by Andreani Eliophotou
As published in Volume 9, No 2, June 2012
We have gathered tonight in this historic and hallowed building to remember and honour two crystalline springs of Cypriot literature, two creative, prominent men of self-knowledge and wisdom, two dedicated labourers of love and of intellectual contribution to man, Nikos Kranidiotis and Kostas Proussis, on the centenary of their birth. Fellow pupils and students, collaborators and friends, great intellects of a small country, it was to be expected that at some moment they would cross the frontiers and each follow his own course.
Tonight we will look at the literary discourse of Nikos Kranidiotis in the awareness that to “speak worthily” about such an important, versatile and dynamic intellectual figure is very difficult, if not impossible, in the short time allotted to us. It will be attempted however.
The creator we are honouring tonight was primarily and indisputably a true intellectual, perpetually active on many fronts: philologist, teacher, writer, fighter for the national cause, researcher of history and theoretician of literature, publisher, enlightener, diplomat, apostle of the intellectual cultivation of Cypriot Hellenism and of social justice. An open spirit, fertile and alert, from his student days he was active and successful in many directions.
As a young teacher, apart from the cultural activity he undertook within and without school, he published in 1934 with Kostas Proussis and Antonis Indianos the first notable literary magazine, “Kypriaka Grammata” (“Cypriot Letters”), “A fortnightly magazine of study and art”. In the middle of 1937 the magazine suspended publication – in the meantime it had become a monthly issue – and resumed in 1938 under the guidance of Nikos Kranidiotis. In his introductory note, he explains the reasons for the resumption of publication and confirms that “Kypriaka Grammata will remain above people and things with the sole aim of developing Science and Art and of cultivating moral and intellectual values in this country.” In 1946 the magazine received a prize from the Academy of Athens. Kostas Proussis was the editor-in-chief until the end of 1947, when he emigrated to America. From 1948 to 1956 Kranidiotis shouldered the entire weight of the responsibility and the work of the magazine on his own. His rich contribution entailed arduous work and creative effort: 80 poems, 14 prose works and 120 studies and reviews, with the primary “sole preoccupation his language on the sands of Stasinos”, to paraphrase Elytis. “Linguistic Education”, “Linguistic Inadequacy” and “Linguistic Form” are some indicative titles. He recognised very well and stated clearly that language is the main hallmark and accomplishment of a nation. It is the attainment and also the touchstone of the durability of a culture and a tradition which for this main reason does not disappear.
In 1949 Kranidiotis entered militant journalism with the publication of the magazine “Elliniki Kypros” (“Greek Cyprus”), the ideological and militant organ of the Cypriot Ethnarchy, which he edited till 1956 when publication was interrupted by his arrest and imprisonment by the British.
Although he had been writing poetry since the age of 16, his first personal literary publication was prose: four short stories with the title “Chronika” (“Chronicles”) in 1945. To stay with this genre, in 1954 he published a second collection of short stories “Morfes tou Mythou” (“Figures of Myths”). In any case, he believed that prose creation covered the innate needs of local literature. “Prose writing requires range and synthesis and of necessity is based on more universal subjects than poetry. And this is exactly what we need here in Cyprus today. For us to pass from the stage of individual art to the universal … More prose then … Let this be the slogan of our new literary year,” he wrote at the beginning of 1952.1
And while soaring steeply he opens up towards the universal, in parallel we believe he feels the need to set living people in the natural and social environment of his native town, conveying artistically his dissent with social injustice, the exploitation, the despising and the harassment of the many by the few.
A. Christofides’ succinct review of the short stories is characteristic: “…the short stories of N. Kranidiotis remain fresh. Unadorned and compact in style, without hyperbole, they portray the picture of Cyprus through the eye of an observer who at the same time participates, judges, compares … Two worlds, the haves and the have-nots, sometimes the intellectuals, in the provincial environment where the innocent and the naive are stifled. In a rotten social whole, farmers and hirelings, rich and poor, downtrodden and despised, next to big landowners and notables.” And he concludes: “The penetrating accounts of Kranidiotis contain the element of the vertically diachronic and horizontally same-space work of literature which takes a look at us beyond the phenomena and the superstructures.”2
His short stories are firmly structured “with clarity of ethos and style”, with rhythmic pace and depictive strength. “He succeeds without disrupting his links with the traditional structure of the short story and enriches it with lyrical elements, psychography and symbolism.”3 And in his prose-writing Kranidiotis remains lyrical, erotic and sensitive, as in the very lyrical, rather pagan, “Idyll”, which could very well be considered a song in prose.
This idiosyncratically spontaneous lyricism of his refers directly to poetry. For him, poetry is a necessity; it is neither luxury, nor vanity nor decoration. He writes in 1950, under the title “The Need for Poetry”: “Poetry – over and above every conventionality – is an aesthetic, intellectual and moral need for the individual. A need which responds to the innate inclination of man for the beautiful, the beautiful in nature, the beautiful in society, the beautiful in ideas, the beautiful in man himself. Poetry is the art of interpreting life.”
And truly in interpreting life Kranidiotis “brings much to art”: eight collections of poetry in total. In 1951 the first, “Spoudes” (“Studies”), was published in Cyprus. The more general climate of “Spoudes” has been created from the mental and expressive legacies of Cavafy and Karyotakis and in this a melancholy musical overtone dominates. Proussis speaks of “a evenness of monotropic voices which emphasise the melancholy, shadow, autumn, agony of doubt and decay, the sorrow of men and things”.4
And Karantonis, characterising the poet as “clearly and imperturbably lyrical”, explains that for poets of this type “poetry is a unique way of forgetting themselves as external reality has shaped them and of enjoying that freedom which allows us to seek the discovery and expression of our human essence, of our most authentic, as far as possible, existence, establishing that Kranidiotis with enviable consistency kept within the solitariness of his pure and contemplative lyricism”.5 In other words poetry was for our poet a legitimate alibi of escape, solitariness and self-realisation.
Some in traditional and some in free verse, the poems of “Spoudes” were much loved, such as “In the land which bore us” and “Bacchic”.
Caught up in the maelstrom of history, where he played a leading role, Kranidiotis returned to poetry after 23 whole years, at moments of crisis, a hair’s breadth before the tragic consummation which he sensed hovering in the air and gave poetic expression to, anguish and existential fear, unbearable pain and incomprehensible contradiction.
Who chased away the peaceful doves of your land? Who froze your sun in fratricidal breasts? The slain count the graves of their brothers and a blood-red rose blooms on their breasts. (Cyprus of 1973) We saw the things we loved become pillars of salt ......... We saw our ancestral homes in flames (When we look back) Disquiet about the end shudders in the air, Instils black questions, pallid hate, And people for no reason Kill each other – unknown and innocent. (Letter to the wounded brother)
In January 1974 his second collection of poems, “Epistrophi” (“Return”), was published in Athens and won him the Kostas and Eleni Ouranis Poetry Prize of the Academy of Athens. Here the poet appears changed: the symbolistic influences and the melancholy of “Spoudes” are replaced by personal poetic reflection and the preoccupation with absolutely mature and precise expression. The change is in the maturing and the new expression which he came across in the worlds of the new poetry. By this we mean that to “Epistrophi” Kranidiotis added a measure of moderate and judicious acceptance of modern precepts of expression and technique. An admirer and student of Seferis, he feels and creatively assimilates his example, shaping his personal poetic personality. This classical moderation, that is to say the golden mean, shows a rare aesthetic responsibility and a critical stance towards poetic expression. And it is not only that his idiosyncrasy is classical by nature but that the aesthetic beauty of the island and his Native Land strengthens it.
Because primarily Kranidiotis has been accepted in our conscience as the lyrical man of Kyrenia, identified with the incomparable beauty of the small, bitter town. But let us allow another lyrical Kyrenian, even though he did not write poetry, to speak about this. “Born and bred in Kyrenia,” says Frixos Vrachas, “Nikos Kranidiotis … succeeded completely instinctively in closing within himself all the beauty and charm of his town, in transmuting into vision and verse all its romantic disposition and in giving the wings of his own fame to her name … Kranidiotis, with whatever nature endowed him as presence, as way of thought and life and as user of discourse, was Kyrenia herself with what her image and her soul emitted … A representative contemporary Modern Greek poet, he was also the great teacher of the love and loyalty which we owe our hearth and homeland, of which he sang in his most precise and noble verses.6”
Small town of Cyprus, with the bright sky of sapphire blue In your atmosphere the pleasure of my youthful years roams. (From “Spoudes”) Sea of Kyrenia Brilliance and light of the Mediterranean desire for journeys memory and history and youthful heartbeats given over to a beautiful blue fairy tale. (From “Epistrophi”) Shadows of lavender – remembrance and hope – dip their fingers – in the streets – of the white town – Above Pentadaktylos – waves its imperial mantle – of purple and of violet – in the last rays – of the August sun – Three thousand years – this moment returns! – Three thousand years – it searches hearts – stops and leaves – with the golden sun – which is setting – on the bloody sea of Cilicia – in my burning palm – I seek the hundred generations – which are fluttering inside me – the hundred generations – whom the earth has covered. (“Sunset at Kyrenia” from “Epistrophi”)
In the last compact and dense lyrical image of the Kyrenian sunset it is as if we breathe her humid, mild air and our eyes read a sweet green music of colours on the mountainsides, on the plains and the gentle hills of the environs of Kyrenia. Then there is the mystic link with the paternal earth, with the earth that is inseparable from the seed, from the light, from the spirit and our individual destiny, “the earth which remains forever immortal” as he says in one of his verses.
Furthermore, the “white town”, the nurse and teacher, town, the Cavafian town which follows us everywhere to take on the dimensions of the whole earth or the lost Eden which haunts our dreams.
If, then, the first basic coordinate in the poetry of Kranidiotis is the place, history emerges with it, consequence and fellow traveller, as the course of the place through time: “the hundred generations which the earth covered” and their works.
“The pre-eminent destination of the poet is to become conscious of the weight of the history which other men unsuspectingly carry on their shoulders. And inevitably, after this realisation, to undertake the responsibility of a struggle both for poetry and for the specific problems of the people who share with him the same land, the same air, the same fate, the same memories.”7 These words of Karantonis define the great responsibility of the intellectual man.
The third basic coordinate in his poetry is love in its physical expression, solidarity, struggle for freedom, affection for the things of the world:
Happy is he Whom love warms Like the summer sun (Genethlia Gi)
However, it has been ascertained that in his more personal poems also, those that refer to erotic figures, time and also the destiny of history are dynastically present:
Only love and poetry remained on the threshold of destruction untouched, to wait patiently in the slaughtered wind and the fire of hate ........................... Only love and poetry rejected death and rose up, parapet of life above the toppled city (Megali Anoixi)
His discourse is sensitively contemplative but also transcends decay and death and through love, the mortal human perpetuation and poetry, the intellectual memorial and immortality.
The shocking historical paradox of the 20th century in Cyprus in the summer of ’74 was to split into two our space and time and with it our souls. For this reason, nine years later, Kranidiotis “turns to the art of poetry/which somehow knows about medicines/for dulling the pain trials in Imagination and Discourse”, to recall Cavafy. In one decade he gave us six collections of poetry: “Taxidi sto Nisi tou Notou” (“Journey to the Island of the South”) (1983), “O Mikros mas Kosmos” (“Our Small World”) (1986), “Genethlia Gi” (“Native Land”) (1988), “Megali Anoixi” (“Great Spring”) (1989), “Poreia sto chrono” (“Journey in Time”) (1991), “Koilada tou Iliou” (“Valley of the Sun”) (1993): Elegy of the Sweet Land of Cyprus, dedications, memory and history and Kyrenia omnipresent:
Little Kyrenia Who are you, who determine my fate, Who rip my memories with the recollection of you, Who are you who rise and set magnificently, In the compass of time sealed by grief and silence. (Genethlia Gi)
However, before I leave the platform, I would like to emphasise another dimension of his discourse. In 1951 he writes under the title “The Anxiety of Our Generation” (Kypriaka Grammata 16 no. 187 January 1951) “We have lost our moral orientation, we have lost our love for and our belief in man, we have lost our moral balance. We have lost the right measure of respect for intellectual values. And we are all at sea on dangerous quests with the criterion of utilitarianism and personal gain … We have chosen the transience of a temporary happiness and spurned the lastingness of intellectual joy”. It is evident that these words, written 60 years ago, rather describe today than then. Except that the anxiety has become anguish, crisis at all levels and impasse.
But his discourse which is the intellectual shaping of his existence is not only perceptive and farsighted. It is also diachronic, since he pursues the moral duty which as a necessary demand of the practical Logos will define for ever human affairs.
Dear friends, Nikos Kranidiotis has deposited in the inexhaustible treasure of our cultural heritage the vast and inalienable assets of his discourse which is creative, lyrical, political-historical, critical, universal and diachronic and which reaches the realm of Being to raise us up to the Logos that is without beginning, which “was in the beginning” according to the Evangelist, which “ordered all things” according to Anaxagoras, which showed that everything “is One” according to Heraklitos, as it combines, reconciles and sets at rest within it all the contradictions of the world.