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.
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).
To a green star
Evil witnesses to men are eyes and ears
if they have barbarian souls.
With their country strapped to the sails their oars suspended in the wind
the shipwrecked slept tame as dead beasts on sheets of sponges
but the eyes of the seaweed are turned to the sea
lest the south wind bear them back with new-dyed sails
and a lost elephant is always worth a little more than the two breasts of a trembling girl.
only let the roofs of ruined mountain chapels light up with desire for the evening star
let the birds come in waves to the masts of the lemon trees
with the strong white gasps of new steps
and then the winds will come the bodies of swans that remain mild unsoiled still
into the steamrollers of shops in the cyclones of cabbage patches
when the eyes of the women became dark and the hearts of the chestnutsellers broke
when the harvest was stopped and the hopes of the crickets began.
So! my pallikari with wine in your kisses and leaves on your lips
I want you to plunge naked into rivers
to sing to Barbary like the carpenter hunts out the woodgrain
like the viper passes through gardens of barley
with its proud ferocious eyes
like the lightning threshes the young
And don’t laugh and don’t cry and don’t rejoice
don’t uselessly lace up your shoes like you were planting platans
don’t become FATED