The King of Asini

By George Seferis 1900–1971 George Seferis

Translated By Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

’Ασíνην τε. . . — Iliad

All morning long we looked around the citadel
starting from the shaded side there where the sea
green and without lustre — breast of a slain peacock —
received us like time without an opening in it.
Veins of rock dropped down from high above,
twisted vines, naked, many-branched, coming alive
at the water’s touch, while the eye following them
struggled to escape the monotonous see-saw motion,
growing weaker and weaker.

On the sunny side a long empty beach
and the light striking diamonds on the huge walls.
No living thing, the wild doves gone
and the king of Asini, whom we’ve been trying to find for two years now,
unknown, forgotten by all, even by Homer,
only one word in the Iliad and that uncertain,
thrown here like the gold burial mask.
You touched it, remember its sound? Hollow in the light
like a dry jar in dug earth:
the same sound that our oars make in the sea.
The king of Asini a void under the mask
everywhere with us everywhere with us, under a name:
‘’Ασíνην τε. . .’Ασíνην τε. . .’
                                          and his children statues
and his desires the fluttering of birds, and the wind
in the gaps between his thoughts, and his ships
anchored in a vanished port:
under the mask a void.

Behind the large eyes the curved lips the curls
carved in relief on the gold cover of our existence
a dark spot that you see travelling like a fish
in the dawn calm of the sea:
a void everywhere with us.
And the bird, a wing broken,
that flew away last winter
— tabernacle of life —
and the young woman who left to play
with the dog-teeth of summer
and the soul that sought the lower world gibbering
and the country like a large plane-leaf swept along by the torrent of the sun
with the ancient monuments and the contemporary sorrow.

And the poet lingers, looking at the stones, and asks himself
does there really exist
among these ruined lines, edges, points, hollows and curves
does there really exist
here where one meets the path of rain, wind and ruin
does there exist the movement of the face, shape of the tenderness
of those who’ve waned so strangely in our lives,
those who remained the shadow of waves and thoughts with the sea’s boundlessness
or perhaps no, nothing is left but the weight
the nostalgia for the weight of a living existence
there where we now remain unsubstantial, bending
like the branches of a terrible willow tree heaped in unremitting despair
while the yellow current slowly carries down rushes uprooted in the mud
image of a form that the sentence to everlasting bitterness has turned to stone:
the poet a void.

Shieldbearer, the sun climbed warring,
and from the depths of the cave a startled bat
hit the light as an arrow hits a shield:
‘’Ασíνην τε. . .’Ασíνην τε. . .’. If only that could be the king of Asini
we’ve been searching for so carefully on this acropolis
sometimes touching with our fingers his touch upon the stones.

                                                      Asini, summer ’38—Athens, Jan. ’40

George Seferis, "THe King of Asini" from Collected Poems (George Seferis). Translated, edited, and introduced by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Copyright © 1995 by George Seferis.  Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

Source: George Seferis: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1995)

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Poet George Seferis 1900–1971


Subjects Death, Relationships, Time & Brevity, Heroes & Patriotism, Living, Mythology & Folklore

 George  Seferis


Greek poet George Seferis was born Georgios Seferiades in Urla, near Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). He worked as a diplomat for the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963. His collections of poetry include Strophe (Turning Point, 1931), E Sterna (The Cistern, 1932), Mythistorima (1935), and Logbook I, Logbook II, and Logbook III (1940, 1945, 1955). In 1914, Seferis and his family . . .

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SUBJECT Death, Relationships, Time & Brevity, Heroes & Patriotism, Living, Mythology & Folklore


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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