Monday, August 10, 2020

A Greek Coda

Patrick Leigh Fermor, an English war hero, eccentric and poet of travel and account [1915-2011]. I'm just beginning to know and appreciate him, through his own travel writings, which focus upon Greece. The British seem to spawn these restless, curious, perspicacious rogues, who set out for exotic locales, and return with astonishing accounts and tales and impressions, sometimes never returning home, who apprise and appreciate and regard and in some cases adopt and occupy, the foreign destinations they discover. Fermor is one of these. An adventurer, a searcher, a builder, an interpreter, and ultimately a creator of a life in exile, more interesting and absorbing than he could ever have found or made in his native country. 

"Paddy" Fermor as he was known, was dubbed "a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness" as a boy by his schoolmaster. At 18 he did a walking tour of Europe, from Holland to Turkey. Paddy fell in love with a Romanian noblewoman, and spent the next several years moving restlessly about, principally in Greece. With the outbreak of war in 1939, he returned home and enlisted in the army. Because of his knowledge of Greek, he was sent there and fought in Crete, organizing the local resistance, and famously capturing a high German general, for which he was decorated.   

After the war, he took up the role of travel writer, and lived in Greece. He designed and had built a magnificent house, and remained there for the rest of his long life, writing and living splendidly, dying at age 96.  

Roumeli [London: John Murray, 1966] is a book about Northern Greece, a country and a culture which Paddy loved. I've been dipping into it lately. The final chapter 6, is a paean to this world, and it is filled with poetic evocation, a riff of pure lyricism. A catalogue of impressions of places, ending with a chanting denouement, which I quote below.  


Pictures of Fermor's house in Greece.

The seas of Greece are the Odyssey whose music we can never know: the limitless sweep and throb of prosody, the flex and reflux of hexameters scanned by winds and currents and accompanied, for its escort of accents,

for the fall of its dactyls
the calm of spondees
the run of tribrachs
the ambiguity of trochees
and the lash of anapaests;
for the flexibility of accidence,
the congruence of syntax
and the confluence of its crasis;
for the fluctuating of enclitic and proclitic,
for the half ot caesurae and the flight of the digamma, 
for the ruffle of hard and soft breathings,
for its liquid syllables and the collusion of diphthongs,
for the receding tide of proparxytones
and the hollowness of perispomena stalactitic with subscripts
for the inconsequence of anacolouthon,
the economy of synecdoche,
the compression of hendiadys
and the extravagance of its epithets,
for the embrace of zeugma,
for the abruptness of asyndeton
for the swell of hyperbole
and the challenge of apostrophe,
for the splash and the boom and the clamour and the echo and the murmur of onomatopoia\

by the
islands and harbours and causeways and soundings and crescents of shingle, whirlpools and bays and lagoons and narrows and chasms and roadsteads, seismic upheavals of crags in the haze of meridian panic, sockets and smouldering circles of stone and dying volcanoes; islets lying in pale archipelagos, gulfts, reefs and headlands, warrened with cavities, that end in a litter of rocks and spkes where the limestone goes dark at sunset; thunderbolt sea-marks scattered on the water, light in the reign of the Pleiades, slowly spinning the sea-sounds that sigh in thew carves of solitary islands.  

1 comment:

Charles Shere said...