Last week as I was aimlessly browsing around the sections of Vancouver Public Library, I suddenly remembered an old book I always wanted to read – “Serpent and Lily”. This is the first literary work of Nikos Kazantzakis and I wondered if VPL would have a copy of it, since it hasn’t been re-published for decades, and copies of it are scarce.
Luckily, there was one wisely resting on the shelf.
“Serpent and Lily” appeared into this world in 1906, while Kazantzakis was still a student in University of Athens. The first sore routs of the unrequited love are not only the inspiration of the author to write the novel, but also the salvation of the demonic influence of this devastating love on his soul.
In this literary work Kazantzakis transforms himself in an inspired artist and by the natural laws of existence meets his beloved who morphs into a muse, a flower and a demon in the heart of the artist.
“O when I imagine You in the tomb, wild instincts of sensuality and horror rise like waves in my blood and I feel the urge to trap You and press my lips on Your lips and clasp You with all the strength of hopelessness and love, to become one flesh, to melt together in the same flame of one embrace – to compress our whole body in one unending kiss and die at night, at midnight, in a single thunderbolt of pleasure – so that death will find nothing to take but a few ashes. “
“Serpent and Lily” is a diary-novel, intimate and poetic where the main character suffers the euphoria, the obsession and the corruption of his passion. The narration resembles an ancient Greek tragedy, where the characters wrapped in a shroud of the mystery of time, walk the path of understanding their own feelings. This aspect is peculiar to Kazantzakis’ works, where the inner sensation and perception of the world, the formation, the life and the death of feeling is manifesting over events and story lines.
“Serpent and Lily” is Kazantzakis’ aspiration to engage art and philosophy through the elegant form of the verbal expression. An ambition which once born becomes а distinctive signature that encompasses his works. Kazantzakis draws inspiration from the worlds inhabiting his soul – from the murkiest abyss to the rising of the spirit.
“I sense that the thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life and higher than science and glory and higher even than starts. Don’t keep my wings tied in Your embrace.
You are only a shadow and only a smile in the great journey of my soul. Your eyes are the two clear springs where my thoughts came to drink and rest for a moment. And between Your breasts hides the soft pillow where I slept for a moment in order to waken again. Don’t hold me bound. The enigma is not hidden in Your Lions nor in Your enormous eyes. And Your arms are small and weak and do not embrace my entire soul. There is a magnet above the stars that pulls me. And my entire body shudders, magnetized by the Great Nostalgia and the Great Longing. Someone is pulling at me from the stars. Do not hold me bound. The thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life. “