Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PICTURES OF LIFE – Poems from Greece by Eleni I. Grivas

Eleni I. Grivas was born in Kato Tithorea Lokridas and lives in her birthplace with her brother and poet, Stathis Grivas. She is a member of the International Society of Greek Poets and of the World Poets Society. Pictures of Life (2010) is Eleni I. Grivas’s first poetry collection which comprises 38 short poems in both Modern Greek and English (translated by Zacharoula Gaitanaki). Her poetry comes deep from the heart and as a result of experience, faith and love towards nature and mankind.


Eleni Grivas is the observer of the simplest of everyday things and thus knows that life is made up of strong contrasts. Thus poetry here is a means to reflect about humankind (with its good and evil) and life. She writes about the love and affection of children on the one hand, and about the destruction and cold-heartedness of the adult world on the other. Grivas thus upholds positive values (love, friendship, happiness, having a “good heart”) against today’s materialistic world (wealth, greed, money, power), which is worthless when death hits. Happiness is enjoying the things which have no price and are thus beautiful and unreachable (Health and safety). Where there is no love there is tyranny, poverty and distress (Poverty). Obstinacy is no direct way to knowledge, and the latter neither can be bought (The headstrongness). Bitter words are worse than wounds and sores. All this – including passion and mistakes - may create pain which is kept secret or is hid behind a laugh (The pain, Mistakes). Moreover, pleasure is the result of peace of mind and serenity of the soul (The peace of mind). Grivas advices her reader to think before talking: that’s how one is fair with others in life (Thought). In another short poem Grivas writes about education which she deems as the solution to drugs, theft, murder and rape.

A recurrent element is Grivas’s voice in favour of the “needy people” and in protest against “unscrupulous men” (A total catastrophe). Such a disaster comes when mankind is spoilt through money and materialism which lead to the suffering of many (Disaster).

Grivas also writes environmental verse: in Pollution she contrasts the clean air of the mountains (there is where the real life is) to pollution of the city (man has to escape all this). The mountains are a space where the poet is happy (Spring), and spring is life and happiness through its sounds and colours. In The road of disaster Grivas writes about animal extinction, burning forests, pollution, and ozone problems. Even here we see the poet as the pulse of what’s happening in today’s world.

At times Grivas writes about reminiscences of times past, when things were simpler, more beautiful and better (My village). In The Mother the poet writes about the eternal daughter-mother bond.

There are also poem-prayers where Grivas expresses her thanks to Christ (Christ), especially in today’s “hard times” where He remains the only hope (Hopelessness). In To the Virgin Mary Grivas, again, sees religion as the only hope for those who are suffering and unfortunate. What cannot be cured in society can be healed through Christ (The Faith). In Love one another! Christ is seen as a model and love as a remedy to all suffering. During times of sorrow and grief Christ is the only protection for the poet too:

“Sorrows, grief and sighs

surrounded me

and protection from Christ

I ask to save me.” (Protection).

Death is understood only as a transition and instead there’s the strong belief that beyond it men become “angels” (There, high up). Death is no end, but a way to meet again the ones we love (Expectation).


What strikes first is the concision in which Eleni Grivas writes. Her poems are short but profound, as if they were thoughts or short prayers too. Simplicity is another key element in her verse, in both language and thoughts. Poetry is also a play on words which speaks the truth: ours today is a materialistic society. Irony can be felt between such lines as:

“The experience of man

is worth very much

because the inexperience

is expensive in our society.” (The experience)

As is clear throughout this collection Eleni Grivas’s are short poems but their effect keeps echoing in one’s mind and soul for long.

At times Grivas’s verse reminds us of the Japanese classical nature haiku:

“Grey and dark clouds

the sky fills

and the rain suddenly

the world inundates.” (The rain);


“Sky is on the high,

sea is on the ground,

if you look them both

they have the same colour.” (The blue colour)

Other times Grivas inspires herself by classical tales or fables (The cicada and the ant).


Eleni I. Grivas’s poetry is surely not hermetic but straightforward, clear, lyrical, and beautiful in its simplicity. It is an ideal gift to those who love short poems which help them reflect on everyday life. Pictures of Life is a collection which is best read gradually, on a daily basis, so that the reader has the necessary time to digest and think on Eleni Grivas’s wise verse. A big thanks goes also to Zacharoula Gaitanaki (also a poet and writer) who through her translations has made it possible for non-Modern Greek readers to appreciate Eleni Grivas’s poetry. Gaitanaki has also written the Introduction to Pictures of Life.

Patrick Sammut

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