Odysseus Elytis, probably the only real Greek «muse-poet» in the sense of Robert Graves, wrote a poem called «Blood of Love» («της αγάπης αίματα»), often misinterpreted to be Christian, supposedly a tribute to the Mother of Christ. However, this naive interpretation is wrong. A more correct interpretation can reveal fascinating facets of the poet’s heretical metaphysics, based on his Love for the Goddess.
«The armless Goddess» (my own clay sculpture, 30 cm long)
(use red–blue 3D glasses to view stereoscopically)
Here is a translation of the poem «Blood of Love» by Odysseus Elytis, analysed line-by-line:
THE BLOOD of love has robed me in purple
Love is «bleeding» in the sense that it gives itself, or gets sacrificed by those who do not love. It becomes a red royal garment / robe, for those who love, or those who are under the influence or protection of the Love Principle.
And unspeakable joys have covered me in shade.
Here the most important term is «unspeakable joys» (χαρές ανείπωτες). I used my own translation of «ανείπωτες», which is «unspeakable» (rather than «not seen before») to emphasize the poet’s allusion to indescribable, extreme joys or pleasures which are impossible to talk about in public! Communion with the Divine Female is also carnal; also sensual, to the point of non-description! However, the translators of the poem seem to have completely missed the point, a point brought up in a recent religious discussion (in the Greek blog «Hut on top of the Mountain«), where some aspects of Female Spirituality (inseparable from divine sensuality) were discussed. I.e. this «Principle of Love» is not «renunciation of pleasure»; on the contrary, it is the «Pleasure Principle» itself (as opposed to the «Reality Principle» – in Freud’s sense of the term); inseparable from Joy or Pleasure, a facet of Love that can be so great, so voluminous, that it can provide shelter or shade for the poet (the «adept of the Muse»). The «shade» also implies protection from the Sun (the «Reality principle» suppressing Pleasure).
I’ve become corroded in the south wind of humankind
Instead of the word «corroded», the word «oxidised» can be used. The original word in Greek is «oxydised» (chemically merged with oxygen). Why is this so? Well, the «southern wind» is in antithesis to the North, where the Energy of the Archetypal Goddess traditionally resides (also known as «HyperBorean Light»). The southern energies are causing a process of oxidisation, in the poet’s Inner Being (or spiritual energy), which is both good and bad; necessary in order to attain experience, unfortunate because some losses of energy (or spiritual level) are also inevitable.
Mother far away, my Everlasting Rose.
The Greek word used in the original poem is «αμάραντος», translated as «something that never decays». The indestructible source, of this «Mother Energy» is implied here.
On the open sea they lay in wait for me, With triple-masted men-of-war they bombarded me,
The violent clash with pirates and opponents of the Goddess (or divine energy) is at some point inevitable
My sin that I too had a love of my own Mother far away, my Everlasting Rose.
These two lines together imply resistance to repression of love, female love in particular: Both as Mistress and as Divine Mother. These two facets of the Female spiritual principle are inseparable. The poet is both Son and Lover of the Goddess (and… Freud was wrong, since there is no need for any kind of repression, for either one of these roles).
Once in July her large eyes Half-opened, deep down my entrails, to light up
As recollection of the first moment of life (after birth), when the mother gazes the newly born, and her own energy or spirituality sends inner light to the newly-born.
The virgin life for a single moment
The life of the baby is «virgin life», as regards decay and corrosion by the manifest world. The function of the Mother’s love is to en-lighten her baby’s life, in mystical communion (commonly not understood).
Mother far away, my Everlasting Rose.
The individual mother (of the baby) and the Divine Mother (or Female Life Principle) are One. And this principle never decays.
And since that day the wrath of ages Has turned on me, shouting out the curse: «He who saw you, let him live in blood and stone» Mother far away, my Everlasting Rose.
Without understanding the repressive role of Patriarchy (and patriarchal religion) the above four lines make no sense. The «wrath of ages» is a patriarchal curse that whoever retains true recollections or intimations of the Divine Female Principle, shall «live in blood and stone». There is no way to understand these lines without understanding the fundamental resistance of the poet, against the repression of the Divine Female (as well as the Pleasure Principle) at all levels; in opposition to the (male) «Reality Principle» (ruling the world in opposition to the Divine Female).
Once again I took the shape of my native country, I grew and flowered among the stones.
The Inner Mind (of the poet) takes the shape of the place or country where he is born, like water taking the shape of a vessel containing it. However, he does not forget the fact that his Being is like a «flower among stones».
And the blood of killers I redeem with light Mother far away, my Everlasting Rose.
The (patriarchal) killers of the Divine Mother, or the suppressors of Love and Pleasure, have created a historical debt; a kind of «moral bill» which is left unpaid. The poet (or whoever remains authentically close to the repressed material) pays this bill, but not through revenge (not by getting «even» with murderers through more murder) but through Light. From THE AXION ESTI, by Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996) Translated by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis Well, if you are in doubt about my «neo-pagan» interpretation of this poem, rest assured that… I am not the only one who thinks that Elytis (far from being «orthodox Christian») was a genuine «muse poet», or a bard of the Female Divinity. Certainly this is also the opinion of many other people (e.g. Helias Maglinas). You can also verify these ideas by looking at other poems by Odysseus Elytis, e.g. those in the book «Maria Nephele«. (My own selected translations of Maria Nephele are here). Finally, if you can read Greek, there is my short essay: «Odysseus Elytis – the prophet of a Renaissance» (here).
APPENDIX: Greek original:
- If you liked «Blood of Love» perhaps you will enjoy the following, much more:
- ODYSSEAS ELYTIS, “There is Only One Swallow” (a new English translation)
- Poetry by Odysseus Elytis: Some serious translation problems, and their solutions