Lorentsos Mavilis

Lorentsos Mavilis was a great Greek poet who is little known outside Greece. It is said to be one of the best sonneteers in Greek literature. His technique is influenced by the French poet Heredia (1842-1905). Mavilis' reputation as a poet is based not on his output but on the quality of style on which he worked with diligence following in the footsteps of Dionysios Solomos (1798-1998), the founder of the Ionian School.

Mavilis' poetry was the result of the meeting of modern artistic movements, his democratic ideas and the poetry tradition of his native Ionian Islands. Mavilis had almost exclusively cultivated the sonnet form. He wrote more than 50; "Elia" and the "Lithi" are considered the most characteristic. He was born in the Island of Ithaca in 1860 by Corfiot parents. His father was a judge and his grandfather was a Spanish nobleman who had served as Spain’s ambassador in Constantinople. His mother was one of the most educated women of her time.

After graduating from the well known Kapodistrias school, Mavilis at the age of seventeen he joined the Law School of the University of Athens due to his fathers’ wishes. But Mavilis soul belonged to the poetry. With the aid of his teacher, Ioannis Romanos, he met with the spiritual men of his country, especially with Iakovos Polylas, Grasimos Markoras, etc., and so he was initiated into the poetry of the Greek National Poet Dionysios Solomos.

Only two years after at the age of nineteen the Young Mavilis left for Munich to finish his studies. Mavilis was a multilingual man; he studied the poetic masterpieces of the European literature, of which he translated many. He lived for fourteen years in Munich Germany. As a student, he was influenced by Kant and Schopenhauer. Mavilis was a multilingual man; he could speak fluently English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. The great Greek poet studied the poetic masterpieces of the European literature, of which he translated many.

On his return to Corfu in 1893 at the age of 33 he became involved in the cultural and political life and in 1896 became a leader of volunteers fighting against the Turkish occupation in Crete. In 1910 he was elected member of the Greek Parliament. In a famous speech the following year defended the use of the demotic language against the purist. His statement “There are no vulgar words; there are only vulgar people” has become proverbial.

In 1912 when Mavilis was 52, he again participated voluntarily as captain of the Garibaldini of Al. Romas in the 1st Balkan War known as the Greek-Turkish war of 1912 where on November 28th he was killed on the Driskos hill overlooking the Pamvotis lake of Ioannina. While he was injured the Chief Commander approached him and told him “Do not worry Mavilis, do not worry.” Mavilis looked at him and with his last breath whispered “I was prepared for many glories, but I never expected to receive the most glorious one; die fighting for the freedom of my country.”

Mavilis’ poems and translated works by Schiller, Byron, Shelley and Tennyson were published in a volume in Alexandria two years after his heroic death.

Lethe

Fortunate are the dead who forget the bitterness of life.
When the sun sets and dusk follows.
Do not weep for them no matter how deep your sorrow may be.

At such an hour the souls are thirsty and go to
Lethe’s crystal-cold spring;
but the water will turn muddy,
if a tear is shed for them by the beloved.

And if they drink unclear water, they recall,
passing through fields of asphodels.
past sorrows that sleep within them.

If you cannot but weep at sunset,
your eyes should lament for the living
who seek to forget, but cannot forget.

Poem Translated by Dr. Panos Karagiorgos