Manolis Anagnostakis: The existentialist silence of post-war Greece
One of the most significant poets of Greece after World War II, Manolis Anagnostakis was in reality a practicing radiologist. The distraction created by two completely different facets of life—poetry and radiology—couldn’t deter him from following his passion for poetry. He was very political in his approach towards life. His decisions to take part in the Resistance Movement and the Civil War proves the stance that many people followed at that time—in times of change, political alignment is a necessity to bring that change and be an active part of it. He however, was never apolitical. Born in Thessaloniki in 1925, he became a staunch supporter of communism during his growing-up years. He started to explore his reality in his early writings that more or less set the tone of the continued work that were presented later.
The complete collection of Anagnostakis’ work is available as The Poems (1941-1971) which is divided into three main parts— Seasons, Continuances and The Goal. Seasons again is sub-categorized into three parts with the same name as its title, mainly identifiable with separate numbers for each category. It covers the poems written during 1941-1950. The first collection portrays the feelings of fearful hope, loss and the influence of abandonment in the young mind between 1941—1944—the period of German occupation. One of the very prominent signs that he displayed from the very beginning was rejection of faith, regeneration, reassurance and any and all other kind of new blossoms that keep the life’s spirits up amid all devastation; this mind-set branded his poems as sceptic. For example, although the German occupation was physically over, it never really ended for him from an individual’s perspective: “Back then, do you remember telling me: The war is over!/ But the War is not over yet./ For no war is ever over!”
Seasons 2 (1946-1948) sees the increasing loss of shelter through his criticism of his surroundings. This was based on the alienation that he experienced in his personal as well as in his social life. The sharp critique came as a result of the beginning of an estrangement as the scepticism grew out of its own walls.
Season 3 (1949-1950) marked his ultimate detachment which was a consequence of his increasing distance with the communist party that housed him. In 1949, he was expelled from the Greek Communist Party which resulted into an extremely lonely journey for the poet, marked by a self-imposed idleness in writing for about 10 years.
The total duration, although scattered through the phase of time, of writing Continuance (1953-54), Continuance 2 (1955) and Continuance 3 (1963) witnessed the ultimate peril of the leftist movement. Anagnostakis’ outright rejection of the right wing’s gradual evolution and his questioning of the falsehood and insecurities of his own party; his comrades’ search and giving-in for a better and more comfortable lifestyle that in reality awaits money, fame and power and as a result, he becoming more and more politically vicious and unapproachable. His own rejection and his rejection made by others join hands at a time when the post-war Greek society is coming face-to-face with the terms of accepting the coexistence of the left-outs of the right wing and the left wing activists, which is an acceptable form of defeat to anyone whose existence depends on his/her political awareness.
The Junta (Regime of the Colonels / The Dictatorship) came to the power in 1967 and Anagnostakis returned from the self-imposed exile of writing in 1971 with The Goal. The time of gloom, devastation, breakage and destruction of all kind of hope, bonding and love—that made a firm and everlasting impression on the adolescent mind during the German Occupation, continued to spread its shadow even through those poems. Anagnostakis’ poetry and politics became two faces of the same silence that he may have had believed to be his most special and powerful ammunition—always or never.
The existentialist loner who left his marks on his next generation with his bold and uninhibited spontaneity of emotions, breathed his last in Athens, June, 2005.
These verses may be the last ones
the very last that will be written of all verses
Because the poets of the future are no more alive
those that would speak have all died young
Their sorrowful songs became birds
a foreign sun which shines in another sky
They became wild rivers which rush into the sea
impossible to recognize their waters anymore
Inside their sorrowful songs a lotus fruit has grown
For us to be born younger in its juice.
First I want to take your hands
And feel your pulse
Then we will go together to the woods
To embrace the big trees
On the trunks of which we engraved
Many years ago the sacred names
To put their syllables together
To count them one by one
Our eyes looking up to the sky like a prayer
Our forest is not hidden by the sky
The woodcutters do not pass from here.
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