The Garden at Mystrá

Timothy Adès

Ta-ýgetos! From peaks that gleam all icy with a silver beam,
Amid the breeze that ever blows both sure and soft from melting snows,
In downy golden years of youth, in dawn’s bright flash of flame,
The heavenly twins’ white horses and their matchless chariot came;
Set low between her brothers both a-tiptoe on the beam,
In gown immortal, flowing down, like water, Helen came!

In the rosy light of dawn for You, my great-eyed holy Lady,
the ding-dong bells were ringing, from Mistrá to Kalamáta.
O may my hand in prayer grasp the flower of the rose:
like a dove the passing hour on a sure wing goes.
On the high-arched windows the holy hour that passes
is a virgin lamp all shining before the iconostases.
Slim pillars on light arches, you are like the cyparisses
that soar aloft on waterfalls, by rocky precipices.
Garden of archangels where the wind-hovers play,
whose wing-beats fan the painted saints that fade and pass away!
There’s a noise like a bee from the old bell-tower,
when the hive-mother moans, and the bell’s a pendant flower.
Sword of Mount Ta-ýgetos, so quick to snuff the sun,
your draughts of shade refresh us as your temple-vaults have done.
O I dreamed amid the lilies and the garden-plants
that You, the Queen of All, danced a doe’s merry dance.
Angels frisked around You, as I paid your Grace obeisance:
was it Eros blew me forward? I was saying my Eleïsons.
They crossed their wings so quick (I heard the rustle, do not doubt)
and raised them to the middle, with a turn-and-turn-about.
Your garden’s bright with rose-beds, apple-trees and cherries,
almonds in abundance, and bunches of berries.
Greet me as you greet the little bird that comes along,
singing in the blessed shade its own sweet song.
I would not taste of all the fruit, but the ripest and the best:
ready and about to fall, by the birds caressed.
I’ll water all your flower-beds, stooping to the splash,
just as does the blackbird, to give my face a wash.
My Lady, I shall rest beneath your white grape-vines,
in the bower where your crowding camomile twines.
Garden of archangels where the wind-hovers play,
refreshing all the painted saints that fade and pass away!

Original by Ángelos Sikelianós (1884-1951)

Translated by Timothy Adès.

Notes by Timothy Adès: Mistrá, on a spur of Mount Taýgetos and close to Sparta, is a romantic ruin, a fortified hill-city which was a centre of Byzantine power and culture. Kalamáta is the large town nearby.

Plethon: George Gemistos ‘Plethon’, a leading spirit of Mistrá and of the Greek Renaissance, was sent by Emperor Manuel Paleologus to the Council of Florence, 1439. He did less to promote the unity of the eastern and western churches than to arouse interest in Plato. He wrote to the Emperor, and to the Lord of the Morea (the Peloponnese) in Mistrá, calling for reform on the lines of Plato’s Republic.Sikelianós called this poem From the Prologue to ‘Plethon’.

Helen, daughter of Zeus (in the form of a swan) and Leda, and sister of the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux, was not yet ‘of Troy’ when she came to Sparta in her semi-divine glory as a blameless bride.

Poetry Atlas has many other poems about Greece.

Main Location:

Castle of Mystras, Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece

Other locations:

The castle at Mystras in Greece, by George_E.Koronakis. Image in the public domain