Nikos Gatsos was a well-known Greek poet and lyricist who worked in different fields of music and poetry.
Nikos Gatsos wrote lyrics for some of the most known Greek composers, such as Manos Hadjidakis and Mikis Theodorakis and marked his era with his distinctive poems, verses and lyrics.
Being a critic and translator, Gatsos always had a particular relationship and connection with the Greek language and Greek music.
Nikos Gatsos – Short Biography
Nikos Gatsos was born in the village of Asea on 8 December 1911, in Arcadia in the Peloponnese Peninsula in southern Greece, and went to school in Tripoli and Athens.
By the time he entered the University of Athens to study philosophy he was already a fluent speaker of English and French. He was already familiar with the poets Kostis Palamas, Dionysios Solomos, as well as the Greek folk songs and the recent trends in European poetry.
In Athens he came into contact with literary figures, particularly the poet Odysseas Elytis, with whom he formed a life-long friendship.
Gatsos published his poems, small in extent and in a classic style, in the magazines Nea Estia (1931) and Rythmos (1933). During that period he also published critics in Makedonikes Imeres, Rythmos and Nea Grammata (for Kostis Bastias, Myrtidiotissa, and Thrasos Kastanakis, respectively).
In 1935 Nikos Gatsos lived in France, in Paris and in southern France.
The first major works of Nikos Gatsos – Amorgos
In 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, Gatsos published his major work, the surrealist epic poem “Amorgos”. Written in one night of inspired concentration, the poem was a distinctive re-imagining of the Greek poetic tradition, composed at a time of mortal danger for the Greek people.
Amorgos is a wonderful incantation on the theme of loss and hope – a unique blend of surrealism, symbolism and folk song – lyrical and erotic, sometimes celebratory, sometimes bitter.
With their country bound to the sails and their oars hung on the wind
The shipwrecked voyagers slept tamely like dead beasts in sheets of sponge
It was much admired by the Nobel laureates Odysseas Elytis and George Seferis, and was hugely influential on the postwar generation of Greek poets. However, after its publication in 1943, Gatsos abandoned poetry, and wrote only popular songs, for which he was later renowned.
Amorgos was soon recognized as a major work, but proved to be the only book Nikos Gatsos published in his career, although he continued to publish poems in literary magazines, such as “Elegya” (1946) and “The Knight and Death” (1947).
Nikos Gatsos, Lyricist and Translator
After the war Gatsos worked as a literary critic and translator, particularly of theatrical plays. For the Greek theaters he produced translations of works by Federico García Lorca, Strindberg, O’ Neil, Jean Genet and others.
After part of his poem “Amorgos” was set to music by Manos Hadzidakis, he established a new and influential role as a lyricist for many famous Greek composers, notably Hadjidakis, Theodorakis and Xarhakos, among others.
Many of his songs are of great beauty and clarity, and helped to introduce a rare quality into Greek popular music.
In later years Gatsos established himself as a unique literary figure in Greece. Holding court in various Athenian coffee shops, he attracted intellectuals and writers, both foreign and Greek, and gave firm but gentle guidance to aspiring poets.
Nikos Gatsos died in Athens in 1992 and was buried in the village of his birth, as he had requested.
About the work of Nikos Gatsos
Stavros Xarchakos, the famous Greek composer, said about Nikos Gatsos:
‘In these songs, Nikos Gatsos, with awe, anger and pain, tells hard truths and speaks bitter words so that Greeks will wake up from their stupor before the onset of an irreversible catastrophe.
‘These songs serve no party political purpose and are not the usual political or ideological songs. They are songs forged out of a deep sense of responsibility from a poet imbued with the Greek spirit and the human struggle who wanted, now, in his perfect maturity, to convey (with song) into the mouths, the souls and brains of our people, the words and sounds of rage against “that and those” (εκείνα και εκείνους) destroying Greece; against those trying to obliterate Greek sensibility and consciousness; and against those taking part in today’s genocide of Greeks by Greeks, with the help of all the anti-Greeks in Europe and the world.
‘Nikos Gatsos’ songs speak for themselves. I only wanted with these few words to stress their importance at this critical time [for Greece]…’