Inspired by French Surrealism and especially Paul Eluard, Elytis started to write verse. His first poems appeared in 1935 in magazine Ta Nea Grammata, which also published George Seferis's works - he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1963.
Orientations (1940), Elytis' first collection, combined themes of Eros and beauty with the timeless nature of the Aegean world.
During WW II when Nazis occupied Greece, Elytis joined the resistance movement and served as a second lieutenant in Albania in 1940-41.
In 1943 appeared Asma iroiko ke penthimo ghia ton hameno anthipolochago tis Alvanias (Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign).
In it Elytis's joyful visions of youth and the sun-drenched Aegean nature changed into acknowlegmenet of violence and sudden death. In the poem the youthful hero is killed on the battlefield and miraculously resurrected through his youth and heroism.
After the war Elytis wrote critics for the newspaper Kathimerini and worked for the National Broadcasting Institute in Athens in 1945-46 and again 1953-54.
In 1948 he moved to Paris, where he studied literature at the Sorbonne. During this time he became acquainted with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and other figures of the Parisian art scene.
In 1953 Elytis returned to Greece and took an active role in cultural affairs.
He served as member of the Greek critical and prize-awarding Group of the Twelve.
He was president and governing-board member of Karolos Koun's Art Theater and of the Greek Ballet.
Tης αγάπης αίματα με πορφύρωσαν.
Kαι χαρές ανείδωτες με σκιάσανε.
Oξειδώθηκα μες στη νοτιά των ανθρώπων.
Mακρινή Mητέρα, Pόδο μου Aμάραντο
* * *
The blood of love has robed me in purple .
And joys never seen before have covered me in shade.
I've become corroded in the south wind of humankind.
Faraway Mother, my Everlasting Rose
From THE AXION ESTI, by Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996)
His silence as a poet ended in 1959 with To Axion Esti, reminiscent of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.
The work took him 14 years to write; it was later set music by Mikis Theodorakis. Inspired by the Byzantine liturgy, Elytis combines the biblical story of the creation with Modern Greek history.
In this work the poet identifies himself in the first section, 'Genesis', with the sun and the entire Aegean world and his race.
In the second, 'The Passion', he passes through the barbaric war decade, comparing humankind's suffering with the suffering of Christ.
Eventually, like Dante in Paradise, he sees the sun, love, and beauty.
"If there is, I think, for each one of us a different, a personal Paradise," Elytis once said, "mine should irreparably be inhabited by trees of words that the wind dresses in silver, like poplars, by men who see the rights of which they have been deprived returning to them, and by birds that even in the midst of the truth of death insist on singing in Greek and on saying, Eros, Eros, Eros!""
Between 1965 and 1968 Elytis served on the administrative board of the Greek National Theater, and then spent the next two years in Paris after the Greek military coup of 1967.
In 1978 he published a long poetic work, Maria Nefeli, which was finished when he returned to Greece.
Its alternating monologues are spoken by a girl, Maria Nephele and the Antiphonist, the poet himself. Much of his life, Elytis spent in semi seclusion, focusing only on his art, but after the Nobel Prize followed a period of busy traveling.
Elytis never married; during his last years his companion was the poet Ioulita Iliopoulou.
Elytis died of a heart attack on March 18, 1996.
His collected poems appeared posthumously in 1997.
Elytis was also a talented painter and produced illustrations of his lyrical world in gouaches and collages.