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Translation: MARIA TSATSOU




I know these tunes
the meadow rosemary tells me –
the palm tree and the arocaria, seeds of the south.
The basin where they beat the kilims
dyed purple the stream – and blood from
the soldier¢s wound –on the river bank opposite–
descended to the sea to paint two oceans red.
Sea-omens, the sea-gulls, dipped in their wings
and coloured the sunset.

Kalami*-reed, the guard narrates
the feud of gods and men
while carving wood from an olive tree, oil
is what keeps perennial things, prolongs the day,
but you, unscathed, took in your hand the lute
and put aright the cords, reclining.

Untouched isolated in the seas
Apteroi Diktynes Kedríssians and foreign
birds of passage, which never left –
they came, stopped for water
and remained for ever.

But this is not what our eyes saw
nor the river banks built craftily with stone
nor the islet with the oleander trees.
The reeds are metics now – the osiers
cannot drive away rabid flies.
But yet the river bed is even, bends well,
obeying the surveyor¢s plummet.
The tide is now indolent, exhausted,
cannot reach the sea. Yet it remembers
how it gave me two pebbles once, to create a spark
to see the miracle of fire and believe.

The hatred! The fever! Playgrounds and courts,
trampled, levelled, there the gibbets stood –
Oh, earth you cannot bear witness anymore –
nor can the dry eucalyptus – her blond hair tangled
in its branches. The stork hastened to take it for its nest.
Now on the banks the earth stretches itself
and lit summons the nations to come and bathe.

The mountains empty their secret springs
and down the water flows crystal clear
end of the summer now –
women with round hips come and wash
plush carpets works of the loom.
The water whirls and spins perfumed by cedars,
then everything is spread to dry on thistles.
It was snow upon snow then, froth at the river¢s mouth
being thrust sky-high, the mountains
taking the shade of amethyst.

Clay, the heavy element is gone,
lost are the potter¢s fields with their secret caves.
Kedrissós, once more cannot flow down
to reach the sea¢s breast; it lies bare, mute,
without songs, a fish in agony –
its gills a thinned harmonium –
the river cannot play its old tunes
to cover their Aryan voices.

Galleys in the bay at large,
beyond the ruined Lazarettos.
They launch the boats.
They¢re coming with the oars.
From up the mountains they saw them –
spilt milk now flows like a catarract.
Shepherds and dairy men rush down armed with shuttles –
deep in the reeds they hide in ambush.
But they, formidable in the arts of plunder,
scattered around gold to ensure the conquest of the land.
Some sank in the swamps with their heavy armour –
wild ducks, fleeing from their nests, lament their loss.
The old arcade, with its three bows, bears witness:
they put slaves to cut the stone to build,
fed with gruel, what they called soup,
and barley rusks. And guards in the vineyards
and the orchards, fed only from wild fig-trees
where they hung their satchels –
their only shade the vines in inner courts.

Came the Telchines
craftsmend of bronze and tin;
they lit their glowing fires on the shore-pebbles
and deep into the Petrokopió crypts,
where they hammered nails to make them hooked.
Their legend went beyond the border of land and sea.
Kedrissós is now but a memory
a writing inscribed upon the stone.

[The Kedríssians]

Their eyes were the shade of water,
liquid like light, iridescent, changing
according to the journey of their desire,
nest of feeling and of impulse.
Ideologists, they drew up the world
in accordance with the ways of benevolence,
exorcising hybris with red woven fabrics,
dances and songs on the harmonicas.

They are lost to us now. And with them their name.

The scent of cypress cones
and cedar resin still persists
on river banks and streams.
Itinerants, they left their aura,
a reverberation on the surface of the sea.
And anyone who rises before the sun,
can see them moving in the morning mist
lonely and confused.

Quiet, keeping to themselves, cloaked
in the perfumed breath of cedars, they belonged
more to the life of trees than to humanity –
shepherds and dairy men they were,
who led their sheep to the water and the meadows.
But came those armed with iron, the predators,
and from the mountain-caves came rolling down
the precious rounds of cheese, hard and mellow,
and were hurled against enemy carriages.
Goat-skin bags full of golden butter and cream,
almost alive, went rolling down the mountain-slopes,
whilst down below, armies disdainful of the plough
were holding the river border-land,
the crow¢s kingdom and the sea-gull¢s.
At night they burnt pyrethron and wicker
to keep away black clouds of insects.
At dawn they would rise again for plunder and assault.

Those on the mountains saw the destruction.
The Kedríssians girding on their weapons
took to the peaks protected by Zeus:
clouds covered them and their cattle.
Holding their lambs warm and white
they reached the snow ring – and thence
they all ascended to the heaven above.
Only a few remained on the plain below
to keep alive the root.
In their eyes one can still see the cedars moving.

It was springtime and they were holding
the sacred Korythalle* as they were climbing –
branches of olive trees and laurel,
symbols of resurrected life.
The house-serpent, a benevolent demon,
was entwined in twigs of apple blossom.
In the meadows armies of buzzing bees
stung and maddened the Kedríssians¢ mild cattle.
Young shepherds, their curly hair wet from sweat
ran to retrieve them, cursing and whistling.

A burning sirocco blew from the south seas
stirring animals and men. 
It routed them, it scattered them, 
it emptied and dried the river's delta.
Rocks and shingles were uncovered,
drowned crabs and smelt.
Chronos, the Envious, had fallen asleep,
lulled by the rustle, and the sound of pipes,
dominated by cedars, their hundreds of hands,
overpowered by their scent.
So that he would fail to turn the wheel of the day.

The harshest of all, methodical in wielding death,
are those with blue eyes,
they were the eyes of our destiny.
Blue-eyed was your executioner
his wings were soft like zephyr –
and now you set me wondering
how from such bright light
you became immersed in pitch-black darkness.
How with his radial eyes he blew unto you,
and made you like Icarus fall on the -ground.

Nothing exceptional or rare in these parts
worth remembering: a shallow river-bed
dried up in August, sparse water,
barren the seed of the wild duck,
feather-light the bulb of the wild-lily, growing on sand,
travelling with the wind, to fecundity. 
Yet, it is here that the sea-shell
of our adolescence lies.

Hidden in the depths like a precious gem
the nodule of the reed has kept
the vowels of love and death alive.
And all around on the indifferent sea-sand,
again and again passes
the same signal wave.

I cannot forget the mud, living matter
that has kept the seed alive, the wheat germ,
nor, in the rushes, invisible, the poisonous lizard,
coiled up to attack you.
It was high noon, the sun charmed it.
The woman's steps were swallowed
by gushes of hot wind from Libya.

How much must I pay? Starting from the soul
to take back my humble house
the room and its yard?
It was behind the dunes like a lily
in the narrow meadow where Kedrissós
ran its waters, between the yellow desert
and the coast with the shingle
often hunters would pass by, and like
startled sparks the birds would
leave their nests and fly away.

I must gather my scattered treasures
find the man who will mediate
for the bloody transaction,
so that I can return where
I have my origins before I came
to this anonymous arena.
Round the city the mountains are bare
although they are crowned by the violet shades
of sunset. Westwards, the port is closed,
and the sailing forbidden.

¡Tis for the wind that I write these words,
¡Tis for the king of the Island that I tie them,
amidst the whirlwind and the sea-foam.
And this white sheet, furrowed and scored
as though by a blind man¢s pantograph,
the wind will clear up its words and lines
and will blow them away in the void,
as when it shakes and sways the reed-bed.

Let the words go away if they can let them go.
Let only the seed remain.

A thin river unable to run its course
stagnant, of the mosquitoes and the frogs
a river, indecisive, which turns backwards.
A thin river you chose to inhabit,
when navigable rivers mightily splash their waters
and run their course.

With timid steps I walked my path,
yet I have been impetuous too, my strides daring.
I took by surprise my soul upon the waves.
From the mount Diktys to Cythera,
and in the stony desert of Rodopoú
I have wandered alone,
amongst the wild goats, and the phantoms
of the proscribed and the outlawed.
Index of Diktys, compass to the ships
as they head for hidden creeks
and the massive cape of Diros,
gate of Hades to the world above.

The boat was handy at the riverside.
The oars were ready in place. Everything
summoned me to the Myrtoan Sea, so deceptive.

A heavenly river is Kedrissós.
Its effigy only flows in Kydonía,
and silvery, misleads the poplars.
It¢s running up and it swells down,
then surges to its mouth, and rushing, flies backwards.
There gather the souls which have abandoned
their beauty and their husk.

The purl and the lap are water-words.
The tempest calls the trident.
And the sea is thalassa, open, endless,
with its innumerable alphas.

Victoria Theodorou

Victoria Theodorou, aged 85, is a monumental Modern Greek poet. In her poetry personal experience merges with historical events, those of recent Greek history, as well as those of past eras. She writes passionately, using symbols which unite Modern Greece with Ancient and Mediaeval Greece. In this long epic-lyric poem, free verse follows an internal rhythm which gives the poem its distinct character of liberty, nostalgia, and deep-seated feeling.

¡Kedrissós¢ is in many ways a perennial piece of work, as perennial as the external and internal landscape the poet describes. 

Victoria Theodorou was born in a village, near Chania, Crete, and near the river Kedrissós. During World War II, before she had even finished high-school, she became a member of the Young People¢s Resistance Movement (E.P.O.N.) against the German occupation, carrying food and clothing to the resistance fighters and those in hiding. She was arrested and taken to the concentration camps for women political prisoners, of Chios, Trikkeri, Makronissos, and once more Trikkeri, for a period of nearly four years in total.

Victoria married Charidimos Spanoudakis, a young man from her own village, and a clerk in the, then, Ministry of Justice, who, enraptured by the Madonna–like beauty of Victoria, managed miraculously to get her out of her last place of ordeal. They had twin daughters, Maria and Eirini, and lived together many happy long years in their home in Filothéi, a northern suburb of Athens. When the girls were old enough, Victoria pursued her studies at the University of Athens, and took her B.A. from the Humanities¢ Department.

Victoria Theodorou¢s, many rich works include collections of poems, such as: 

•Encomium (Εγκώμιον), 1957

•Northern Suburb (Βορεινό Προάστειο), 1966

•The Lute (Το Λαγούτο), 1971

•Urania (Ουρανία), 1978

•Aryan Sleep (Άρειος Ύπνος), 1983

•Meilígmata (Μειλίγματα), 1999

•Roll for the Master (Καταλόγι για το Μάστορα), 2008

Her works in prose include:

•Women¢s Concentration Camps (Στρατόπεδα Γυναικών), 1975

•Tráiko (Τράικο), 1982

•Wedding Present (Γαμήλιο Δώρο), 1955

•The Misses of Lampsákou Street (Οι Δεσποινίδες της οδού Λαμψάκου), 2005

It is noteworthy, that Victoria¢s last, short but very meaningful and thoughtful, long poem “Roll for the Master” is inspired by the loss of her husband Charidimos, an exceptional man and self-taught book-binder, who in his quiet way tamed and sustained the poet¢s turbulent soul. 

A complete publication of Victoria Theodorou¢s poems is currently under way. 

The translation of “Kedrissós” is the work of poet and translator Maria A. Tsatsou, born in 1948, currently living and working in Athens. She is translating from English, French and German, and she is writing poems and short length poetical prose.