to Christmas tales…Elytis uses upper case, so they are more than magicians.

    Good luck……;-)

  3. Hi Waywardbrook

    I’m very glad to hear you ‘re fond of Elytis’ poetry. Also thanks for your kind words about this particular translation.

    Unfortunately, this particular translation remains unfinished. However, I plan to get back into Elytis study and translations after getting new books about him through a list compiled by a librarian (a friend of mine). This list contains books that are hardly mentioned on-line. They do exist, however in academic libraries throughout the world, which my friend can access (and can arrange «inter-library loans»).

    Translating Elytis is indeed very hard. Being literal _and_ respecting the grammar is hhhm… doomed to fail in the _semantics_,at some point. An example of the problems involved is e.g. here:

  4. I have translated the Odyssey much of the Iliad Antigone… but I cannot read modern Greek! Rittos and Elytis are two I would like to read first in English and then I think I could learn the current pronunciation and vocabulary and read them in modern Greek.
    Can you help?

  5. @Robert Alpert,
    Thank you for commenting. As I understand it you need the quickest, most efficient possible way to learn Modern Greek.

    Please be patient for a few hours (at the most one day), since I want to give you a COMPLETE answer, with full details of modern Greek courses, books, whatever.

    Hang around (and I hope you find interesting English posts about Elytis, etc. in the meantime).

    Bye for now (as I am in video-phone conversation this very minute, and will continue for a few hours, most probably).

  6. @waywardbrook
    Hi again. I apologize for the delay but I was _forced_ to do some google-searches for another topic first, arising from a long political dispute (watching the latest «Borat» movie might be more enlightening, but… I _have_ to do it -hehe).

    Links are coming. So, Robert you will have several sources for your educational needs.

  7. I listened to your music and enjoyed, so I decided to find out more about ‘Mikis’ – from there I read about him being imprisoned by the Junta and the colonels and made the link to Operation Gladio which I blogged about the other day. Synchronicity and serendipity indeed 😉


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