Pétros Golítsis, The meaning of light in the work of T. Falkos – An attempt at conveying it

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The meaning of light has engrossed the interest of T. Fálkos from his very first published work, The Righteous, culminating in Light Drawings. In the past, he gathered material for a dissertation on light, which later on he abandoned for reasons unknown. During lessons, and in the course of our conversations, he stated that light had engaged people’s attention from the beginning of time. The Homeric warrior abhors the dark, and asks god to disperse the cloud that enveloped them, εν δε φάει και όλεσον, “and let me die in the light!” According to Fálkos, this phrase expresses the distinctness and the need for clarity as felt by the ancient Greeks. He also spoke to us about the significance light had on Plato, Plotinus, et al. As such, the topic is vast, and each student’s aspirations can be but limited. I shall focus my attention ⎯ though not exclusively ⎯ on Light Drawings, where Fálkos appears to have made an organized effort to record his poetic and philosophical speculations, without considering the matter closed, of course, not even as regards himself. For this reason, and not out of modesty, he names the poems in this collection “drawings”.

As he told me, he began writing some thirty poems on the subject of light. He kept these “drawings” for years in his drawers, as happens with other of Fálkos’ works. Those he had worked on and completed, went back to ten or even twenty years earlier. When he started working again on Light Drawings, “when time was ripe”, he saw that through this medium he could express to a tee the reflection and anguish of his now mature soul. So he worked heart and soul on this work, which deserves to be placed among the highest in European literature.

On the volume’s back cover, Fálkos writes: “Light Drawings constitutes a draft of the history of light from its genesis to the time of its tragic distortion.” It concerns, that is, a specifically planned synthesis. And it should be noted that Fálkos has a leaning towards more comprehensive syntheses that demand a carefully studied plan, architecture, balance, and well-nigh equal value of parts. His poems, significant on their own, acquire greater effect and merit if read in the broader context, of which they compose a part. They are much like the statues on pediments and friezes of ancient temples, which are remarkable in themselves, but attain a new importance and completeness as an entity.

The poems, arranged in three parts, betray a gradual parting from the light, which now cut off from the sources that supported it ends up being puzzling and sometimes murderous, akin to the prodigious humanitarian and religious ideas that in the hands of unworthy adherents and descendants ⎯ “perverts”, Fálkos calls them ⎯ become inhuman. In other words, it involves the tragedy of the human spirit.

In Part One of Tranquil Life the light has its original, positive value. It is the light of both natural and spiritual life, religious life, artistic life, etc. Thus, it is the light of ideas, divine light, light emitted by beauty, etc. The poems are distinguished by their inventiveness, marvellous imagery and musicality, a typical “Fálkean” beauty; and they exude well-being, joy of life, I would even say happiness, but not devoid of a slight ironic “naiveté”, if we take into account what ensues. Here, too, the philosophic strain is distinct (Landscape with Child):

Between one dark and another
a brown boat floats
on orangeish yellowness
Time, the brown child,
enjoys its drawing
its laughter lightens the boat

In this early poem Fálkos pays homage to his great teacher, Heraclitus: παις ο αιών, πεσσεύων, παιδός η βασιλεία (Time, eternity, are a child playing dice. The realm belongs to the child.). Fálkos gives the scene a personal, vividly pictorial aspect as well as other potentials, underlining the two separate darks, in between of which creation takes place (and will likely end), and the laughter that lightens the boat: a melancholic “optimistic” tone in the tragic.

Light gives beings the capability to exist (Islands):

In the ocean there are islands
buried under azure masses
And in the heart croon birds
shut inside crimson caves
In vain do they try to come out into the light
to exist

Fálkos is moving and revealing when he talks about himself (Light and Water):

I was young when I came to love the light
But how was I to compare it with the sleepless water?
I was born in the water
under clouds and air
How was I to dwell in the light?
It would have shattered me in a jiffy!
Thus I sit here and reflect the light
with my watery existence

This brings to mind that other eminent personality of the water element: Tarkovski. Only these two can create such emotive aqueous worlds, and yet so different from each other both style- and philosophic-wise.

The Heraclitean viewpoint is manifest in other of Fálkos’ poems, such as Circle:

Before becoming a clot you were light
and in time you will be radiation again
following a bright circle
of obscure meaning

So here I am
standing sad
and do nothing else but absorb the light
preparing for my final incandescence

I shall also refer to the poem Service:

At night I think of the light
Not the one that travels sullen
but that other
passing through a cloud
and enjoying being low down
now it is playing in our garden
like a divine child
Thus we forget that we serve on earth
and it in heaven

In these and other poems, the poet-cum-philosopher Fálkos remodels Heraclitus seminally, looking on him as a starting point. He relates to him from the aspect of living, enthusiasm and intensity, sometimes identifying with him and other times at variance with him. It is evident that he always maintains his autonomy and follows his own path, aided and abetted by his tragically split modern conscience. Fálkos’ main difference with Heraclitus is of an ethical nature, as he explains in Heraclitus, Preface, p.16: “Your relations with someone you love so much are often put to the test. I can well understand what he means when he says that war is the father of all, and that it sets some people free and others it enslaves. Yet another perennial truth. Life’s main characteristic is slaughter […] But those who experienced World War II and then Civil War at a tender age, those who learned about the Asia Minor disaster and the massacre of the Armenians, those who lived through the Vietnamese war and so many other cursed wars that took place during this, our wretched century, to my mind the most horrendous of all centuries, take badly the principle of this catholic war, and get wild with those who take it lying down, even heroically.”

And Fálkos continues (pp. 19-20):
“Time passes, I am growing old, and Heraclitus is always on my mind. My latest piece of writing on him points out not only to my wish but also to my inability to view the world with his eyes. Modern conscience, and I mean the conscience of those who will not leave aside whatever disturbs their peace, is tragically divided:

Heraclitus

[…] O son of the water and the light
whom thunder leads,
take a lyre and set us on fire,
us who ape man.
Show and rename things,
for only you can
get rid of that disastrous ash
amassed in our eyes.
You, enigmatic,
most pure and sad,
whose wings ignoramuses
and children wounded,
Lord of sorrow and redemption,
help us who are sunk in despair
detached from any big plans,
us outwardly drowned by the water
whereas a deadly fire
burns our bowels.”

In such a world, and for those with such a conscience, demand of justice is paramount. Let me quote the poem Light Names:

Dione Aphrodite Parthenon
Dion Elina aurora Linos
Elysium Callimachus Hellas
but first of all the Sun of Justice

Fálkos keeps on dreaming of a light as demanded by our moral nostalgia, and as a harmonious potential that occasionally occurs inside us (The Other Light):

I was dreaming of a light
immersed deep
in the silence of bowels
and illuminating the springs of sorrow
………………………………………………………..
And it advanced slowly
to the rhythm of destiny
until it reached the centre
there where everything is judged
lighted and redeemed
or is lost burdened
by the frightful light

Behind the ordinary or “psychological” light illuminating us temporarily and somewhat dubiously, there is, supposedly, a steadier light, an “authentic”, truth-revealing light that in vain do we seek, a light that brings out our deepest, our purest desires. It goes without saying that the entire idealism is based on this:

“As daylight seeped through the half-open shutters and broken Venetian blinds, it moved in swarms across my bedroom. All objects around were brightened by a light of different intensity. Sometimes they looked happy and friendly, and other times glum and threatening. This light had a frightening, unwelcome power. While playing it could transform the essence of objects! And then, where was truth to be found? Well now, beyond this nimble, transient light there must be an authentic, steady light showing the objects’ actual meaning and right dimensions! But where was this light?” (The Righteous, pp. 44-5).

What is expressed is a resolute request by a suffering and tragic man, but without declaring this light’s actual substance and gain. The same applies to the “miracle” that in vain does such a repressed conscience seek (Exhortation):

Come on, Yánnis, get a move on!
Think of the brushstroke that finished off the colour
and all forms vanished and it began blackening.
Come on, Yannis, look alive,
the mud will rise to your eyes
and should the miracle suddenly come
you shan’t be able to see it

Here Fálkos appears more optimistic and with a great sense of humour. Naturally, for one to find the “miracle” it is worthwhile looking for it via language and art, since the very effort rewards him by remodelling his inner landscape. The expression “and should the miracle suddenly come” takes you by surprise and makes you smile bitterly. Fálkos does not really believe “the miracle will come”. He relies on a faint hope or, more correctly, he has not the heart to exclude it.

In thinkers’ conscience, a conscience of our day and age but oddly enough one of all times, predominate “greyness” and “darkness”’, sorrow, mourning and anguish: “Deprived of light/and anguished in greyness” (Reciprocation); “I’ll dress in grey/I’ll be immersed in grey” (Grey). But as a result is the reaction to the concentration of this harrowing pain, and along comes a light illuminating our conscience and existence, a light that could be described as “psychological” and which, of course, is temporary. This mental mechanism is to be found in many other poems (To One Who Asks What Light Is; Reciprocation; Exhortation, et al), and it is typical of Fálkos’ mentality. I am citing hereunder the poem Pink, one of the finest in our language:

As I was thinking of the dark
and abandonment filled my mind,
the windows brought the pink colour to my office
A strange agitation overcame me
and I went out on the balcony
carmine clouds covered the sun
the horizon smouldered in amber
an expectation loomed in the air
then a cloud opened
and a column of light
grounded on the earth

The obvious magnificence of this scene induces us to mention other poems, where splendour and sacredness astonish, thus creating a climate not easily encountered even in major poets. In Portrait of a Blind Man, Fálkos creates an Oedipus different to that of Sophocles‘, a strictly “Fálkean” Oedipus:

“Your night, a light-created shade of what was once a day. The then sorrows became a perpetual embellishment in our passing fate. With ones you had moulded your peacefulness in some immeasurably old time. Ah, what Pheidias would render your primary, now outdated grief? And what Sophocles your fruitful deliverance, the time when by reason of the light’s profuseness enveloping you it was thought you would bring happiness to whoever was yours?”

I also have in mind the marvellous Metéora with their impression of eternity, as well as the futility of human works:

Among red and blue
I saw the grey giants
their faces erased by time
their hands ⎯ what more could they hold? ⎯
had fallen and turned into dust
they are standing side by side
but still alone
as if when ending a phrase
and before completing it
it is already useless

I shall concentrate and comment on the poem Form:

Where can the light be coming from that wraps it
like a secret kept from us?
Sometimes, when I’m awake at night, I see it
standing at the foot of spring
among poppies
or meandering on the shores of my desires
while looking at a seashell
always pensive
always close and distant
something alike Virgin Mary, the sea
but where from does it draw so much light?

The poem’s quiescence, motionlessness ⎯ or slow movement ⎯ and emotivity stirs us with its sacred magnificence. However, the poem is not simply a love poem in the usual sense of the word. But even as such it is a splendid poem, as is the next one, Woman Among Reeds. It does not necessarily refer to a woman. It has to do with “truth” and the significant importance of creative man’s inner landscape. Here, Fálkos once again is in accord with Tarkovski, thanks to their common trait to “create worlds” by using the aqueous element (shores, conches, Sea). In fact, the word Sea is written with a capital S. The poem’s sacredness is manifest, the eminence emitted, its aqueous element, which in Fálkos’ case bodes not the weakness of relation and understanding (from where does it draw so much light?), but the tragic anticipation of powerful events.

A man of such intellectuality and conversant with the human condition is also magnanimous in his giving (one of the shared conclusions that intellectual persons arrive at): “Here, whoever has some light/offers it in the hand.” But at the same time “for him remains that with his fingers/he held some light.”

But light, positive light, in one of its metaphorical senses, sometimes rises higher than the grandeur of art and its secrets. The painter Parásios (late 5th-early 4th century B.C), an alter ego of Fálkos’, confesses: “Colours no longer enchant me/In my mind there is only light.” It concerns a light whose nature is not defined, but doubtless it must revealing, redemptive and supernatural, one that falls in the soul like a “column of light” (Pink), thus allowing the eminent painter to place on an another footing his art that had made him famous. Having entered into such a lofty sphere, there was no need for him to paint anymore. His very soul, which had discovered light, became a “work of art”. In such an imposing environment everything falls silent, motionless in awesome sacredness.

It should be noted that in Part One of Light Drawings, Fálkos’ look is released from circumstances surrounding him (“thus we forget that we serve on earth/and it in heaven“), and with confidence he regards the world’s new mute “truth” (“here prayer falls silent/in its purest depth/and veneration is muted“). He subjects us to an awe-inspiring atmosphere that wishes to surpass the human fate of pain and death (“Don’t talk to me of fate“; and “now it is playing in our garden/like a divine child“). Occasionally the poet’s look is so remote that, as a look after things, it overcomes not only sorrow and pain, tragedy and naught, black that crushes everything, but also beauty and joy, love and ecstasy. We saw the Metéora rocks “standing side by side/but still alone/as if when ending a phrase/and before completing it/it is already useless”.

However, magnificence does not impress, is not perceptible or it goads the envy of those sinister, bigotted souls who destroyed almost completely the Greek light, the temples, the works of art, the lyricists, the one thousand three-hundred tragedies, the eight-hundred comedies, and so on, and so forth:

The light built here
stone by stone
was torn down and ruined by our forefathers
Black smoke covered the skies

And one day
a faint sunbeam
fell upon the broken marbles
bringing to light
an overwhelming beauty
as if coming from the world’s
unseen side
Then two or three people feel deeply
the bite of guilt

People guilty of umpteen crimes against humanity (since top-notch art belongs to all humanity), Fálkos sets them apart from Christ and His teachings. He considers that as we demand of the Turks to acknowledge their genocides ⎯ and for their own good, since acceptance is a step towards expiation ⎯ so the clergy should make a formal statement, admitting to the countless crimes they committed against Hellenism. In fact, in Testimonies for an Absent Friend, Fálkos is even more assertive. Guilty is not only the clergy, but the scores of doers, those indifferent and inert, as guilty of the genocides was not only Kemal Atatürk or Hitler for the holocaust. The hero in the work says (p.147): “With the import in our country of fanaticism and intolerence, we Greeks ruined whatever we could. In fact we did nothing to preserve whatever illustrious thing Greek culture had created, thus proving beyond any shadow of doubt how unworthy we were of such a heritage. Modern Greeks should lament over what their ancestors demolished, and not boast about works and civilization for which they have not a clue. In every town centre we should raise a marble wall with the names of all those whose work we diminished, and every year hold a week of mourning!”

Truly, what a heartache these words disclose, and what sense of responsibility! And yet, “only two or three people feel deeply the bite of guilt”. Even Cavafy, whose poem Ionic deals with the same subject (the rest of his poems are unrelated), makes no mention of guilty acts, but expresses a vigorous protest. Fálkos, who does not distinguish himself from others (and those before him), feels that such crimes concern him outright. Others usually write them off. They are annoyed or react badly on being reminded of them. Then again there are many who even today continue defaming the Greek spirit by “justifying” the disastrous mania of the past. Yórgos Stefanópoulos, when he was President of Greece, had requested the Archbishop of Athens to delete from the current liturgies all those anti-Greek sections. Not that he was heard, of course! At the Thessaloniki Divinity School, they speak of the Olympic Games‘ “opprobrium”, that they ought to be abolished! Curious that religious feeling, being so noble, should drift so easily into delusion and bigotry.

It should be noted that in Light Drawings, as well as in other oeuvres, the religious element is acute, and it subjects you to the weight of language and the sublimity of intellect and spirit. The examples are many and a special study of them would be worthwhile.

Fálkos is not a poet of the familiar serene and prevailing religion with faith in God. In Three Testimonies is dramatically expressed the idea that man’s impetuous and criminal nature has cut him off for good from divinity (The Font):

We were out early in the fields and waited
Apparently an angel was coming
to stir the water in the font
We waited for him mentally
stomachically intestinally
in the twilight
someone tried praying
his words fell like withered herbs
At night a hunter passed
who asked about local mice
then came the hunter’s killer
No one had seen the angel
Afterwards the sky darkened
and it started raining
the font too was flooded
the corpses came to the surface
our brows dripped poison
we were ramping, waving our hands
we returned to our homes undressed
and fell down an endless hole

A like notion of being cut off from our sources is expressed in the poem Prehistory in the collection Light Drawings:

[…] Then prophets stood in the middle
censuring the light
and praising the night’s doings
and the days oozed poison
the nights oozed poison
the hours oozed poison
Nature lay down like a wounded animal
And one morning we woke up and saw
that a black wall
ominous and unapproachable
had been raised between the light and us

Nevertheless, the harrowing and tragic poem Light and Fissure (Light Drawings) with its numerous dimensions, ranks Fálkos among the greatest religious poets:

On its tip [of light] was God

It was a time of wars and uprisings
houses and forests were burnt down
out came the dead holding white flames
a horrid suspicion hovered in the smoke
once the fissure appeared
We neither saw nor heard any sound
but a fissure did take place

Afterwards things quietened down
We built houses again
and the dead withdrew
But ever since the fissure has become a chasm
it keeps on raining every day
and a pallid light inundates us
This light stems from nowhere
and leads to nowhere

Even if this had been the only poem Fálkos wrote, we would have a great poet in our midst.

But the sacred element (das heilige, le sacré) we come across in a number of poems does not belong exclusively to some religion, despite the fact that Fálkos makes use of Christian stereotypes (angels, light, fonts, etc.). It is the expression of one who reveres certain universal visions and certain ideals formed by pure souls, and which some religions adhere to wordwise but invariably betray, alas! (“A bat or a blind angel/flew in the dark“). Fálkos looks upon his “religious” role as defender of certain ideals; a role not imposed by anyone but undertaken by himself, as prescribed by his heart: “I tried to save the light/to oblige my heart” (On the Street’s Greyness). That is why the meaning of defender is pivotal in Fálkos’ oeuvre. It could be that in Greek the sound effect of “fílakas (defender, guard)-Fálkos” may have had something to do ⎯ at least subliminally ⎯ in choosing his nom de plume.

A special monograph on Fálkos’ religious component would clear up a number of questions that for me are obscure. Such a study would also trace the pros and cons between, for instance, him and Rilke and Tagor, two poets Fálkos adores, but also such Greek literati as Ánghelos Sikelianós, Níkos Kazantzákis, Níkos Gavriíl Pentzíkis and Tákis Patatsónis.

Towards the end of “sentient life” poems in Light Drawings, the climate becomes gloomier, announcing the tragic character of the two other parts. I am citing hereunder the moving, heart-rending poem Coffee, which introduces Fálkos himself along with his personal tragedy:

Sometimes in the evening
my dead mother
makes me a coffee by way of consoling me
for dreams dead and gone
“How ironic,” she says
that I who so loved the light
should console someone
who prefers the dark!”
“Mother,” I say, “help me,
don’t censure me.
I too loved the light
but in despair.”

Even in Part One of Light Drawings, in spite of the light’s positive appearance, the poems have nothing in common with the poetry of “heliophilous” Odysséas Elýtis. Fálkos is not driven ecstatically, not “inebriated“, by light. He is more of a thinker, more profound, and provides other potentials to the meaning of light. His chief contribution to this important matter is the tragic aspect. To be more precise: the “light’s tragic distortion”; something not to be found in Elýtis (hardly a tragic poet) nor in anyone else who dealt with light. Here Fálkos reveals to us his ingenuity and faculty.

Perceptive and tragic life

The most characteristic fact that severs unity and causes worldly harm, or a great part of it, is selfishness, the will for distinction and dominance. “Many were they who slipped/and fell deep into their dream/each one became his self-monarch/a self-luminous and self-sufficient circle”, we read in the poem Circles (Three Testimonies, p.24). The first two poems in Part Two of Light Drawings intimate this:

Colours

The seven colours walked with arms round each other
like spinsters and sisters
But suddenly two colours parted
saying “We alone are light!”

Fálkos, who has in view a democratic spirit, abhors any “orthodoxy” that leads to fanaticism (“I know what’s right!/ Follow me! Bash those who don’t know!).

Metamorphosis

A sea breeze was blowing
the trees bent and hugged each other
amidst bright eddies
one mixed with the other

But when from the other shore
blew the earth’s north wind
the leaves suddenly fell
the trees drifted apart
the hands filled with knives

Of course, the hands “filled with knives”, the “blackening of colours” and the “dirtying of light” have to do with man’s wicked nature, over which civilization constitutes a coat of varnish, and which, as history invariably shows, easily collapses and out come the animal instincts of seizure and mastery.

Fálkos’ genius, however, is manifest in his description of the light’s adulteration, the tragic distortion of ideals, once they fall ⎯ and ultimately they always do ⎯ into the hands of unworthy, greedy, envious, short-sighted, mean, egocentric, sickly, dominating, megalomaniac types, etc. For example, Fálkos writes about Christianity: “In a religion of love and hope, when same was widely spread, notwithstanding the pure souls ⎯ scarce, as usual ⎯ a plethora of bigots also joined who were not interested in convincing but in establishing a new authority under their domain!” (Turkic, p.235). Likewise, he could write about communism, about a now completely botched-up democracy (plutocracy and totalitarianism are two of its most horrendous blunders), about freedom, which for the powers that be means protection of their own immunity and complete subjugation of everyone else (financial, etc.). With assiduous and incredible ingenuity, with renewed strain and astonishing strength, Fálkos delves into the subject of the twisting of ideals, of justice and friendship in ancient Greece, of the love of Christ, the fair distribution of wealth, freedom, democracy, etc., all of which could enhance humanity. As far as I know, no great poet or novelist have dealt with this basic theme: our civilization’s major tragedy that among other things shows the educational system’s failure. The poetic examples I present have just a taste.

From his first poetry book, Three Testimonies, Fálkos delved into this theme. I shall confine myself to two examples, full of sarcasm and irony, Fálkos’ keen traits:

Opera

The opportunists took the opera plans
and turned them over to the underbidders
The contractors changed them, tampered with the materials

To save our fellow-citizens
we tore down the defaced building
the place was littered with lizards mice and spiders

Even today if you cock your ears
you’ll hear the ghastly dissonance in the back
the hair-raising crackling of the bows
of musicians who didn’t manage to get out

The Stray Light

It doesn’t know who misled it
It doesn’t know who oppressed it
If you were to ask: “Who was your father?’”
it would reply: “The wind”
If you were to ask where it was going
it’d say: “To infinity”
and were you to ask its name
it would drive you mad with names
it would reply with a dictionary

This theme prevails in the last two parts of Light Drawings. It is implicit in almost every poem, but in some it is more characteristic.

Suns

I know of some suns
that threw off their chains
and crash-dived into the mud
that their sulphur scorched
the snakeroot
that like warriors’ black horses
they gallop in the sky’s holes

Suns and ideals distorted in the hands of perverts, and who by rights should be stigmatized and chained, are scattered thoughout our perforated world (the “sky’s holes”) with incredible catastrophic fury. They scorched the “snakeroot”, which would cure us of snakebites.

Even when describing calamities and tragedies, Fálkos’ verses are ones of indisputable splendour. They move in a cosmogonic sphere. Infinity is their natural environment. This characteristic harmonizes with the pre-Socratic philosophers, despite the fact that he deals with matters that never preoccupied these thinkers.

Distorters of ideals take care of assuming an air of deception. They make out to be defenders of justice, the nation, religion, democracy, freedom; to be shields against criminals and terrorists, like the United States authorities, whereas au fond their aim is to dominate ⎯ and, naturally, they feel no guilt. Already in the poem Susanna’s Song (Three Testimonies) we read:

Be quiet
and listen to plump Susanna

She’s opening her mouth slowly
and out come rivers on which we travel
horses which we ride in the countryside
birds that carry us on their wings

Afterwards Susanna peps up
she swallows the plastic birds
the horses and the rivers
along with those barmy blokes
and instantly shuts her mouth
a heavy dark falls
and you hear the black pain
turning into mud

Now Susanna goes elsewhere
to sing

A counterpart poem in Light Drawings is Aqueous:

When the sky awakes
with crimson gleams
with pearly glints
an unsuspected voice then
speaks of wondrous births
and wondrous metamorphoses

The icebergs glow and flow
showing us their white face
but inwardly the hide their aqueous
frozen soul

Although he describes things frightful and tragic, the following poem with its universality and suggestiveness has a strange beauty, as indeed all other poems:

Shadows

The light passed blithe
and carefree

On this earth
it stumbled over hard objects
holes that swallowed it up

It tried avoiding them
It slid around them
It formed huge shadows

At this point it would be appropriate to be reminded of the poem Light and Fissure with its overwhelming splendour and remarkable potentials.
However, the following poem with its astonishing conciseness and tragic picture reveals a great painter of tragedy:

The White

“Mother, I do so love the white,
my dress, the white wings”
said the white girl
who didn’t get the chance to marry

Yet her mother remembers
that white parish church
the lime
sticking needles in the eyes
empty parish church
pillaged
killing birds with the white

This again involves ideals plundered by perverts and which, not only were they left empty like a desecrated grave, but they ended up lethal.
Prior to this poem there was another which I found among his writings, and which Fálkos did not want to publish, maybe because it bore resemblance to The White. Having given me his permission I include it here:

You Rely on the Light

At night you prepare your soul
with moral uplift and fasting
and before dawn
you come out in the countryside
and spread your wings

Comes daylight
and rather than raise you
it pricks you all over

In the same spirit is the poem Twilight, with an added catalytic sarcasm:

How beautifully we burned
our ideals, our wings
Perfectly burned perfectly
In our heart remained puddles
to mirror wild animals
and roused sparrows
How beautiful is this landscape
covered in blood
how beautiful is the blood-covered
twilight

From an aesthetic and philosophic aspect, Fálkos is a master of tragic antitheses. This is evinced in such poems as The White and The Thousand Trees, the latter a mini-tragedy:

He was standing in the magnetic landscape
from his chest flew birds
crossing with gleams

And then violence began:
Dogs of knowledge and remorse
caught birds
and crushed them one by one

This, of course, concerns not only Fálkos‘ personal tragedy, but also those who are fully aware of man’s wild nature ⎯ what happened in the past, what keeps on happening and will continue happening in the future. As such, they feel guilty, they are ashamed calling themselves human beings. These people are the “dogs of knowledge and remorse” who destroy moral uplift (“from his chest flew birds”).

Special mention should be made to the poem When the Wind with its stunning images and extensive philosophic potentials.

As memory and guilt
troubled me again
I raised my head skyward
and saw
cool fair figures
leaving the eternal workshop
peaceable figures and fauns
among harmless wild beasts…

But suddenly, in the poem’s second stanza, an inconceivable chasm opens and sobbing begins:

Then a wind began blackening
and blowing
men and animals frittered away
In His excitement the Maker
crushed the images
in His fiery hands

In the poems so far presented, and in others to follow, there exists a pithy language rarely encountered in other men of letters. The potentials of these verses are amazing. One brings to mind Heraclitus, Aeschylus, Pinder and Rilke. Fálkos calls Heraclitus’ language “thunderbolt“. But this characterization seems to apply to his own language as well. His verses amaze you, as though you are struck by lightning. Even the very last word explodes onto the acme of intellectuality; it touches as much the mind as the soul’s most sensitive, delicate chords. He has only to touch them, and they start pulsing without a break, and you go into ecstasies and sob your heart out, you feel cooped up, your inner world wants you to enlarge it.

It goes without saying that the reader plays an important part in all this. The weight falling to his share is immense. All consciences, even the somewhat sensitive ones, are incapable of rising and feeling the splendour of Fálkos’ language. So it is only natural that Fálkos, prior to his being ranked among the classics, had to face mistrust of the kind: “You exaggerate. How come we didn’t understand him?” This excites envy, of course, that according to Pindar is the price you pay for superiority.

Ethically sensitive persons, those who are conscious of what happened in the twentieth century (Fálkos calls it the most vicious of all centuries), and continues happening, those who are not so selfish as to distinguish themselves from their fellowmen (“And who says that innocence suffices for one to be innocent?” Fálkos writes in his preface to Testimonies for an Absent Friend), feel being accomplices in what has come to pass and still goes on, and shamefully so. Thus, Light Drawings is an ethical oeuvre, in the strict sense of the word.

Fálkos has made arduous preparations in this domain. One of his main philosophic studies involves decency ⎯ i.e. respect ⎯ and dishonour. He deals with this issue from the philosophic, social and psychological aspect, among others, whereas he has written an important article on the problem of moral conscience. Fálkos’ excellence in this field became apparent from his first literary publication, The Righteous, and continued in his subsequent works, especially Testimonies for an Absent Friend. His special sensibility in these matters and his extensive studies have made Fálkos into one of the greatest poets of human conscience, next to the ancient tragic poets and Shakespeare. He shares various semblances with them, as well as considerable differences, all of which demand special study. I shall confine myself to texts in the poetic strain (basically all of Fálkos’ works are poetic). The matter is brought to maturity in Three Testimonies, in the last six poems that bring the book to a climax, and for this reason it could well have been named “book of remorse”. Two of these poems are included hereunder without comment:

the heart grew, it grew

we took her to the blacksmith
who said she needed shoeing
we took her to the jurist
who she said she needed irons
we took her to the doctor
who said she’s falsely pregnant
we took her to the governor
who said he’d place her in the Pentagon
we also took her to the prophet
who told us to cut her into pieces
for her to become a number of hearts

the heart grew, it grew
inside her spread guilt

bending

It’s an indescribable feeling
you feel as if the bones are slowly
giving way and bending
but your bones don’t hurt
the burden falls on the heart and the lungs
they trample on each other, they choke
they kick left and right
whereas your entire being recedes
and bends slowly earthward

The subject of guilt and remorse is handled forthright and with rare ingenuity in Light Drawings. Particularly in the poems Radiation, Yellow, It Burned in our Heart, Until Morning, A Thousand Trees and The Sun, or less intensively and indirectly in such poems as The Town’s History, When the Wind, Red and Twilight. I thought of setting out below ones I find most appealing:

comes a time when doors open
and things shine
age-old things
radiate
⎯ plate stiletto and mirror ⎯
those having escorted us to our fate
Things shine brightly
they radiate guilt

+++

When we went to wash our faces
of the blue shadows,
we noticed something shimmering deep in our eyes.

It burns, truly it burns
the yellow of guilt

+++

It burned in our heart it burned
yellow stars fell thick and fast
packs of wolves roamed in the blue
friends came complaining
“How can you live in the red
without a knife?”
It burned in our heart it burned
a rotten yellow

+++

Hidden in other bodies
with other shadows and other colours
shall we bind our hands
In some lenient light
shall we embrace
until morning
when the sun rises to scorch us

+++

He was standing in the magnetic landscape
from his chest flew birds
crossing with gleams
And then violence began:
Dogs of knowledge and remorse
caught birds
and crushed them one by one

+++

Over us
a pale soiled sun
sheds black drizzle
We wanted to hide
it’d slip into our bedroom
dripping on us venomous black silver
It was then that we’d call the night
Reluctant and afraid the night
came into our bedroom
but the sun entered our heart
and so this was no place no hide

I had reason for setting out these poems without titles (one can easily discern that they involve the very poems presented hereinabove) and arranging them as a uniform poem, because I wanted to show how they resemble an ancient chorale ⎯ and of the finest, in fact ⎯ by virtue of their compactness and tragic character. But then Light Drawings per se is one poem and one tragedy, the tragedy of the human spirit. Fálkos’ voice rises from the deep, from tragic man’s anguish, becoming the voice of all men, those who strove to perceive the human condition and brutality. Fálkos is a huge conscience, full of grief and wounds, a painful conscience on the brink of collapsing, but always ready to resume its fight against the disastrous doings of victimizers, egotists, rulers, overweening persons, etc., all of whom are responsible for most of the world’s evils. So Fálkos is right when he considers himself to be a poet of conscience. And we add: the most significant in modern times. He neither imitates nor identifies himself with anyone of those who preceded in this notable, sore practice. He has a clearly personal “stigma”, his use of language is special and he keeps to his own course.

In suspense, irresolute, not experts but coinciding with our tragic situation ⎯ a tragedy we carry in us ⎯ we follow Fálkos onto the light’s dramatic distortion. All our endeavours to overcome our “common fate” are crushed “on this black wall raised in Cain’s time between us and God”. Little by little, we are worn down and exposed by “a drizzle […] that for ages stripped things bare, leaving them deplete and destitute” (The Righteous, p. 47). We are hemmed in by invisible steel walls on which our every effort is shattered, whilst our conscience continues expanding and becoming nature itself, a “swollen” conscience, as Fálkos would say, seeing that everything, good and bad, is firmly connected and cannot be separated: “Who says that innocence suffices for you to be innocent?” (Testimonies, p. 7).

In such tragic consciences even the light is a source of extreme pain. “The light is choking me,” says one of the sad beings. And “the blind visionary” who “saw the light in him”:

That day a bang gave him a scare
and he saw the light
breaking to pieces inside him

The futility of metaphysical light and the marginal expression of tragedy blend in the poem Form in an amazing word form, leaving you awestruck:

A greyish yellow sea
and a gentle breeze
Above us the sky smouldered
with a brown flame
And you could see a white form
falling earthwards

In this chaotic, corrupt world, even the most sacred things have been totally distorted (Darkness and Calmness):

Cinders came down from the sky
pollutant patches stirred below
Slate and olive colours joined forces on the way to Olympus
I prayed inside me
for something to come and agitate the waters
and do away with decay,
when there was a movement in the sky:
A bat or a blind angel
flew in the dark

Faced with the sudden revelation of human bestiality (In the words of Victor Hugo, “The beasts are God‘s, bestiality is man’s“.), Plotinus ⎯ so entranced by the light ⎯ says (Fálkos, of course, makes him say it): “It is no longer possible for me to want the light”. And Fálkos, himself, in Hiding:

I’m standing here hidden
half in the light and half in the dark
The light behaves like a delicate bird
touchy and neurasthenic
In its youth it played and softened
it stood out and fought me
it humiliated me

Now it has put on weight, it is sick and tired
it lives in despair
it hides in rooms and cupboards
it stands on wounds
were you to touch it it would scream

Inconceivable is the despair and drama (and strangely the beauty) apparent in this poem. Here Fálkos speaks with profundity. In an individual manner and a superb “setting”, he gives us a picture of his personal history and psychology. The poem, placed last in Light Drawings, and deliberately so, is doubtless one of the strongest and most harrowing poems Fálkos has written.

Nevertheless, abandonment, inaction and escape are not the ultimate moral, Fálkos’ precept. Already in Testimonies for an Absent Friend he realizes that isolation in this disastrous world is not feasible (pp. 114-5):

I counted a lot
on the space I had singled out and kept
But the walls are thin and transparent
Suicided cripples
uncover their guilty heart
Why should I see it?
For thousands of years the stench has pestered us
I shove them back and shut the room
But they won’t stop shaking
death guilt betrayal

In Light Drawings, the righteous one opted for isolation, of course, but this involves periods of despair and exhaustion which may last, but not for good. Even in periods of remission a light remains inside him (“you are weary and you bent/you are not made of steel”; “I’ve become mistrustful, too murky”) (The Other One):

Whereas you keep mum in your deepest silence
there’s someone else who frisks deep inside you
who starts up and spreads out his hands around you
Someone else is getting ready
to set you alight

And indeed, throughout his conscientious living, Fálkos fought and goes on fighting against evil in all its aspects. We have only to remember Three Testimonies, Attic, Eagles and Crows and Professor Pluto ⎯ poems published, because there are other unpublished ones of harsh polemics. Even the poems in Light Drawings do not end with the “hidden” man, but with a final question:

Well now
here on this shore
this shore worn by the light
and longing for the light
who will annul the dark’s decision?

The big question raised by “the honest man who couldn’t find a brother”, that hapless, split up, “concealed” being, one who feels he is living in a country “longing for the light” and yet “worn by the light” (i.e., a fake, catastrophic, superfluous light) is an anguished question of great responsibility with which Light Drawings end: “who will annul the dark’s decision?” A terminative concise and important question: what must an honourable man do faced with the indifference and malevolence of his fellowmen who among other things, and knowingly so, are destroying the planet earth (“nature lay down like a wounded animal”), as though having decided that darkness is the only solution? But how is he to boost his resistance? How is he to shape his inner lanscape, revoking his decision to live in isolation? How is he to shorten the distance separating him from others? How is he to give a new meaning to life?

Basically, the collection Light Drawings comprises a single poem where poetry is linked together with philosophy, something which applies to Fálkos’ entire oeuvre. Before the greatness exposed to us, we, sensitive recipients, stand entranced and think ourselves lucky for being able to observe or get an inkling of this lofty world, the Fálkean world.

THE TRAGIC BALANCE BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARK

Motivated by the poem Litany in Testimonies for an Absent Friend, I venture to make the following comment. As a rule, good poets write good poems, a few of which may be singled out, but not to great effect. Some other poets write a poem wherein blend their philosophy and skill, and on reading it you recognize at once who the poet is, what his worries are, what exactly he was to impart, to what degree his imagination and expressiveness rise ⎯ in other words you become aware of his “soul”. For example, suchlike poems are Sikelianos’ The Sacred Way, Cavafy’s Ithaka, Seferis’ The Wreck ’Thrush”, Rimbaud’s The Drunken Ship, and Valéry’s Graveyard by the Sea. Fálkos’ own The Sacred Way and Ithaka is the poem Litany (Testimonies for an Absent Friend, pp. 126-7):

I Am Standing Here Matching Matchless Pieces

In my despair
I make my way to the hill
where I first came across the litany
I see it before me as if it were yesterday
It moved from deep down
and proceeded slowly in the wan light
a litany of people and souls
And suddenly
as though someone had given the signal
glorifying voices rose
like an outburst of a thousand musical instruments
the colours brightened and blended with the music
and the earth looked as if it were part of the sky
everything united and became
a musical crystal
For a moment ⎯ just for a moment ⎯
I imagined that everything was bound together
that there was a meaning to them
that I’d discover their secret
And while I mused on this, darkness fell
the colours misted over
and someone started shouting
in a frightening voice
the process was upset
souls dispersed like birds
and again the world became matchless pieces

The above poem, with its emotive splendour and spontaneous language, is akin to those poems where we noted an alternation of light and dark, of a “psychological” kind, I would say, when a sensitive being under the pressure of an unbearable pain rises for a while in the light, only to fall again into despair. But this poem goes beyond this. It concerns a lifetime’s repeated agonizing and conscientious effort to link what cannot be linked, to make some sense out of our severed, contradictory world. In other words, the poem is basically philosophic and not cerebral. In certain opportune moments all psychical and intellectual powers come together, in the hope of deriving some meaning from this alternation of light and dark, thus allowing them to come to a final conclusion as to what man and his life are, whether life is light or darkness. This matter has occupied Fálkos throughout his life. In the foregoing poem he deems it impossible to match the various pieces in such a way as to make sense. For one who rules out the one-sided theory, the procrustean beds, and the arrogant prophets with their handy solutions, the world appears completely asunder. And this, our conscience finds it hard to accept. Such is the anguish of a philosopher-cum-poet. Might we be condemned to try matching matchless pieces ad infinitum? “If the dark seems everlasting/the light’s fate is also everlasting”. Can this be our fate? To oscillate forever between light and dark? Between plus and minus? Between naught and one? And to what avail this uncertainty, this endless irresolution?

When something troubles you, you are never satisfied, and you want to look into it again, and say it in another way. Thus in this book, a few pages on, Fálkos says the same thing in prose, but indistinguishable from the poetic genre. The hero relates an imaginary story about four technical university students who on graduating undertake to hand over a painterly work depicting their basic experiences. The first student presents a bright painting, since in his opinion, and despite the dark, in the end only good things prevail. The second student, by way of portraying his life’s experiences, balances light and dark. The third student, being more pessimistic or more realistic, produces a painting traversed by a few gleams, enough to accentuate the dark. Of greater interest is what the fourth student created, who also happens to be the hero-cum-author.

“The fourth student did not present a painting but bits of paper and various shots at it. It involved mostly faces, something like angels, some bright and others dark, but with no connection between them, loners of sorts. And this impression was emphasized by the circles circling and somehow isolating each figure. The student defended himself by saying: ’All these years I struggled to end up somewhere. Sometimes I used bright figures and other times dark ones. I enlarged the ones or shortened the others. Sometimes I looked for signs that might connect things incompatible, but in the end I rejected any connecting line. Thus, I was just left with an attempt at creating, which perhaps is not feasible or we aren’t destined to carry out’.” (pp. 133-5).

Oddly enough only a few authors have managed to say the same thing without repeating themselves. Verse and prose are equally powerful and evocative; they share the same agony and have the very same quality. And this, among other things, demonstrates Fálkos’ unflagging art.

The agonizing and permanent balancing of light and dark is one of the main themes of his yet unpublished book titled Lake. Analogous agonizing questions he introduces in The Righteous and Night. From the latter, I quote the following passage (from the story The Righteous, p. 181): “What characterizes us above all is our passionate love of life, any sort of life. A fiery passion […] No, we have no reasoning for thinking that life deserves to be loved and preserved. Why, have you other arguments, more definite, crucial?”

The antithesis of light and dark, which cannot possibly compose a synthesis but only hastily, pictorially and artificially, is also to be found in other poems and prose pieces. I single out The Street’s Greyness (Light Drawings):

I felt like someone walking silent
along the street’s greyness
holding pigeons in my hands,
when on a sudden colours faded
and it darkened before sundown
And everyone waited for the miracles
but in their minds turned grey colours

I tried to save the light
to oblige my heart
In the day I removed the grey colours
but in the evening the night added them

Out of interest, I shall refer to what Fálkos told me when he wrote Litany. On 21 December, 1997, he had written this version of Litany:

They who are walking in deep thought
They who erased their words from everywhere
and no longer sigh
They who bent like long candles
and lean their hands earthwards
They who are now fading
in God’s imagination

O man, you of salad days and misery,
don’t look down on them.
They too were children of the earth and sky
and held the light in their hands.
O man, so reticent, so distant, so proud,
turn and look at them
as they are walking somberly next to each other
blessed with a heart

After about twenty days, on 13 January, 1998, he wrote a revised version of Litany, the one appearing above. The first Litany, which in no way resembles the second version, is without doubt a moving, humane poem. Be that as it may, the revised version of Litany is perhaps Fálkos’ most characteristic poem, and certainly one of the finest poems in our language.

*Translated from the Greek by Yannis Goumas.

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