George Seferis

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George Seferis

George (Giorgos) Seferis (Γιώργος Σεφέρης) (February 19, 1900September 20, 1971) was one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th century. He also pursued a career in the Greek foreign service, culminating in his appointment as Ambassador to the UK, a post which he held from 1957 to 1962.

'Seferis' was a pen name, a variation on his family name, Seferiadis, which makes reference to the Turkish word meaning journey (from which the English word 'safari' is derived). He continued to use 'Seferiadis' in his professional life.


The poet with his spouse, Maro

Seferis was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor (now İzmir, Turkey). His father, Stelios Seferiadis, was a lawyer, and later a professor at the University of Athens, as well as a poet and translator in his own right. He was also a staunch Venizelist and a supporter of the demotic Greek language over the formal, official language (katharevousa). Both of these attitudes influenced his son. In 1914 the family moved to Athens, where Seferis completed his secondary school education. He continued his studies in Paris from 1918 to 1925, studying law at the Sorbonne. While he was there, in September 1922, Smyrna was occupied by the Turks and its Greek population, including Seferis' family, fled. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950; the sense of being an exile from his childhood home would inform much of Seferis' poetry, showing itself particularly in his interest in the story of Odysseus.

Married Maria Zannou ('Maro') on 10th April 1941.

In exile with the Greek government in Egypt and South Africa during the Second World War.

Seferis was greatly influenced by Kavafis, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.


Seferis first visited Cyprus in 1952. He immediately fell in love with the island, partly because of its resemblance, in its landscape, the mixture of populations, and in its traditions, to his childhood summer home in Skala. His book of poems Imerologio Katastromatos III was inspired by the island, and mostly written there – bringing to an end a period of six or seven years in which Seferis had not produced any poetry. Its original title was Cyprus, where it was ordained for me…, a quotation from EuripidesHelen, in which Helen’s brother Teucer states that Apollo has decreed that Cyprus shall be his home; it made clear the optimistic sense of homecoming Seferis felt on discovering the island. Seferis changed the title in the 1959 edition of his poems.

Politically, Cyprus was entangled in the dispute between the UK, Greece and Turkey over its international status. Over the next few years, Seferis made use of his position in the diplomatic service to strive towards a resolution of the Cyprus dispute, investing a great deal of personal effort and emotion. This was one of the few areas in his life in which he allowed the personal and the political to mix.

The Nobel Prize

In a 1963 photograph

In 1963, Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture." [[1]] Seferis was the first Greek to receive the prize (and the only, until Odysseus Elytis became a Nobel laureate in 1979). His nationality, and the role he had played in the 20th century renaissance of Greek literature and culture, were probably a large contributing factor to the award decision. But in his acceptance speech, Seferis chose to emphasise his own humanist philosophy, concluding: "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." [[2]] While Seferis has sometimes been considered a nationalist poet, his 'Hellenism' had more to do with his identifying a unifying strand of humanism in the continuity of Greek culture and literature.

Statement of 1969

In 1967 the repressive nationalist, right-wing Regime of the Colonels took power in Greece after a coup d'état. After two years marked by widespread censorship, political detentions and torture, Seferis took a stand against the regime. On 28 March 1969, he made a statement on the BBC World Service [3], with copies simultaneously distributed to every newspaper in Athens. In authoritative and absolute terms, he stated "This anomaly must end".

Seferis did not live to see the end of the junta in 1974, the direct result of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, which had been prompted by the junta’s attempt to overthrow Cyprus’ Archbishop Makarios.

At his funeral, huge crowds followed his coffin through the streets of Athens, singing Mikis Theodorakis’ setting of Seferis’ poem 'Denial' (then banned); he had become a popular hero for his resistance to the regime.


In 1999, there was a dispute over the naming of a street in Ízmir Yorgos Seferis Sokagi (a Turkification of Giorgos Seferis), due to continuing ill-feeling around the Greco-Turkish War in the 1920s.




  • Dokimes (Essays) 3 vols. (vols 1-2, 3rd ed. (ed. G.P. Savidis) 1974, vol 3 (ed. Dimitri Daskalopoulos) 1992)
  • Antigrafes (Translations) (1965)
  • Meres (Days – diaries) (7 vols., 1975-1990)

English translations

  • Complete Poems trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. (1995) London: Anvil Press Poetry. ISBN
  • A Poet's Journal: Days of 1945-1951 trans. Athan Anagnostopoulos. (1975) London: Harvard University Press. ISBN
  • On the Greek Style trans. Rex Warner and Th.D. Frangopoulos. (1966) London: Bodley Head.


  • Beaton, Roderick (2003). George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel - A Biography. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10135-X.
  • Tsatsos, Ioanna, Demos Jean (trans.) (1982). My Brother George Seferis. Minneapolis, Minn.: North Central Publishing.

External links