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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


The Oxopetra Elegies
West of Sorrow

Odysseas Elytis

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To purchase The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow

Title: The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow
Author: Odysseas Elytis
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1991/1995 (Eng. (2014))
Length: 130 pages
Original in: Greek
Availability: The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow - US
The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow - UK
The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow - Canada
The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow - India
Oxópetra / Westlich der Trauer - Deutschland
  • Greek titles: Τα ελεγεία της οξώπετρας and Δυτικά της λύπης
  • This is a bilingual edition
  • Translated and with an Introduction by David Connolly

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Our Assessment:

(-) : demanding and often confounding, despite considerable supporting material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS* . 30/5/1997 JS

* review of an earlier edition

  From the Reviews:
  • "David Connolly makes a competent attempt at Elytisís late sequence, The Oxopetra Elegies; but he handicaps himself by choosing to adopt, at the poetís insistence, "as close a correspondence as possible ... to the original word or phrasal unit", in preference to what he calls the "re-creation" approach to translation. (...) At other times, the originalís remorseless accumulation of adjectives and subordinate clauses causes a linguistic pile-up" - JS, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       This volume from the Harvard Early Modern and Modern Greek Library-series presents two late collections by 1979 Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis, The Oxopetra Elegies (1991) and West of Sorrow (1995). About half the book is devoted to translator David Connolly's helpful but distinctly scholarly Introduction, which also provides useful insight into his approach to translating these works. Both collections are then helpfully presented with the Greek original facing the English renderings; there are also some endnotes and an Appendix offering a fairly detailed biographical Elytis-chronology.
       Elytis' work is, to put it mildly, challenging, and Connolly's Introduction already hints at much of that -- and then admits it outright:

By contrast, however, with The Oxopetra Elegies, the language of West of Sorrow is even more dense and opaque, the syntax more complex and the diction even less reader-friendly. [...] This is the Greek language stretched to its limits (and sometimes beyond) and virtually impossible to convey in English with its far more rigid grammatical and syntactical patterns.
       'The Obscure Verb' (from The Oxopetra Elegies), one of the more approachable and successful poems, suggests some of this, beginning:
I am of another language, sadly, and of the Secret Sun so
Those unaware of celestial matters know me not.
       Readers can at least readily relate to that .....
       Elsewhere, Connolly struggles mightily to pack in and replicate both form and content of the original:
              Boundless too the garden where just
Parted from (before disguised again it touches me)
Death, I played and everything came easily to my reach.

Such a sea-horse that ! And plish the bubble's bursting !
The blackberry's tiny steamboat in the deep currents
Of the leafage ! And the foremost full of flags !
       Some of the endnotes help -- explaining 'snap' as his choice for γὰβ, "the sound of the dog's bark and bite", for example, in:
Snap love; snap rejection; snap Mary and the
Magi's Adoration; snap all your belongings
Born ? Place ? Year ? Faith ? Blank.
       Nevertheless, there's a density to the language and concepts here that could have done with even more annotation.
       Despite Connolly's warnings that the language of West of Sorrow is even more opaque, some of the most satisfying bits are found in these poems -- including the part from 'The Marble Table' that gives the small collection its title:
West of sorrow the weave of all meanings is constantly
Completed; without it being granted to anyone ever
To decipher the writings of just one dream guide
       And it does close nicely, with 'As Endymion', which ends:
              Poetry alone is
What remains. Poetry. Just and substantial and straight
As the first couple might perhaps have imagined it
Just in the garden's sourness and by the clock infallible.
       This volume is a scholarly edition, and while it offers the reader who has no Greek an introduction to Elytis' late work it may well be a too daunting one. My own Greek is limited to classical basics, but at least I can 'read' the original and make some sense of the sound and feel of the original, if not much of the meaning; I hazard that readers with no access to the original are likely to be too easily defeated by the English renderings alone, despite Connolly's efforts and explanations.
       This is poetry that is difficult and dense and abstruse, and most readers likely need more support to gain access to it than can be found here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 April 2014

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The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow: Reviews: Odysseas Elytis: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greek poet Odysseas Elytis (Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in literature. He lived 1911 to 1996.

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© 2014 the complete review

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