Nikos Kavadias (Νικος Καβαδίας)


One is tempted to think that Kavadias acquired his taste for exotic places at birth. He was born in 1913 in Manchuria, where his father, a Greek merchant from Cephalonia, was engaged in trade. Although he was sufficiently sensitive to the events taking place around him to bring his family back to Cephalonia in 1914, Kavadias’s father returned almost immediately to Russia to attend to his business interests. During the Russian Revolution he disappeared and the family had no idea whether he was alive or dead until1920, when he reappeared in Greece so shattered by his experiences in prison and by the loss of his business that he never recovered.

The family moved to Piraeus, where Kavadias’s maternal uncles worked in the shipping business, but there were serious financial problems, and although he took his examinations for medical school, Kavadias was obliged to work as a clerk in his uncles’ office. At the same time he published his first poems under a pseudonym in the magazine of the Greek Greek Encyclopedia, and began to frequent the literary circles of Piraeus. In 1929, his father died and Kavadias went to sea for the first time as a sailor on the cargo ship Aghios Nikolaos. In the same year his younger brother Argyris, who was to die mysteriously in the cabin of his ship while in port in Japan, also joined the merchant navy. Hoping to become a captain, Nikos eventually settled for the shorter training period required to become a radio officer.

The family moved to Athens in 1933, and Kavadias published his first volume of poetry, Marabou. In 1940, a year after he had become a radio officer, Kavadias was drafted into the Greek Army. The Italians had presented a demand for a free passage though Greece to North Africa to the Greek dictator General Metaxas in October, 1940. Trained in the Prussian academy and an admirer of Hitler’s policies, Metaxas surprised the Italians by saying no, a decision still celebrated in Greece today. The Greek army managed to hold the Italians at bay on the Albanian border; it was not until the Germans invaded and occupied Greece the following year that the Greek government fled to Egypt, leaving resistance to the occupying forces in the hands of the partisan army. After serving in the Albanian campaign, Kavadias could not find work at sea until 1945, when he embarked on the passenger ship Corinth. Two years later, he published his second collection of poems, Fog. He would remain at sea as a radio officer for the rest of his life.

In 1954, Kavadias published his only full-length prose work, On Watch, a largely autobiographical work based on his life at sea. When his mother died in 1965, Nikos decided to share an apartment with his sister Jenia whenever he was in port. In the same building lived Jenia’s daughter Elga, to whom Fog is dedicated. Having no children of his own, Kavadias was deeply attached to his niece and he wrote his last poems for Elga’s son Philipos, born in 1966. Kavadias died of a stroke in 1975, the year his third volume of poems, Traverso, was published.