Nikos Kavvadias
Nikos Kavvadias was a Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 poet and writer; currently one of the most popular poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

s in Greece, who used his travels around the world as a sailor, and life at sea and its adventures, as powerful metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

s for the escape of ordinary people outside the boundaries of reality.

Early life and education

Kavvadias was born in Nikolsk-Ussuriysky
Ussuriysk is a city in Primorsky Krai, Russia, located in the fertile valley of the Razdolnaya River, north of Vladivostok and about from both the Chinese border and the Pacific Ocean. Population: -Medieval history:...

 (now Ussuriysk in the Primorsky Krai
Primorsky Krai
Primorsky Krai , informally known as Primorye , is a federal subject of Russia . Primorsky means "maritime" in Russian, hence the region is sometimes referred to as Maritime Province or Maritime Territory. Its administrative center is in the city of Vladivostok...

 region of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, close to the border with China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, part of the historic region of Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

). This fact, according to him, linked him emotionally to the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

, expressed in his short story Li. His parents were Greeks from the island of Cefalonia and as a young child he had the opportunity to travel extensively. His family returned for a few years to their home island and finally moved to Pireus, Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

' port, in 1921. He wrote his first poems while in grammar school.

After graduating from high school in Pireus he took the entrance exams to become a doctor in 1928. His father fell sick that same year and young Kavvadias was forced to get a job as an office clerk in a shipping office to help his family. He lasted only a few months there and after his father's death, he went on board the freighter ship
Cargo ship
A cargo ship or freighter is any sort of ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year; they handle the bulk of international trade...

 Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) as a sailor
A sailor, mariner, or seaman is a person who navigates water-borne vessels or assists in their operation, maintenance, or service. The term can apply to professional mariners, military personnel, and recreational sailors as well as a plethora of other uses...

. He worked for a few years on freighter boats, coming back home always wretched and penniless. He decided to get the captain diploma, but settled for a radio operator's diploma. He got it in 1939, but by that time World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 had started and he was sent to fight in Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...


During the German occupation of Greece, he joined the National Liberation Front (EAM) and became a member of the Commmunist Party. When the war was over in 1944, he embarked and traveled continuously as a radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 operator all over the world until November 1974, having the opportunity to get to know the sea and its exotic port
A port is a location on a coast or shore containing one or more harbors where ships can dock and transfer people or cargo to or from land....

s. Through his experiences in the sea he collected material for his poetry. Returning from his last trip and as he was preparing the publication of his third collection of poems, he died suddenly from a stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 on February 10, 1975, after only three months off sea.

His work is filled with references to life in the sea
A sea generally refers to a large body of salt water, but the term is used in other contexts as well. Most commonly, it means a large expanse of saline water connected with an ocean, and is commonly used as a synonym for ocean...

. His poetry was popularized in Greece, partly because some of his poems have been set to music by Thanos Mikroutsikos
Thanos Mikroutsikos
Athanasios Mikroutsikos was born in Patras, Greece and is one of the leading composers of popular and classical music in his home country. He studied music theory and piano at the Patras Philharmonic Society and at the Greek Conservatory and continued under Yiannis A. Papaioannou...

 in his very popular albums Σταυρός του Νότου (Southern Cross) and Γραμμές των Οριζόντων (Horizons' Lines).

Early writings

His first collection of poems, Marabou, was published in 1933 when Kavvadias was in his early twenties and carries within it the spirit of a romantic young man, impressed with the marvels of the world. Most of these poems tell half fictitious stories that happened on the sea and the different places he visited. The collection begins with a poem about the catastrophic love for a young wealthy girl that ended up a poor prostitute that he could barely recognise. Other events recount the stories of a Norwegian captain who died homesick watching a ship sailing towards Norway, a dagger carrying the curse that whoever carries it shall kill someone he loves, and an African story-telling sailor who rescued him from a brawl only to die of fever in the Far East. Artistically he was influenced by French literature
French literature
French literature is, generally speaking, literature written in the French language, particularly by citizens of France; it may also refer to literature written by people living in France who speak traditional languages of France other than French. Literature written in French language, by citizens...

 and the poet Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the nineteenth century...

 whom he cites in many of his works. Like much of Greek poetry, Kavvadias' work is characterized by a heavy degree of nostalgia.

Later works

His other two collections are Fog which was published in 1947 and Traverso which was published after his death 1975. Another short story, Of War, published after his death in 1987, recounts the story of his rescue by a local during a storm. The war had a deep effect on him and these later collections are politically motivated, in support of the somewhat more liberal communists. One of these later poems is about the death of Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara
Che Guevara
Ernesto "Che" Guevara , commonly known as el Che or simply Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist...

 and was written as an answer to the accusations by some active communists who thought that his poems romanticized too much the otherwise harsh and dangerous life of sailors, who were potential symbols of class struggle. Another is about the execution of Andalusian poet and writer Federico García Lorca
Federico García Lorca
Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca was a Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director. García Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of '27. He is believed to be one of thousands who were summarily shot by anti-communist death squads...

 by the Franco dictatorship, which, in the poem, is associated with the destruction of the Greek village of Distomo
Distomo , older forms: Distomon is a municipality in the Boeotia Prefecture, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Distomo-Arachova-Antikyra, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 and other brutal acts done by the Nazi forces occupying Greece during the Second World War.

His only novel The Shift was published in 1954 and recounts the stories told by the sailors on their night shift at the ship's bridge. Images from exotic places, prostitutes, captains gone mad and memories of the War blend in to form a dreamy world full of lucid forms, part fictitious, part true.

Although he is very popular in Greece, with his best poems taught throughout the country, his fame is not as widespread as the great Greek poet Odysseas Elytis
Odysseas Elytis
Odysseas Elytis was regarded as a major exponent of romantic modernism in Greece and the world. In 1979 he was bestowed with the Nobel Prize in Literature.-Biography:...

.He is considered by many to be the embodiment of the Greek "soul" for his romantic affiliation with the sea and its journeys and for his genuinely humane outlook.

A selection of his poetry, with some of his shorter prose, translated into English by Simon Darragh, is available under the title Wireless Operator from the London Publisher Enitharmon.


  • 1933: Marabu (Μαραμπού)
  • 1947: Fog (Πούσι)
  • 1975: Traverso (Τραβέρσο)
  • 1987: The Collected Poems of Nikos Kavadias, tr. G. Holst-Warhaft [Greek and English texts]


  • 1954: The Shift (Βάρδια)
  • 1987: Li (Λί); on 1995 adapted to film
    Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (film)
    Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a 1995 Belgian-French drama film directed by Marion Hänsel. It was entered into the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.-Cast:* Stephen Rea - Nikos* Ling Chu - Li* Adrian Brine - Captain* Maka Kotto - African sailor...

  • 1987: Of War/On My Horse (Του Πολέμου/Στ' άλογό μου)

External links

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