The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions

The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions

Last week, BBC 4 screened The Past, a film by Asghar Farhadi. He’s the Iranian director, Oscar-nominated for his most recent film The Salesman, who has pledged not to attend the ceremonies even if he gets exemption from Trump’s travel ban. Previously I had seen Farhadi’s celebrated A Separation which, like The Past, takes the story of a seemingly straightforward divorce before developing, by way of a succession of unintended consequences involving a group of equally flawed yet decent characters, into a complex and challenging exploration of what forms moral behaviour.
Continue reading “The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions”

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library

Passing through London on our way back from the David Jones show in Chichester, I decided to take a look at the current exhibition at the British Library: West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song. It’s an ambitious survey of literature, art and music from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to expressions of rapid cultural and political change across West Africa in recent decades. Continue reading “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library”

Two churches, two religions, one island

Two churches, two religions, one island

Porth Cwyfan 1

During our week on Anglesey we walked a couple of sections of the coastal path that each led us past an interesting and unusual church.  One walk began in Aberffraw, a sizeable village on the southwest coast of the island where the Afon Ffraw debouches into an extensive area of dunes fronted by another stunning beach framed by expansive views of the Snowdon mountain range. An old hump-back bridge spans the river Ffraw here; built in 1731, it was part of the main road into Aberffraw until it was bypassed in 1932.

Aberffraw 1

The 18th century bridge at Aberffraw

I must admit that I’d never heard of Aberffraw before coming here. Yet in early medieval times this place was the ‘capital’ of the kingdom of Gwynedd. For over 800 years the Gwynedd dynasty ruled great swathes of Wales from a royal palace here.  The dynasty, established by a chieftain from Strathclyde who came here to expel the Irish from North Wales, resisted Saxons, Vilings, and finally the Normans. After the first Norman incursions into Wales, the royal court moved here from Conway, and Aberffraw came into a golden age which ended with the defeat of Llewellyan the Last by Edward I in 1282, a defeat which brought Welsh independence to an end.  Nothing now remains of the palace, which was built of wood.  In 1317, with timber in short supply as the once densely-wooded landscape was denuded of trees, the remains of the palce were demolished and its timbers used to repair Caernarfon castle.

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Following the estuary out of Aberffraw

We followed the coastal path out along the estuary, absorbing the extensive views across the beach and towards the mountains of Snowdonia.  As you work your way out to the next headland the perspective changes as the whole length of the Lleyn peninsula, with its mountainous spine, stretches as far as distant Bardsey Island.

Aberffraw 6 Aberffraw 6b

Ox-eye daisies Scabious

Pushing our way through a profusion of wild flowers

Somewhere along this stretch we encountered one of the most beautiful stretches of coastal path I can recall; the path was deeply-worn, flanked by an earthen bank splashed with the densest profusion of wild flowers – ox-eye daisies, red campion, foxgloves, field scabious and hawkbit.  Nearby was a community of Northern Marsh Orchids and clumps of Sea Campion.

Marsh Orchid Hybrid Spotted Orchid

Northern Marsh Orchid

Bladder Campion

Sea Campion

A mile further on, and we spied the first of the two churches that form the main subject of this post- the tiny church of Saint Cwyfan, isolated on a small walled island in the pebble-strewn bay of Porth Cwyfan.

Porth Cwyfan 6

St Cwyfans Church comes into view

This simple medieval church dates from the 12th century and originally stood at the end of a peninsula between two bays. However, in a few decades in the 17th century the sea slowly eroded the coast, turning the peninsula into an island.

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St Cwyfans Church

A causeway was built to the island to allow parishioners to get to the island (even that has now largely been washed away). The sea continued to eat away at the island until, in the late 19th century, some of the graves surrounding the church began to fall into the sea. By this time the church was abandoned and roofless, having been replaced by a new church further inland. However, in 1893 a local architect, concerned for the fate of the evocative old church, raised money to save it by constructing a seawall around the island and restoring the building.

Porth Cwyfan 3

‘And its walls shall be hard as their hearts’

The sight of the church perched above its encircling, fortress-like wall stirred a vague memory – was it of a poem by RS Thomas who wrote across the water there, on the Lleyn?  It wasn’t until we were back home, and I was able to pull down off the shelf Rita’s copy of Thomas’s collected poems, that I found the answer.  It’s a 1972 poem by Thomas called ‘The Island’ which made a powerful impression on me when I first read it. But it was puzzling, too.  For me, as an atheist, the poem seemed to speak of the futility of belief in a god so unmindful of humanity’s suffering on earth. Yet Thomas was an Anglican priest who served as a vicar in several small rural, poverty-stricken parishes in Wales – the last, before his retirement, being at Aberdaron, on the remote tip of the Leyn. Even knowing that, ‘The Island’ remains a puzzling poem for me.  I suppose it’s a vision of when a ‘rough god goes riding’, in Van Morrison’s memorable expression (there’s an extended discussion of its meaning, for anyone interested, here). However you choose to interpret the poem, St Cwyfan’s church, surrounded by its forbidding wall, seems its perfect visualisation:

And God said, I will build a church here
And cause this people to worship me,
And afflict them with poverty and sickness
In return for centuries of hard work
And patience.
And its walls shall be hard as
Their hearts, and its windows let in the light
Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned
By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,
Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes
Grow, and their lips suppurate with
Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth
On my altar, and I will choose the best
Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

And that was only on one island.

Llanbadrig 1

The coastal path near Cemaes

Another day, another coastal path walk – this time on the northern coast, setting out from the little port of Cemaes.  This coastline is quite different to that around Newborough and Aberffraw – more like Cornwall or Pembrokeshire with its rocky coves and steep cliffs. Unfortunately, walking in one direction at least, it’s overshadowed by the ominously looming bulk of Wylfa nuclear power station on Wylfa head.

Llanbadrig 2bLlanbadrig 2

Human waste: nuclear and otherwise

Built in 1963, Wylfa was the second nuclear power station to be built in Wales, after Trawsfynydd. Now only one of its two reactors is operational. During its operational life there has been considerable public concern about safety at Wylfa, with Greenpeace commissioning an independent appraisal of problems at the plant. Substantial works have been needed to strengthen the reactors against deteriorating welds discovered in a safety review in April 2000. Now there are plans to build a new nuclear plant alongside the old one. The plan has been the subject of local opposition, led by the group People Against Wylfa B – or PAWB (pawb being Welsh for ‘everyone’).  Despite this, the coalition government has confirmed Wylfa as one of the eight sites it considers suitable for new nuclear power plants, with the plant being built by Hitachi. A spokesman for PAWB responded: ‘We don’t want a ‘Wylfashima’ on Ynys Mon’.

Llanbadrig 6

Wylfa nuclear power station overshadows the church at Llanbadrig 

A couple of miles out of Cemaes we stumbled upon our second unusual church in a coastal setting. Perched close to the cliff edge is Llanbadrig, which translates as ‘church of Saint Patrick’. According to local legend, the church was founded in AD 440 by St Patrick who had been shipwrecked on the small island of Middle Mouse which is visible from the churchyard.  The story goes that Patrick, travelling by ship after visiting St Columba on the Scottish island of Iona and bound for Ireland, was shipwrecked on the island but managed to make safe landfall at a cave in the cliffs below where the church now stands.

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The church at Llanbadrig: beware of holes

We had a picnic lunch and waited for the church to be opened at two o’clock, for the real curiosity of this church lies in its interior. Meanwhile, we strolled around the gravestones, taking careful note of the warning sign: ‘Beware of holes in this part of the churchyard’.  You never know where you might end up!

I wanted to look inside the church because, although it possibly dates back to AD440, it has been modified at various points in its history – most recently undergoing a major restoration in 1884, funded by Henry Stanley, 3rd Baron of Alderley. This was interesting not only because the family seat at Nether Alderley below Alderley Edge in Cheshire is just a few miles from where I was brought up, but primarily because Stanley was a convert to Islam when he funded the restoration.  In 1869 Lord Stanley (whose sister Katharine was the mother of Bertrand Russell) became the first Muslim member of the House of Lords.When he died in 1908, an obituary noted:

That the late Henry Edward John Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, was a sincere and devout Muslim, was known to very few men. Readers of the Safwat-ul-Itbar (Travels of Sheikh Muhammad Bairam Fifth of Tunis), however, knew very well that Lord Stanley had long been a sincere believer in the principles of Islam. But his faith was not limited to a profession by word of mouth. The author of the Safwat-ul-Itbar relates incidents which show how deeply Islam had entered into his heart. He found him not only regular in the five daily prayers, but also constant at tahajjud (the midnight prayers); and what is still more wonderful, he found him very humble in his prayers, and far above most born Muhammadans. When he talked of the Holy Prophet, it was with profound love and deep respect that he mentioned or named him. He found him also very well versed on the principles of Muslim theology, and in his conversation with him he found that the deep conviction of his mind was the result of a comprehensive knowledge of the principles of Islam. This was about the year 1880. Who could imagine that such a sincere and devout worshipper of the true God was living in the heart of Christendom?

This explains why Stanley’s plans for the restoration of the church at Llanbadrig included Islamic-influenced designs. The stained glass windows, instead of depicting biblical scenes and characters, are simple geometric designs. Tiles on the wall behind the alter also show geometric or floral designs. There are some suggestions that he created these designs himself.

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Islamic-influenced designs in the church at Llanbadrig

Stanley died and was buried during the most holy period in the Muslim calendar, 21- 25 Ramadan (11 and 15 December 1903 respectively). He was buried according to Muslim rites on the family estate, Alderley Park, at Nether Alderley in Cheshire. The chief mourner at his burial was the First Secretary to the Ottoman Embassy in London. Islamic prayers were recited over his grave by the embassy’s Imam. A service in his memory was held at the Liverpool Mosque, conducted by Abdullah Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor and another Muslim convert. The mosque, founded by Quilliam, was in those days located in Brougham Terrace.  The building later became the city Register Office, where Rita and I were married.

From Nineveh to Mosul: what’s that fluttering in the breeze?

From Nineveh to Mosul: what’s that fluttering in the breeze?

Assyrian relief from Nineveh, depicting a soldier escorting captives and loot from a Babylonian city in central or southern Iraq. Early 7th century BC.

Early 7th century BC Assyrian relief from Nineveh: a soldier escorts captives and loot from a Babylonian city in southern Iraq (photo: Ashmolean Museum)

Two days ago I was looking at this Assyrian relief in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It’s one of several carved marble reliefs in the Ashmolean that came from the ruined palaces of Nineveh. Most, like this one, commemorate the achievements of their rulers – and their impact on neighbouring peoples and provinces. Here a soldier escorts captives and loot from a Babylonian city in southern Iraq.

The ruins of Ninevah lie near Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, seized this week by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) forces that now threaten Baghdad.  The Asmolean’s relief was a reminder that this week’s scenes of looting, destruction and columns of refugees fleeing the cities captured by ISIS have recurred for millennia in these lands.

Reporting from Baghdad in today’s Guardian, Martin Chulov writes of ‘the fragile ties that have bound together the ethnically diverse country since the fall of the Ottoman empire’ and of present-day grievances amplified by ‘historical unfinished business’ in a country divided along religious and ethnic fault lines that ‘are seriously testing the post-Ottoman borders’.

Also in the Guardian today, Michael Goldfarb – who covered the fall of Mosul in 2003 – writes that:

Mosul must have been magical once. Smothered in history, it is yet another place where the past never dies and isn’t even past. And that past goes back to the beginning of civilisation. This was the home of the Assyrian empire. The ruins of Nineveh are directly across the river Tigris from Mosul. All subsequent imperial traffic has left a mark here.

Goldfarb’s translator, Ahmad, was a Kurd married to an Arab, but also a Shabak – one of the many obscure sects including Yezidis and Mandeans ‘that have been born in this region over the millennia and still survive’.  He continues:

The mix of Christian denominations is ancient and mind-boggling: Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Assyrian.

That’s just religion. Ethnically, Mosul was home to Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Armenians and Assyrians. All the groups mixed freely and fairly easily, although in the last decade of Saddam’s regime that had already started to change. Radical Islam was already making inroads in Mosul in the 1990s. Then came the war, and when Saddam was gone a different conflict began. In the bazaars and at night there were whispers and threats against Christians, Kurds, Turkmen and those who tried to make democracy work.

When Martin Chulov refers to ‘historical unfinished business’ in Iraq he means the way in which the region was carved up between the victorious imperial powers, France and Britain, at the end of the First World War. On 10 June, as Professor Toby Dodge, director of the LSE’s Middle East Centre, notes in another Guardian piece, Isis posted a photograph of their fighters demolishing barriers marking the dividing line between Syria and Iraq.

They were, they claimed, ‘smashing the Sykes-Picot border’. This was a reference to the British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart, François Georges-Picot who, in May 1916, concluded secret negotiations to divide the Middle East into French and British zones of imperial influence. Isis’s symbolic destruction of the border was an attempt to give credence to its claim to be sweeping away the false states created by the nefarious European powers, uniting all Muslims in one pious community.

This chimed with something else for me: I’m currently reading Peter Englund’s magnificent The Beauty and the Sorrow, in which he draws on the diaries and letters of twenty unknown individuals on both sides of the conflict, all around the world. It’s a brilliant book that serves to remind us that the war was not only fought in the trenches along Europe’s western front. One of the individuals whose experience of the war he narrates is Edward Mousley, a New Zealand artilleryman in the British Army.  In 1916 Mousley is one of 8,000 British and Indian soldiers beseiged by Ottoman forces in the town of Kut-al-Amara, 100 miles south of Baghdad. On Monday 10 April 1916, Mousley records in his journal how the encircled garrison are forced to slaughter their horses in order to survive.  This is how Englund tells it, drawing upon Mousley’s journal:

They have been slaughtering the draught animals and the mules for some time but they have consciously been sparing the riding animals. That is no longer possible. Another attempt to relieve them has run into the sand and orders have now been given that the last horses will have to be slaughtered in order to feed the besieged garrison, which will soon be starving.

Mousley tears up some fresh grass and goes to where the horses are lined up. His own horse Don Juan obviously recognises his owner and welcomes him eagerly in the way he has taught the horse to do. Mousley feeds him the grass.

Then the slaughter begins.

A non-commissioned officer shoots the horses. There is the crack of a gunshot and one by one the big, heavy animals crumple to the ground. The blood flows. At first Mousley watches, noting that the horses follow the proceedings, trembling as they wait their turn. Like the other horses Don Juan stamps uneasily but otherwise remains quite still. When it is almost Don Juan’s turn Mousley can watch no longer; he asks the man with the gun to take careful aim and to tell him when it is all over. Then he kisses the horse’s cheek and walks away. He can see how the horse turns and watches him go.

Then there is another crack from the gun.

His dinner that evening is Don Juan’s heart and kidneys. (These parts of the horse are always reserved for the owner – Mousley has also kept Don Juan’s black tail.) Admittedly it feels strange, but he does not think there is anything wrong about it. He writes in his diary: ‘I am sure he would have preferred that I, rather than another, should do so.’

On 29 April 1916 after a siege of 147 days, the British surrendered. 13,000 Allied soldiers were taken prisoner and then marched under Ottoman guard, first to Baghdad, then on to Samarra and Mosul before being forced to trek west across the desert to Constantinople. 70% of the British and 50% of the Indian troops died of hunger or disease or were killed their Ottoman guards during the long march. (However, the British General, Charles Townshend,  himself was taken by the Turks to the island of Halki on the Sea of Marmara, where he sat out the war in luxury.)

Drawing upon Mousley’s written record, Englund writes::

The march has been terrible … and they are leaving a trail of sick and dying men, collapsed mules and discarded equipment along the way. Corpses, dried and shrivelled by the burning sun, mark out the trail of those who preceded them. Meanwhile their progress is also being shadowed by armed Arabs, waiting to plunder and kill those who fall by the wayside. They have been tormented by sandstorm, heat, hunger and, worst of all, thirst. They have survived on figs, black bread, tea and, in particular, raisins – all bought at excessive prices in the places they have passed through. Like everyone else, Mousley has more or less lost all sense of time. ‘I knew two seasons only,’ he writes in his diary, ‘when we walked and when we did not.’ He is weak and feverish. He has lost almost two stone in weight, has severe stomach problems and his eyes are painful.

Toby Dodge, by the way, doesn’t give much credence to the argument that the source of Iraq’s present-day woes lies in ‘the false states created by the nefarious European powers’ at the end of WW1.  He argues that Isis’s expansion from Mosul into other towns and cities in northern Iraq ‘has much more to do with the profound failures of the Iraqi government and the legacy of invasion than the historical artificiality of the Iraqi state’:

Iraq’s present prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, first came to power in April 2006 in a deal brokered by the then British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Maliki’s ascendancy was an Anglo-American attempt to create a facade of democracy in the midst of a vicious post-invasion civil war. After 2006 Maliki used his power to rule in an authoritarian way, deploying a compliant judiciary and a million-strong security force to break the opposition. […] It is this failure to build a sustainable and inclusive political system after regime change in 2003 and the authoritarianism of Maliki, America’s candidate for prime minister, that explains the rise of Isis and current crisis, not the state’s supposedly “false” creation.

Dodge concludes that:

The more drastic solution of breaking up the Iraqi state – an institution that has since 1920 become the focus of a robust nationalist identity for the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis – would also not deliver stability.

But gazing on the relief from Ninevah, carved nearly 3,000 years ago, one wonders whether we may be about to see just one more example of the relentless rise and fall of empires, states and spheres of influence in this part of the world.

What’s that fluttering in a breeze?
Its just a piece of cloth
that brings a nation to its knees.

What’s that unfurling from a pole?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that makes the guts of men grow bold.

What’s that rising over a tent?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that dares the coward to relent.

What’s that flying across a field?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that will outlive the blood you bleed.

How can I possess such a cloth?
Just ask for a flag my friend.
Then bind your conscience to the end.

– ‘Flag’ by John Agard

See also

Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922

I’ve just finished reading Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance by Giles Milton.

Smyrna had had a Greek population since about 1000 b.c. It was one of the cities which claimed to be the birthplace of Homer. For centuries, as part of the Ottoman Empire, it was a prosperous trading port, and by the end of the 19th century had grown into a rich and cosmopolitan citywith large Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities. One of Milton’s striking pieces of evidence for this: there were 11 Greek newspapers available in the city, as well as seven in Turkish, five in Armenian, four in French and five in Hebrew.

The city was home to a number of fabulously rich Anglo-Levantine merchant families – the Whittalls, Girauds and Woods –  and it is largely through their stories that Milton recreates the tragedy of the city as a whole. The Girauds owned the Oriental Carpet Manufacturing Company, which employed 150,000 people, while the Whittalls controlled an even larger fruit exporting empire.

One of the first Christian communities in the world and one of the few places to escape the 1915 Armenian genocide, Smyrna still retained its ancient cosmopolitan character at the end of World War 1. However, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece occupied Smyrna and the surrounding region in 1919, encouraged by the Allies, and in particular Lloyd-George, to protect western oil interests – and a Greek-Turkish war began. Milton narrates these developments in a clear and balanced way,  weaving in the personal recollections he has gathered from interviews and memoirs.

When the Turks entered the city on September 9, few guessed the scale of the horrors that would be meted out on the city. Estimates vary but some suggest that  100,000 people were killed, with many times that number turned into homeless refugees. There was a large ethnic Greek population living in the area occupied and it was these who suffered terribly when the Greek army was routed, defeated by Kemal Ataturk, Turkish nationalist leader and founder of modern Turkey. His troops slaughtered the Greek and Armenian population, and burnt the Greek and Armenian part of the city.

Then suddenly, in 1922, Smyrna was snuffed out in a single week of mass-murder, rape, looting, pillage and one of the greatest acts of arson in the 20th century. At the end of it, the New York Times ran the headline: “Smyrna wiped out.”  The chapters recounting the events of the days during which the city burned are filled with vivid depictions of terrible atrocities that are as difficult to read or comprehend as Holocaust accounts.

The Great Fire of Smyrna destroyed much of the city in September 1922. It occurred four days after the Turkish forces regained control of the city thus effectively ending the Greek -Turkish War. Milton provides convincing evidence that it was Kemal Ataturk’s nationalist troops who brought in thousands of barrels from the Petroleum Company of Smyrna and poured them over the streets and houses of all but the Turkish quarter. Moreover, he argues, it was done with the full approval of Ataturk, who was determined to find a final solution to his ‘minority problem’ to ensure the future stability of his fledgling Turkish republic.

This is the story told by Giles Milton, in a book that constitutes gripping and well-written history. I would have been interested to read more about the city in its golden heyday – and more about the lives of its ordinary citizens, particularly those of the impoverished Turkish community. But theirs are lives that go largely unrecorded, unlike the rich Levantines and Americans whose stories provide the backbone of this book.

No-one comes out of this story well: neither the Greeks with their ill-advised occupation and dreams of the Great Idea of a Greek Empire in Anatolia; nor  Lloyd George, whose naive politics worsened the situation; nor the Turks (troops or irregulars) pouring petrol to start the fires; nor the commanders of the Allied warships in the harbour who refused to do anything to save the thousands starving on the quayside (the British poured boiling water on desperate refugees who swam up to their vessels).

But there is one inspiring story that Milton records. As the city burns and half a million refugees huddle on the quayside in desperate straits, facing death by fire and suffocation or at the hands of rampaging Turkish troops and irregulars, one man, in Milton’s words, ‘would lead what must rank as the most extraordinary rescue operation of the entire twentieth century’. Asa Jennings was an employee of Smyrna’s YMCA, a Methodist minister from New York who had only been in the job for a few weeks. But, as Milton recounts, he engages in a determined bid to rescue as many of the refugees as he can. He negotiates with high-ranking French, American and Turkish representatives in a successful bid to utilize some of the multitude of ships moored offshore to transport the refugees away from the city.

Among the Greeks forced to flee were the family of the Greek poet George Seferis,who was studying law at the Sorbonne in September 1922 when Smyrna was recaptured by the Turks and its Greek population fled. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950; a recurrent theme in his poetry is exile and nostalgia for the Mediterranean and his birthplace, Smyrna.

Just as if one night
you happened to enter
the city that reared you,
and later they razed it to the ground and rebuilt it,
and you struggle to transpose older times
to recognize again…

The evil has been committed; the significant question is who will redeem the evil. Notebooks, 1950

The houses I had they took away from me. The times
happened to be unpropitious: war, destruction, exile;
sometimes the hunter hits the migratory birds,
sometimes he doesn’t hit them. Hunting
was good in my time, many felt the pellet;
the rest circle aimlessly or go mad in the shelters.

Don’t talk to me about the nightingale or the lark
or the little wagtail
inscribing figures with his tail in the light;
I don’t know much about houses
I know they have their own nature, nothing else.
New at first, like babies
who play in gardens with the tassels of the sun,
they embroider coloured shutters and shining doors
over the day.
When the architect’s finished, they change,
they frown or smile or even grow stubborn
with those who stayed behind, with those who went away
with others who’d come back if they could
or others who disappeared, now that the world’s become
an endless hotel.

I don’t know much about houses,
I remember their joy and their sorrow
sometimes, when I stop to think;
sometimes, near the sea, in naked rooms
with a single iron bed and nothing of my own,
watching the evening spider, I imagine
that someone is getting ready to come, that they dress
him up
in white and black robes, with many-coloured jewels,
and around him venerable ladies,
gray hair and dark lace shawls, talk softly,
that he is getting ready to come and say goodbye to me;
or that a woman — eyelashes quivering, slim-waisted,
returning from southern ports,
Smyrna Rhodes Syracuse Alexandria,
from cities closed like hot shutters,
with perfume of golden fruit and herbs —
climbs the stairs without seeing
those who’ve fallen asleep under the stairs.

Houses, you know, grow stubborn easily when you strip
them bare.

The House Near the Sea, 1946

In 1963 Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  In his acceptance speech he said:

The behaviour of human beings does not seem to have changed [since the ancient Greek dramas]. And I should add that today we need to listen to that human voice which we call poetry, that voice which is constantly in danger of being extinguished through lack of love, but is always reborn. Threatened, it has always found a refuge; denied, it has always instinctively taken root again in unexpected places. It recognizes no small nor large parts of the world; its place is in the hearts of men the world over. It has the charm of escaping from the vicious circle of custom. ..

In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him. When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: ‘Man’. That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.