Death are the crows that bash themselves
against the black walls and the tiles,
death the women, who are being loved
as if they were peeling onions.
Death the dirty, insignificant streets
with their big, glorious names,
the olive grove, behind the sea, and even
the sun, death within the deaths.
Death the police officer who is folding
to weigh an “insufficient”portion,
death the hyacinths on the balcony,
and the teacher with the newspaper.
Base, Guard, Sixty-soldier Unit of Preveza.
On Sunday we’ll listen to the band.
I got a bankbook
first deposit drachmas thirty.
Walking slowly along the quay,
“I exist?” you say, and then “you don’t exist!”
The ship is arriving. Flag raised.
Perhaps Mister Prefect is coming.
If only, amongst these men,
one died from disgust…
Silent, sorrowful, with humble manners,we would all have fun at the funeral.
Kostas Karyotakis (1896-1928) is considered one of the most representative Greek poets of the 20th century and one of the first to incorporate modernist themes in his work. His poetry conveys a great deal of imagery with traces of expressionism and surrealism, and reflects his existential, pessimistic and satirical tone. He killed himself in the Greek city of Preveza, shortly after writing the titular poem.
K. Karyotakis was working as a lawyer, on the control of land donations from the Greek state to refugees from Asia Minor War of 1922. His attempt to bring to light the corruption and squandering of money behind the programs providing care for refugees, had caused the rage of the then Minister of Welfare and led to his adverse posting to Preveza.
The poem displays an insistent, lilting epanaphora on the word Death, which stands at the beginning of several lines and sentences. It is shot through with a pungent awareness of the gallows, in the tiny mediocrity of life as the poet felt it. Mortality is measured against insignificant, black, bashing birds, or the town policeman checking a disputed weight; it is identified with futile street names, or the brass band on Sunday, a trifling sum of cash in a bankbook, the flowers on a balcony, a teacher reading his newspaper, the Prefect coming in by ferry.