The relationship between a person’s public and private life is open to criticism, no matter how small his social role or public image. From the moment that the “public” concerns either our formal or actual relationships with others, the number or status of those “others” merely constitutes one factor in the scale of the public-private relationship. There are, nevertheless, certain cases in which this relationship is marginal. If political activity constitutes the most profound expression of public life, and poetry the most profound function – and expression in most forms of poetry – of private life, then the combination of these two activities in the same person constitutes a marginal instance of the relationship between two basic constituents of life, with Seferis as an apt example. In his case, the private (together with poetry) constitutes the definitive factor, while the public (represented by a very mild version of political action, that of the diplomat) constitutes a factor of resistance to the function of the private.
This conflict can be detected as a feature underlying his poetry, but it is in the seven volumes of the poet’s journals that the conflict is described so clearly and persistently as to become the basic topic. It is here that each of the two aspects is described in terms of its relationship with the other, though, in particular, the private in terms of the public. The personal journey is described in the context of collective history, while at the same time the opportunity arises for developing a rhetoric of conflict – though, occasionally, of agreement – between the private and the public.
From this point of view, the journal of a poet like Seferis is of particular importance, as it is not simply a working diary, but rather an endeavour to balance the subjective with the objective. Moreover, this balance constituted the kernel of his poetics that found expression in the perception of the suppression of the “ego” as a prerequisite of poetry, thus bringing him close to the corresponding theory of T. S. Eliot concerning the suppression of the personality, and also close to mystical thought. If, however, the balancing of the subjective and objective constitutes the prerequisite, the goal and the task of poetic expression, then the journal has an equally important role to play in this endeavour to find a balance: namely, to describe the specific conditions and circumstances of the endeavour on an everyday level, and also to reveal its importance through the process of conflict rather than through the actual product of the resolution of the conflict, which is achieved with the poetic work.
Consequently, Seferis’ Days are not an attempt at an autobiography, which usually, either directly or indirectly, aims to mythicize the life and work of the author. His journal is not a means of lending support to his poetry, but rather a functional part of it: the journal constitutes the aesthetically unaffected part of his poetic work, the part that, without any claims to art, serves the same purpose as the poetic work, to such a degree that the latter may even be seen as a part of the journals. And this is so because firstly, the thirty-five years covered by the journals reveal an unbreakable relationship between life and work, and secondly, because Seferis had a peculiar understanding of what a journal is.
According to this understanding, a journal does not cover every moment of our life, or even the quintessence of our life. It is the mark, perhaps a random one, of any single moment, which may not necessarily be significant. In writing his Days, Seferis himself says that his intention was not to give a day-by-day account of his life: “Day by day we live our lives; we don’t write it down – writing, whatever you do, is just one part of life.”
Apart from the conflict of the public and private, of poetry and profession, or, to put it another way, of the poet and the diplomat, there is another source of conflict that constitutes the driving force behind the account in Seferis’ Days: the conflict between sensuality and self-control. In this second source of conflict, the contest between the private and the public is transferred to more inner levels of conscience, since the poet’s sensuality and his temperament in general do not constitute, as does his profession, a given external condition for writing, but rather an inner decisive factor which, nevertheless, proves to be an abundant source of poetic energy provided that it is controlled.
The poet contends with his living and profession on the one hand, and with his body on the other. This contest becomes even more difficult due to the particular historical circumstances of the Second World War and the Greek Civil War. During these years, the contest between the public and private becomes a conflict with a decisive effect on the former. Later, however, under normal conditions, the poet recognises his public life and profession as factors which balance his poetic work. Without these factors, the work loses some necessary points of reference which act as a means of securing a degree of measure. In this way, writing may consummate life, but the objective and difficult circumstances, through their resistance, activate the creative impulse and also set the work of the imagination within the realm of the actual. Seferis’ poetry constitutes the valuable product of the multiple contest described above, while his journal constitutes a revealing testimony to it, proving that this is not merely a useful tool for interpreting his work, but also an important complement to that work.