Biography of Nikos Gatsos
a Greek poet, translator and lyricist.
Nikos Gatsos was born in 1911 in Asea in Arcadia, a district of the Peloponnese, where he finished primary school (dimotiko). He attended high school (gymnasio) in Tripoli, where he became acquainted with literature and foreign languages. Afterwards, he moved to Athens, where he studied literature, philosophy, and history at the University of Athens for two years only. His knowledge of English and French was quite good and he was already familiar with Kostis Palamas, Dionysios Solomos, Greek folk songs, and recent trends in European poetry. In Athens, he came in contact with the literary circles of the day becoming one of the lifelong friends of fellow poet Odysseus Elytis and published his poems, small in extent and in a classic style, in the magazines Nea Estia (1931-32) and Rythmos (1933). During that period he also published criticism in Makedonikes Imeres (Μακεδονικές Ημέρες), Rythmos (Ρυθμός), and Nea Grammata (Νέα Γράμματα) (for Kostis Bastias, Myrtiotissa, and Thrasos Kastanakis, respectively).
In 1935 he lived in France, in Paris and the South of France.
In 1936 he met Odysseus Elytis, his "brother" in poetry.
In 1943, Aetos published his long poem Amorgos, a major contribution to contemporary Greek poetry notable especially for its combination of surrealism with traditional Greek folk poetry motifs. He subsequently published three more poems: "Elegeio" (1946) in Filologika Chronika, "The Knight and Death" (Ο ιππότης κι ο θάνατος) (1947), and "Song of Old Times" (Τραγούδι του παλιού καιρού) (1963), dedicated to Yorgos Seferis, in Tachydromos magazine.
After World War II, he worked with the Greek-British Review as a translator and with the Ellinikí Radiofonía as a radio director. During that period he also began writing lyrics for the music of Manos Hadjidakis, opening a brilliant career in modern Greek songwriting. In due course he also collaborated with Mikis Theodorakis and other notable composers.
His work as a whole combines universal poetic themes such as the problems of evil, injustice, sacrifice, and the pains of love, with more specifically Greek concerns such as the sorrows of exile.
His capability to hamdle language with accuracy led the "Art Theatre", the "National Theatre" and the "Popular Theatre" of Greece to entrust him with translations of various plays -translations that became "legendary"- first and foremost being "Blood Wedding" by Federico Garcia Lorca.
He had a special relationship with Manos Hadjidakis and Nana Mouskouri. His British friends were Philip Sherrard, Peter Levi and Peter Jay, and his Irish friend, Desmond O'Grady.
He died in Athens on 12 May 1992.
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Nikos Gatsos Poems
When you reach that other world, don't become a cloud, don't become a cloud, and the bitter star of dawn, so that your mother knows you, waiting at her door. Take a wand of willow, a root of rosemary,
Song Of Old Times
Times change, years pass the river of the world is muddy but I go out on the balcony of a dream to see you bent over your clay
When you reach that other world, don't become a cloud,
don't become a cloud, and the bitter star of dawn,
so that your mother knows you, waiting at her door.
Take a wand of willow, a root of rosemary,
a root of rosemary, and be a moonlit coolness
falling in the midnight in your thirsting courtyard.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.