Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

Take hold of your life!

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I woke up this morning with a song that I kept singing quietly all morning:

Κράτησα τη ζωή μου κράτησα τη ζωή μου ταξιδεύοντας

ανάμεσα στα κίτρινα δέντρα κατά το πλάγιασμα της βροχής

σε σιωπηλές πλαγιές φορτωμένες με τα φύλλα της οξιάς,

καμιά φωτιά στην κορυφή τους˙ βραδιάζει.

The poet George Seferis (1900-71)

The very first line is the hardest to translate, for me at least. Is it “I held my life”? Is it, “I held on to my life”? Is it, “I kept hold of my life”? Is it, “I took hold of my life”? Any of these translations is literally correct. But it makes a lot of difference which English translation I choose. Is my life something that I hold like a bag of groceries? Is my life something I protect and hold on to tightly? This second meaning is the one preferred by published translations, and probably comes closest to the original meaning and circumstances of the poet who wrote these words. Or is my life something I take hold of in a momentous decision to make it meaningful? That last is the translation I choose today. It is also what Lent teaches me: To grab hold of my life, to live it to the fullest, without fear and without protective covers, so that I may with boldness come to the night of Pascha and “receive the light from the light that never sets.”

The words are from the poem “Epiphany 1937” by George Seferis, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963. It was set to music by the great Mikis Theodorakis, and was recorded in 1962.

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Here is my translation of the whole song, though I have trouble translating the full impact of the word πλάγιασμα. Is it “slanting” as in published translations, or is it something more like the “cover” of rain? Maybe someone could give me a better translation of that one word which seems to be important in the overall meaning of this song/poem.

I took hold of my life, I took hold of my life traveling

among yellow trees beneath the slanting rain

in silent slopes loaded with the leaves of beech trees

no fire on their peaks; it’s getting dark.

It is because it’s getting dark that we need to “take hold” of our lives. And it is because it’s getting dark that we “keep hold” of our lives! The mistake most of us make is that we keep hold before we take hold! We protect our lives before we have actually lived our lives. That indeed is a very profound problem.

 

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