A Translation of “By the Seashore” or “Denial ” Poem by George Seferis

“By the Seashore” or “Denial “ by George Seferis

George Seferis ( Georgios Seferiadis ) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963 for his poetic work and is regarded as one of the major Greek modern poets. He was born near Smyrna in 1900. A stern career diplomat and Greek public servant who travelled extensively, his diplomatic career extended through the  turbulent and challenging times of the Second World War. Seferis was ever the consummate poet. The major themes of his work included, among others, alienation, wandering, and death. Probably one of his most famous poems, was commonly known as”By the Seashore” or “Denial ” in many English poetry translations. This poem practically became a popular anthem for Greece when it was put to music by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis of “Zorba the Greek” fame, the composer and/or  arranger of the soundtrack for the movie that was based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel.

At Seferis’ passing on September 20 th 1971, thousands attended his funeral procession and repeatedly sang in unison the words of this poem to the music of Theodorakis all the way to his final resting place. 

As a Canadian Greek, and a son of Greek immigrant parents who came to Canada, a country seen as the great hope by many immigrants, I have a strong personal connection to this poem and especially now given the current challenging times and trials that Greece and other European countries are experiencing. Once again an exodus of many Greeks is happening, as it happened in the past in the  30’s 40’s and 50’s. At some point and in many ways, we are all immigrants who experience alienation and a wandering in the foreign places of our lives, that become our future homes.

 I have taken some translation and poetic license liberties with Seferis’ poem which I hope may better convey its’ feeling and emotion.
A video of the actual music and lyrics follows.  I have tried to follow in the  translation, the cadence of the lyrics of the song as closely as possible. Hope you enjoy it .

A translation of George Sefereis’ Poem By PWChaltas

“By the Seashore” or “Denial”

By the secret seashore so sweet and small
and so white as the wings of a dove in flight,
we thirsted  at midday,
but the water was undrinkable.
By the seashore we thirsted at midday, but the water was undrinkable.
On the blonde sand we traced and wrote her name.
Beautifully the gentle sea breeze blew
across the grains of sand,
and her name all but disappeared.

Beautiful breeze you blew and erased
all the traces of her lovely name .
With what heart
and with what breath
and with what great desire and pathos did we live and take our lives in so much error.
And so we changed our lives and changed our paths .
We lived and took our lives in error,
and so we changed our lives and paths and parted ways.

5 thoughts on “A Translation of “By the Seashore” or “Denial ” Poem by George Seferis

  1. The poem does not say “”We lived and took our lives in error”. Pay attention to the punctuation!
    There is a semi-colon before the ”error”… And your inaccurate reading has altered the intended meaning. Something much more nuanced and complex exists there.

    The original Seferis poem goes:
    “Mε τι καρδιά, με τι πνοή, τι πόθους και τι πάθος, πήραμε τη ζωή μας· λάθος! κι αλλάξαμε ζωή.”

    Or, in translation:
    With what spirit, what heart,
    what desire and passion
    we lived our life; a mistake!
    So we changed our life.

    • Yes I mentioned in my text before the translation that I’ve taken certain poetic licence with the poem to convey what I think the meaning behind it may be. Every translation is a bit of a re-creation and interpretation. I would welcome your interpretation as well.

      • this “misinterpretation ” was actually the poet’s problem as well….not just your loving transaltors licence” he hated that it was learned that way by the peopl….till someone w a bit of distance to the minute sensitivies of a great poet reminded him……….”Goerge the whole damn country is singing your poem.” ha.
        anna paidoussi…….daughter of immigrants

  2. Thank you for translating this beautiful poem so that those of us who love Greece but do not speak Greek can understand the song!

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