The Return of the Exile
George Seferis (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)
‘My old friend, what are you looking for?
After years abroad you’ve come back
with images you’ve nourished
under foreign skies
far from you own country.’
‘I’m looking for my old garden;
the trees come to my waist
and the hills resemble terraces
yet as a child
I used to play on the grass
under great shadows
and I would run for hours
breathless over the slopes.’
‘My old friend, rest,
you’ll get used to it little by little;
together we will climb
the paths you once knew,
we will sit together
under the plane trees’ dome.
They’ll come back to you little by little,
your garden and your slopes.’
‘I’m looking for my old house,
the tall windows
darkened by ivy;
I’m looking for the ancient column
known to sailors.
How can I get into this coop?
The roof comes to my shoulders
and however far I look
I see men on their knees
as though saying their prayers.’
‘My old friend, don’t you hear me?
You’ll get used to it little by little.
Your house is the one you see
and soon friends and relatives
will come knocking at the door
to welcome you back tenderly.’
‘Why is your voice so distant?
Raise your head a little
so that I understand you.
As you speak you grow
as though you’re sinking into the ground.’
‘My old friend, stop a moment and think:
you’ll get used to it little by little.
Your nostalgia has created
a non-existent country, with laws
alien to earth and man.’
‘Now I can’t hear a sound.
My last friend has sunk.
Strange how from time to time
they level everything down.
Here a thousand scythe-bearing chariots go past
and mow everything down.’
Whatever we may do, excess will always keep its place in the heart of man, in the place where solitude is found. We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.
―Albert Camus, from The Rebel (1951)
We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.
From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.