Teach the child to study the trees

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 30/05/2021

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………………………………………

If I am sorry, it’s a private matter
…………………………………………
And yet I’m sorry still because
I, too, didn’t become (as I would have wished)
like the grass I heard sprouting
one night near a pine tree;
because I didn’t follow the sea
another night when the waters were withdrawing
gently drinking their own bitterness,
and I didn’t even understand, as I groped in the damp seaweed,
how much honour remains in the hands of men
.
…………………………………………………………

(George Seferis – Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

This is a small excerpt from George Seferis’ poem “Thursday” from the collection Notes for a “Week”. In my teenage and young years, I loved the poet and read him all the time. Today I am impressed by the greatness of his expression and the philosophical depth of his thinking.

The above passage is one of my favourites and if one ignores the superficial sadness that runs over the verses, one will recognize a philosophical view in relation to the power that anyone can take, reading messages and drawing knowledge from nature.

If I am sorry, it’s a private matter….

I believe that this phrase encompasses feelings and messages that each of us has experienced, expressing the voice of our souls in moments of despair. Privacy at times like this, for many of us, is freedom to externalize our pain, which we choose to deal with on our own. In a simple verse, Seferis expresses everything.

But the poet goes on to describe how he could have found the meaning of life through the simple rhythm of nature, but he did not. The excerpt ends with the impressive lyrics:

and I didn’t even understand, as I groped in the damp seaweed,
how much honour remains in the hands of men.

Seferis’ words are simple and take us to that exceptional knowledge we had as children, when we used to watch the ants carrying food in their nests, when we hunted butterflies, when we were ecstatic at the beauty of a wildflower. And of course, there was the sea, where we could not get enough of playing with its waves and building towers in its sand.

I remember some magical summers of my life, staying by the forest of Prodromos village, and while we were playing under the trees, I was telling my friends fairy tales that I was thinking about at the time.

In those hours, the connection with nature was absolute. In our modern daily lives, we are a long way from this feeling, and I am very much afraid the same is happening with our children. Seferis points this out and acknowledges in this remark the lack of happiness in his life.

All these verses could become a trigger to turn our gaze to the nature around us and learn from its rhythm and confidence in the laws of life and of the universe.

We often live in an arrhythmia, lack of concentration and languor. This leaves us with a void and a thirst for something else that we do not know what it is, and we look for it in our consumer society desperately and often violently.

But we could have become:

…like the grass I heard sprouting
one night near a pine tree;

or even, we could follow the sea:

…. another night when the waters were withdrawing
gently drinking their own bitterness

So let us learn from the children we once have been – at least we, who have lived in nature – the music and the rhythm of life and let us recognize our connection and identification with the wholeness of creation around us.

But above all, let us teach our children. These children who were not born into nature, but into technology. I conclude with a turn from another of Seferis’ poems. The poem Astyanax. Astyanax was the son of Hector, the prince of Troy, who experienced the atrocity of the Trojan War and the loss of his loved ones:

Now that you are leaving, now that the day of payment
dawns, now that no one knows
whom he will kill and how he will die,
take with you the boy who saw the light
under the leaves of that plane – tree
and teach him to study the trees.

(George Seferis – Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

 

If you want to read more information about George Seferis follow the link below:

 

George Seferis

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