Nikiforos Vrettakos

Nikiforos Vrettakos

Nikiforos Vrettakos was born in Peloponese. He was the second child of six in the family of the Konstantine and Eugenia Vrettakos. He attended elementary and high school in Gytheion, South Peloponese, where the other great Greek poet Yannis Ritsos attended as well. In 1929 he moved to Athens with plans to attend University, however due to financial difficulties he didn’t but instead he worked in various jobs just to earn his living. During this period he published his first poetry books Under Lights and Shadows and Descending Into the Silence of the Eons which were well received and also got the attention of Kostis Palamas, established poet at that time. Between the years 1929 and 1938 he lived for a while in Peireus. He got married and worked as a civil servant.

He went to the army and during the war against the Italians in 1940 he was sent to the front lines of Northern Greece. Soon after the invasion by the Germans he went back to Athens and became part of the National Liberation Army. Entries of his diary became the base of his next poetry book Wild Beast. During this period he also became member of the Greek Communist Party. For a while he worked as a clerk at the Ministry of Taxation and during this period he met the poet Aggelos Sikelianos with whom he shared a life-long friendship.

In 1955 he was elected member of the civil council of Peireus where he contributed a lot in the artistic and literary development of the city. In 1957 he travelled to Russia along with Stratis and Mirivilis, another famous author of the days. In Moscow he met the wife of the famous Maxim Gorky.

After the four colonels took control of the Greek Government in 1967 Vrettakos went to self-exile in Switzerland from where he travelled all over Europe and took part in radio programs and poetry events in various countries. He was recognized by a few European Universities and during this period he wrote his autobiographical piece called Anguish which was published in New York.

In 1974, after the seven years dictatorship he returned to Athens. The Greek Academy awarded him the most prestigious Ouranis Award and he was named honorary professor of the Literature Department of the University of Athens. In 1991 he visited his hometown in south Peloponese and in August of the same year he had a heart attack. His funeral took place in Athens.

He was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize.


Neo-Hellene Poets – An anthology by Manolis Aligizakis
Poems below from:

Neo-Hellene Poets – An Anthology of
Modern Greek Poetry 1750-2018

An anthology of poets by Manolis Aligizakis
paperback 6/9 (& Kindle Edition)
817 pages



I have three worlds
the sea, the sky,
and a green garden: your eyes
if I could saunter in all three I could inform you
to where each of them reaches
for the sea I know
for the sky I suspect
for my green garden
don’t ask

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis


I dug up the whole of earth, just to discover you
I sieved the desert in my heart; I knew that
without man the sunlight wouldn’t
be complete; however, now, seeing
through so much clarity, through you —
things come near me, they become discernable
diaphanous, now I can
include its parts in one of my poems

I’ll grab a page and I’ll
turn the light into straight lines

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis


I seek a shoreline where using canes
or trees I’ll fence one piece of the horizon
where, gathering infinity, I may get the sense
that machines don’t exist or only a few do
that soldiers don’t exist or only a few do
that weapons don’t exist or only a few do
that lead to the exit of the forest with the wolves
where there aren’t any merchants or only a few
in remote places of the earth where
paved roads haven’t yet been laid

God hopes that at least
paradise will never cease to exist in the poets’ sobs

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis


Not, I haven’t come to say
goodbye, my brother, you who I placed
on top of a twig when I was a sunray
most of my verse are structures
on your body and if my words
become logos we would be both
standing like parallel rocks. Yet among
today’s forest that’s turned upside down
logos isn’t heard anymore though I know
that in a future day children will find
flowers in my books and they’ll
talk of the miracle of life as they gaze
the world through my verse

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis


If you miss me one night, don’t be concerned
till the next morning, evening, till Sunday
I’ll be around here, next to the sick man
I’ll be searching for a spring with my bitter cane
I’ll be walking from door to door with a loaf under my arm
keep the fire always lit since I’ll return to you
most of the times wet. I’ve warmed up a shirt
on your knees and be mindful of the door and
the public road that I may be heard because
without the waning moon and the bright stars
I come back from the world’s end every time

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis


If you could be heard
I could give you my soul
to take to end of the world
to use and create a peripatic star
or wood for the fireplace of the negro
and the Hellene villager during Christmas
who will use it to make a bloomed almond tree
in the windows of the prisoners

I perhaps won’t be alive tomorrow

if you could be heard
I could give you my soul
to turn into visible
colorful, musical midnight notes
playing in the air of the world

to turn it into LOVE

© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis

Published with the permission of Manolis Aligizakis