The King of Asine


by George Seferis

Λσίνην τϵ1 . . .

All that morning we rowed about the castle
beginning from the shadowy side where the sea,
green and without brilliance, breast of a slain peacock,
received us like time without break.
The veins of rock descended from above,
twisted vines, bare, many-branched, coming alive
at the touch of water, while the eye in following them
strove to escape the fatiguing undulation
and constantly weakened.
On the sunny side a long extended coastline
and the light grating diamonds on the great walls.
Not a single creature alive, the wild pigeons flown,
and the King of Asine, for whom we had sought two years now
unknown, forgotten by all, even by Homer
only one word in the Iliad, and that uncertain
flung here like an entombed golden mask.
You touched it, remember the sound?— hollow in the light
like a dry jug in the dry earth;
and the same sound of our oars on the sea.
The King of Asine a void under the mask
everywhere with us, everywhere with us, under a name:
’Aσιυηυ τϵ. . . ‘Aσιυηυ τϵ . . . ”
and his children statues,
and his desires the fluttering of birds and the wind
in the intervals of his meditations and his ships
moored in a vanished harbor;
a void under the mask.
Beneath the large eyes the curved lips the curled hair
embossed on the golden covering of our existence —
a spot of darkness that moves like a fish
in the dawning calm of the sea, and you watch it:
a void everywhere with us.
And the bird that in another winter flew away
with broken wing
the house of life,
and the young woman who went away to play
with the canine teeth of summer,
and the soul that sought the underworld chirping
and the country like a large plane-tree leaf
that the torrent of the sun drags away
with ancient monuments and contemporary sorrow.
And the poet looks at the stone and lingers, asking himself
are there I wonder
among these broken lines heights edges hollows and curves
are there I wonder
here where the passing of wind rain and ruin meet
are there the movement of feature the form of affection
of those who have so strangely dwindled in our lives
of those who have remained wave-shadows and reflections in the illimitable sea?
But no, perhaps there remains nothing but the weight only
nostalgia of the weight of a living creature
there where we live now without substance, bowed under
like withies of the dreadful willow heaped up in the duration of despair
while the yellow stream slowly bears away reeds uprooted from the mire,
image of a face petrified with the decision of a perpetual bitterness,
the poet a void.

The shield-bearing sun arose fighting
and from the depths of a cavern a frightened bat 2
crashed upon light as an arrow on a shield:
“ ‘Aσιυηυ τϵ . . . ‘Aσ τϵ ... ”
Was it the King of Asine
for whom we have sought so carefully on this acropolis feeling at times with our fingers his touch upon the stones.

Translated by Kimon Friar

  1. ’Aσιυηυ τϵ: (“and Asine,”) the only known mention of Asine in Homer, in the catalogue of ships and heroes. — Iliad, II, 560.
  2. “from the depths of a cavern a frightened bat”: In Hades, Hermes marshals the souls of the suitors slain by Odysseus, “gibbering like bats that squeak and flutter in the depths of some mysterious cave.”—Odyssey,XXIV, opening.