Kimon Friar Remembered

by Christopher Xeneopoulos Janus


KIMON FRIAR, SCHOLAR, POET AND UNRIVALED TRANSLATOR, IS best known for his superb translation of Nikos Kazantakis' THE ODYSSEY: A MODERN SEQUEL which critics including Will Durant, Mary Renault and Sir Maurice Bowra have acclaimed as "a work of art, a masterpiece", and his editorship of GREEK HERITAGE (An American Quarterly of Greek Culture) which I first published nearly 40 years ago. Kimon Friar was not the founder of GREEK HERITAGE but he deserves the credit for helping to make it, what many critics recognize as one of the best and most beautiful publications of its kind ever published on Greek culture. With a score of

admiring friends and supporters we are now planning for the revival of GREEK HERITAGE and our first priority is to find another Kimon Friar to edit it, but so far we have not been very successful.

A third splendid achievement of Kimon Friar, which was 25 years in the making, is his book of MODERN GREEK POETRY which contains over 450 poems in translation from the work of thirty Greek poets from Cavafy to Elytis. It is indeed the superb work of a man who was as much of a poet himself as he was a translator.

More than this, Friar created a work of outstanding scholarship for his notes, his commentaries and his remarkable preface on modern Greek poets.

I particularly liked his general observation on poetry and translations:

"It is vain to insist, like Robert Frost, that poetry is that which is lost in translation. The hyperbole of this statement simply draws attention to the difficulty of a task which confronts both original poet and his interpreter, for both are translators.

The poet is possessed by a vision, an inspiration, a complexity of thought and emotion, which he must then try to embody in words, sounds, cadences, images and rhythm. The poet cannot hope to present his vision intact. Just as a translator cannot hope to present the poet's work unaltered, we must not lament, therefore, that translations are betrayals of the original poem. A fine translation not only reshapes the body of the work, striving to attain to a reasonable and recognizable likeness. It does much more. It infuses new life into the body by injecting into it the warm, living blood of his own time, place and language."

Let us now take a look at some of Friar's translations of the Greek poets and note that more than one critic who has read both the original poem and the translation has observed that Friar's translation is sometimes more of a masterpiece and a work of art than the original poem itself:

Ithaca
by Constantine Cavafy

When you set out on the voyage to Ithaca
pray that your journey may be long,
that many may those summer mornings be
when with what pleasure, what untold delight
you enter harbors you've not seen before,
that you stop at Phoenician market places
to procure the goodly merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and voluptuous perfumes as you can
that you venture on to many Egyptian cities
to learn and yet again to learn from the sages.

But you must always keep Ithaca in mind.
The arrival; there is your predestination.
Yet do not by any means hasten your voyage.
Let it best endure for many years,
until grown old at length you anchor at your island
rich with all you have acquired on the way.
You never hoped that Ithaca would give you riches.

Ithaca has given you the lovely voyage.
Without her you would not have ventured on the way.
She has nothing more to give you now.
Poor though you may find her, Ithaca has not deceived
you.
Now that you have become so wise, so full of experience,
you will have understood the meaning of an Ithaca.

The Death of Odysseus
by Nikos Kazantzakis

Erect by his mid-mast amid the clustered grapes,
the prodigal son now heard the song of all return
and his eyes cleansed and emptied, his full heart grew
light,
for Life and Death were songs, his mind the singing bird.
He cast his eyes about him slowly clenched his teeth,
then thrust his hands in pomegranates, figs and grapes

Until the twelve gods round his dark loins
were refreshed.

All the great body of the world-roamer turned to mist,
and slowly his snow-ship, his memory, fruit, and friends
drifted like fog far down the sea, vanished like dew.
Then flesh dissolved, glances congealed, the heart's pulse
stopped,

and the great mind leapt to the peak of its holy freedom,
fluttered with empty wings, then upright through the air
soared high and freed itself from its last cage, its freedom.
All things like frail mist scattered till but one brave cry
for a brief moment hung in the calm benighted waters:

"Forward, my lads, sail on, for Death's breeze blows in a
fair wind!"

In the Manner of G.S.
b
y George Seferis

No matter where I travel, Greece wounds me still.

On Mt. Pelion amid the chestnut trees the shirt of the
Centaur

slid among leaves to wind about my body
as I mounted the slope and the sea followed me
mounting also like mercury in a thermometer
until we came on mountain waters.
In Santorini as I touched the sinking islands
and heard a flute play somewhere on the pumice stone
an arrow suddenly flung
from the confines of a vanished youth
nailed my hand to the gunwale.
At Mycenae I lifted the huge stones and the treasures of
the Atridae
and slept beside them at the inn of The Beautiful Helen of
Menelaus
they vanished only at dawn when Cassandra crowed
with a-cock hanging down her black throat.

Laconic
by Odysseus Elytis

Ardor for death so enflamed me that my radiance returned
to the sun,
And it sends me back into the perfect syntax of stone and
air.
Well then, he whom I sought I am.
0 flaxen summer, prudent autumn,
Slightest winter,
Life pays the obol of an olive leaf
And in a night of fools once again confirms with a small
cricket
The lawfulness of the Unhoped-for.



(Posting date 29 August 2006)

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