George Seferis remembers his last summer in Smyrna (Izmir)

From recollections ("Manuscript, September 1941", pp. 1-4) written in exile in Johannessburg



I was fourteen years old, in August 1914, when we left Smyrna. I had very much alive inside me a feeling of what slavery means. During the last two summers we had not gone to the countryside, at Skala of Vourlas, which was for me the only place that, even now, I could call homeland in the most profound sense: the place where my childhood years did bloom.

Smyrna was the unbearable school, those dead, rainy Sunday afternoons behind the glass -- the jail. A world incomprehensible, alien and despised. Skala was all that was fond to me. When I look from time to time through those years, I feel that there does not exist in Smyrna a single face, a single landscape, a single corner that I can remember with affection. Skala was an entirely different story. Just as in the scene from the Medieval *mysteries* where the earth is horizontally split from the heaven, Skala was an area entrenched, shut, where I used to enter as if in a garden of Halima, where everything was spellbound. Over there, people, seafarers and peasants alike, were my own people. The roads, the trees, the beaches, were the roads, the trees, the beaches of a country of my own. I could even today describe very easily the stones, the pits, the fences, the trails, in the tiniest detail, with no memory effort -- as if was merely copying from an image that I have right in front of my eyes. I could tell the expression on the face and the kind of talk of this or that seafarer, the very moment he jumped on the dock, wave-soaked, tying his boat. I see the color of the dawn, I feel the breeze of the night, I know which face I am going to run into past that house; the body movements are the same as those I would make back then. Who knows, my life having turned as it did and unfolded along two parallel roads -- one road of commitments, patience and compromises, and another one on which my deeper self went on free with no moderation -- is because I knew and lived, in those years, two worlds clearly separated: the world of the city home and the world of the country home.

Well, the last two summers before moving to free Greece, we did not go to the countryside. But the news were coming to us cruel and tragic. One day we would hear that the Turks had killed, on an islet, three fishermen working in our estate; the other day about the zeibeks having sacked this or that village. One night somebody knocked on the door. It so happened that I was the one to open. My uncle got in holding by the arm a lady wearing a black coat, a black hat and a thick veil. He passed in a hurry through the yard and entered the dining room with no greetings:

- Call for your father, was all that he said.

Next day I knew that the black-dressed lady was a cart-man of ours wanted by the Turks, who managed to sneak into my uncle's place. He spent that night in our house. Next dawn we dressed him as a coal-man and put him aboard a ship departing for Piraeus.

I could tell many such stories. Those who lived through those years in Turkey do know that they were very common. At one time, shortly after the 1918 truce, I was walking, as it was getting dark, behind Luxemburg, together with a childhood friend who had lived in Smyrna during the war years. The street was empty. Suddenly I felt my friend jolting back:

- It's strange, he said, how long it takes for one to unlearn; I saw that cop and I thought that he was a Turk.

That's how it was -- we knew what slavery meant.



(my translation)




Turkish boy embracing the Madonna -- Izmir, c. 2000



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