Vassilios Letsios: The ghost behind the arras. Transformations of the ‘political verse’ in twentieth-century Greek poetry

Vassilios Letsios, The ghost behind the arras. Transformations of the ‘political verse’ in twentieth-century Greek poetry, Scholars’ Press 2013 (ISBN: 978-3-639-51144-4).


The title of this study, ‘the ghost behind the arras’, adapts Eliot’s metaphor (1917) for the latent presence of metre in free verse-poetry. In the work of nine major twentieth-century Greek poets, the predominant Modern Greek verse form, the ‘political verse’ (politikos stichos) can be seen as ‘the ghost behind the arras’. This study examines in some detail the ways in which each of these poets appropriates the inherited metre in new contexts and asks what they contribute to the understanding of each poet’s poetics. It is argued that the most dominant ‘ghost’ is Palamas’ Η φλογέρα του βασιλιά (1910), which mirrors the poets’ attempts to communicate their response to the demise of the ‘Great Idea’; but the latent appearances of the political verse in twentieth-century Greek poetry have many other dimensions as well.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Palamas and Sikelianos abolish the caesura of the political verse. Cavafy, however, represents a significant departure from his illustrious predecessors: he ruptures the customary lineation and emphasises the creative potential of the inherited metre. In the 1930s, the political verse becomes an important channel for the ways in which Seferis, Embiricos and Elytis develop a Modernist relation with the tradition of the political verse. In the 1940s, by contrast, the political verse in Gatsos, Elytis and Ritsos develops an untraditional notion of patriotism, which is variously reappropriated by Seferis and Embiricos in the 1950s and 1960s and undermined by Sachtouris and Mastoraki in their attempt to mutilate old notions of the heroic. Finally, in the 1990s, and in the light of a wider revival of metrical forms, the political verse takes on the guise of revenant in Ganas’ poetry.

This study, therefore, sets out to examine transformations of the political verse in twentieth-century Greek poetry of the free-verse era. In particular, it aims to develop the investigation of the oft-ignored preoccupations and affinities between poets and the tradition of the political verse and to provide a more comprehensive assessment of the importance of the inherited metre in the shaping of twentieth-century Greek poetics.


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