Miltos Sachtouris (1919-2005) was one of the twentieth century’s foremost poets in Greece, but, unlike other Greek poets such as George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, he has been slow to receive world recognition. Karen Emmerich’s new translation into English of poems mainly from the middle period of Sachtouris’s long career promises to rectify this. Sachtouris is a political poet, one of the most stalwart opponents of the Greek dictatorship of 1967-1974. Poems like “History” show the individual struggling to escape the terror wrought by political authority. Sachtouris’s rejoinder is a celebration of the full panoply of existence. He takes a quirky delight in the incongruities of life. In “Harmony,” Sachtouris pictures boats and trees as being as dissatisfied with their identities as most humans are. His most famous poem, “The Crazy Hare,” summons a hare running through the street as a spectre of death. Often, Sachtouris’s vistas are apocalyptic. “Hidden” imagines transcendence exploding from within death and triumphing over it. “The Gold” uses the image of a blue cart against a field of gold to picture the earth’s eventual destruction by the exploding sun. “The Sun Beautiful One Day,” on the same theme of the blowing-up of the sun, deploys an unusual combination of surreal, spontaneous poetics with a discipline that presents clear, resonant images in short, almost severe forms. It is rare that a Sachtouris poem occupies over a page.
Sachtouris, though, is not just an imagist or a poet of the object. In “The Fever of Joy” he describes passionate joy with the specificity usually associated with an outward referent. A great admirer of Dylan Thomas, Sachtouris’s language is not as flamboyant as the Welsh poet’s. But in poems like “The Wounded Spring,” he evinces a similar sensitivity to both the healing and the pain that are part of life.