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Giorgos Seferis: The First Greek Poet to Be Awarded the Nobel Prize

On December 10, 1963, Greek diplomat and poet Giorgos Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by King Gustav of Sweden. Seferis was the first Greek to receive the esteemed award.

Seferis’ poetry became known internationally in the 1950’s. He was nominated twice, in 1955 and 1961, before finally receiving the coveted prize.

The October 24, 1963 telegraph from the Swedish Academy announced that Seferis had won the prize “for his wonderful lyrical style, inspired by a deep feeling for the Greek cultural ideal”.

Seferis, who at the time was bedridden at home because of ill health, said that “By selecting a Greek poet for the Nobel Prize, I think the Swedish Academy wanted to express its solidarity with the living, spiritual Greece.”

He went on to add “the Greece for which so many generations have fought, trying to keep its long cultural tradition alive. I also think that the Swedish Academy wanted to show that today’s humanity also needs poetry – from all peoples – and the Greek spirit.”

Seferis was competing for that year’s Nobel in a field of stellar writer including literary giants such as Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, English-American poet W.H. Auden and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

However, the news of the great award was not received enthusiastically. The newspaper headlines concerned the upcoming elections on November 3 as well as the ongoing battles between the Centrists Union and the right-wing ERE.

The Left, for their part, would probably have preferred that leftist Pablo Neruda receive the great prize.

At the December 10th ceremony at Stockholm City Hall, Seferis spoke about the direct and unbroken continuity of the Greek language from antiquity to the present age.

He stated, “I belong to a small country. A stone cape in the Mediterranean, which has no other good than the struggle of its people, the sea, and the sunlight. Our country is small, but its tradition is enormous and … it was delivered to us without interruption.

“People never ceased to speak the Greek language. It had its alterations, like everything that is alive, bu there are no gaps in its existence…” he noted.

He also referred to the necessity and function of poetry in the modern world, saying “It is important that Sweden wished to honor this poetry, and all poetry in general, even when it addresses a limited number of people’”

Seferis concluded by saying that “I believe that this modern world we live in, full of fear and anxiety, is in need of poetry.”

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