In the recently released A Levant Journal, translated by Roderick Beaton from the Greek of Nobel Prize winning poet George Seferis, the great poet visits the grave of Jane Digby (a.k.a. “Ianthe”) in Damascus. As so often in his journals, Seferis produces what amounts to a prose poem—a brief description full of suggestive disturbances. He is incapable, it seems, of shallow writing.
It was getting dark, a wind was blowing. Between the grave and the surrounding wall was a great walnut tree heavy with ripening fruit. Around it were three fig trees, odd how they grew beneath its great shadow. The only growing things in this desert landscape. You felt relief at this gift of fate to the woman who so loved gardens. Night had already deeply stained the breeze that came and went through the branches. Little by little the foliage became the cool mouth of a black cave whose exit you cannot guess. And this movement—of the breeze and the leaves—made your feel that the long, narrow body of Ianthe, turned to marble and transfigured, was journeying above the abyss, the scent of the walnut tree, with the hopeless longing of that tree.
Passages like this make this book well worth reading—not to mention Beaton’s wonderfully fresh translations of some classic Seferis poems.
The book demonstrates why Ibis Editions has become one of our most eclectic and exciting literary publishers.