Everything Waits For Us – A Reminder by Greek Poet Elias Polimeneas

A Typical Byzantine Church in the Back Country of the Greek Pelopenese.

What is next
Next is what is called New.

For everything is patiently
awaiting us.

- Allow me please, to make you a coat

said the craftsman’s wife.

And then…

She skillfully managed
to place inside the stiches
all the communions
of her

Elias Polimeneas from Like bridges, 2012

Here in Kardamyli, Greece a paradox – churches and chapels everywhere (in one tiny village nearby more than thirty) but all of them as far I can tell, locked and closed unless a service is being held. Luckily the poet, hotelier and rancantour, Elias Polimeneas, whose apartments I am staying in, knows the local priest so I made it into a particularly old church dating back to Byzantine times. Frescoes cover every surface.

While active church-going might be great these days (one weekday service I glimpsed inside an open door only had two older people) there is a sense for me of this being a god-drenched place. Not just a Christian god but the Greek gods of the myths that hold such power in the imagination even today.

And that sense is caught so well in this poem by Constatine Cavafy (1863-1933) even now perhaps the best-known Greek poet in the West.


For we smashed their statues,
for we drove them from ther temples,
even so the gods are by no means dead.
O land of Ionia, its you they cherish still,
it’s you their soul’s remember still.
When an August morn dawns upon you
your air is filled with vigour from their lives;
and at times an ethereal adolescent figure,
indistinct, with swift stride,
Passes over your hills.

Constantine Cavafy from C.P. Cavafy – Selected Poems, translated by David Connolly, Aiora Press, 2015

I can’t say that in my hours of hiking here I have seen a figure, indistinct, with swift stride passing over the hills, yet there is a sense of the numinous in the rugged landscape, its upheaval of gorges and mountains and thickets of dense trees and, always scattered about, the tall spires of the dark green cypress trees. And churches!

It was that unexpected sense of the numinous in Elias’s poem that drew me to it when he read it to me a few days ago. And also the surprising turn that occurs after for everything is patiently/awaiting us. The abrupt switch from the abstractions in the first four lines to the particular of a coat and a craftsman’s wife.

The sense of anticipation, the celebration of the new in the first four lines and then the narrowed focus on making a new coat. How here, the image of a new coat, carries such weight. How we cloak ourselves in the world. What we wear for protection as we travel. And this is no ordinary coat or cloak. This is one saturated with religious and spiritual meaning: She skilfully managed/ to place inside the stiches/ all the communions/ of her life.

What a loaded word: communions. The central religious ceremony or liturgy of the Christian church also known as the eucharist. The eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. The body and blood of Christ. This intimate connection with Christ or the divine or the holly or the numinous is living inside the stitches of this coat.

And what compels me even further is that it is the woman, the feminine that crafts this coat. Not a black-frocked priest. The sense of the holy I feel so alive and present at the poem’s conclusion. I would wish to wear such a cloak. Especially as each day I face the new, what the world patiently holds for me. And the new, whether or not it is joyous or troubling or utterly difficult.

And as I read Elias’s poem I heard another echo, not just of Cavafy, but from the Anglo American poet David Whyte. An almost word for word echo made even more meaningful because Elias has never heard of David Whyte let alone read his poems. The echo was here: For everything is patiently/ awaiting us.

That line so close to the title of Whyte’s book and the corresponding poem in it: Everything is Waiting for You. Here’s Whyte’s poem:

Everything Is Waiting For You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte from Everything Is Waiting For You, Many Rivers Press, 2003

Whyte’s poem carries such a sense of an invitation for a reader to fully engage in the world. To be wholly  present. And so does Elias’s poem but with an added specifically holy dimension. To wear a coat stiched through and through with the numinous, the transcendant, the holy. Now that’s a coat I would like to take with me on my travels today!