Arcadian poplars

I got a mail from Arcadia. I know it sounds like getting a parcel from Atlantis or a commercial sample from the Silk Road. But I really got a mail from Arcadia. Poly has sent an Easter greeting from the mount of Maenalus where the god Pan and the nymphs used to live surrounded by the pastoral poets of the eclogues until on the very first Easter – if we are to believe  to Plutarch and Eusebius – it was announced on the island of Paxos: “the great Pan is dead!”

The mail reminded me of this picture that I have kept for a long time. Poplars bordering the road to mount Maenalus, a photo by Nikolaos Frestis. I saved it back then because it has recalled a poem of Kostas Karyotakis. Karyotakis was literally an Arcadian poet, he was born just some miles away in Tripoli, in 1896. These three stanzas of his “Στροφές” – “Strophes” comprising ten impressionistic sketches were set to music by Photis Ionatos.

Photis Ionatos: Strophes, on Kostas Karyotakis’ Στροφές. From the CD Ithaque (1988).

Τι χάνω εγώ τις μέρες μου
τη μία κοντά στην άλλη,
κι όπως μου ασπρίζουν τα μαλλιά
ξινίζει το κρασί,
αφού μονάχα όταν περνώ
το βλέμμα από κρουστάλλι,
με νέα ρετσίνα ολόγεμο,
βλέπω τη ζωή χρυσή;

Η νύχτα μας εχώρισεν
από όσους αγαπάμε
πριν μας χωρίσει η ξενιτιά.
(Να 'ναι όλοι εκεί στο μόλο;)
Σφύρα, καράβι αργήσαμε.
κι αν φτάσουμε όπου πάμε,
στάσου για λίγο, μα ύστερα
σφύρα να φεύγουμε όλο.

Λεύκες, γιγάντοι καρφωτοί
στα πλάγια εδώ του δρόμου,
δέντρα μου, εστέρξατε ο βοριάς
τα φύλλα σας να πάρει.
Σκιές εμείνατε σκιών
που ρέουν στο μέτωπό μου,
καθώς πηγαίνω χάμου εγώ
κι απάνω το φεγγάρι.
How my days are getting lost
one after the other
as my hair is growing white
and the wine gets bitter:
only when I glimpse
through the glass
full of new retsina
I can see the golden life.

Night has already separated us
from everyone we loved
even before exile separates us.
Will they all be there on the shore?
Whistle, ship, we are late
and when we arrive to our goal
wait a little, and for a last time
whistle so we all go ashore.

Poplars, giants nailed here
to the border of the road
my saplings, you have let the northern
wind to take your leaves away
shadows of shadows you’ve become
that fall on my forehead
as I am making my way here below
and the moon his one up there.

Lajos Vajda: Masque with moon, 1938

Et ego in Arcadia, I could quote the painting of Poussin, I also live in Arcadia, I also have my saplings, the long row of giant poplars bordering the garden like a wall. In the twilight I come up from the garden under them, and in the night I see from my desk the moon passing between them above the forest. At these times, I often recall this poem of Karyotakis.

I greeted them with this poem when we came here for the first time, fifteen years ago. Then they were thirty: now they are sixteen. Trees are having bad times lately. Forests are cut down, the water of the brook is being polluted. The empty places among the poplars growing in number from year to year also recall the other meaning of Poussin’s motto: et in Arcadia ego, even in Arcadia I exist – Death, I mean. From year to year I understand more of this poem.

Van Gogh: Starry night, 1889

5 comentarios:

Ellen dijo...

See Panovsky's wonderful essay "Poussin and the Elegaic Tradition" in Meaning in the Visual Arts. More here:, "Thus Poussin himself, while making no verbal change in the inscription, invites, almost compels, the beholder to mis-translate it by relating the ego to a dead person instead of to the tomb, by connecting the et with ego instead of with Arcadia, and by supplying the missing verb in the form of a vixi or fui instead of a sum. The development of his pictorial vision had outgrown the significance of the literary formula, and we may say that those who under the impact of the Louvre picture, decided to render the phrase Et in Arcadia ego as "I, too, lived in Arcady," rather than as "Even in Arcady, there am I," did violence to Latin grammar but justice to the new meaning of Poussin's composition."

And the result, "Poussin's Louvre picture no longer shows a dramatic encounter with Death but a contemplative absorption in the idea of mortality. We are confronted with a change from thinly veiled moralism to undisguised elegiac sentiment."

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you for the full quotation, Ellen! Yes, this beautiful essay was the first one I read by Panofsky back at the university, at the beginning of my studies of art history, and the one that turned me towards Renaissance iconography. My play with the double meaning of the motto was intended as a homage to this essay.

Julia dijo...

Me encantó el post. Sólo eso.
"La noche ya nos ha separado" hace más horas en aquel extremo que en éste. Así que me voy a la cama con el sabor agridulce de estas palabras e imágenes. ¡Buenas noches!

Πόλυ Χατζημανωλάκη dijo...

I have posted this link on my profile in Facebook, to share with my “bodiless” friends.

Some time in the afternoon, yesterday, I had uploaded in there some photos of ‘small green trees’ of the Arcadian forest, just like the small green tree in the poem of Vasco Popa. What a surprise it was to see your new post with the Arcadian landscape and the poplars…

You live indeed in Arcadia. Not only because you have your saplings and your garden and you can contemplate the moon between them, but because you remember verses in the process, because it is the world within you that is so rich that gives life to the world outside, which otherwise would be a desert.
This is because you carry Arcadia in yourself (paraphrasing Ithaca of K. P. Cavafy)
I am so happy and thankful that the Easter wishes in my comment and Arcadia of our Easter Holidays were the inspiration of such a synthesis from Plutarch and Eusebius (and Alcman in the back of our minds) to Karyotakis and the Arcadian poplars in the photo of Nikolaos Frestis and the trees of your “Arcadia”. And all this under the spell of the mysterious “Et in Arcadia Ego”
The paintings of Lajos Vajda and Van Gogh are suggesting along with the text an emotive atmosphere, an “Arcadian” background…
The post is Arcadian as I understand in a personal interpretation of the “et/ego”, in the sense that it creates an internal, a psychic space of bliss, remembrance and reflection so perfectly intertwined with the external, the garden, the trees…

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you very much, Poly, both for the inspiration and for your very kind words, and sorry for the belated answer: I have just come home after two days spent in the province at an exhibition opening of which I will write soon.

Thanks too for the beautiful reference to the verse by Kavafis. Indeed, I often recall that very verse as a kind of a personal ars poetica and a desired internal state. Our Babits (whose Book of Jonas in English I still owe to you) has also written something similar:

Nem szánom én az ostobát / kinek üres a mennyek boltja: / ki méltó látni a csodát / az a csodát magában hordja

(I do not feel sorry for the fool / for whom the heavens are empty: / who is worthy of seeing the miracle / he carries the miracle in himself)

and this is, as I feel, a feature that links together all our Arcadias.