“I don’t know which affected me more deeply-the story of the lemon groves just opposite us or the sight of Poros itself when suddenly I realized we were sailing through the streets. If there is one dream which I like above all others it is that of sailing on land. Coming into Poros gives the illusion of the deep dream.Suddenly the land converges on all sides and the boat is squeezed into a narrow strait from which there is no egress. The men and women of Poros are hanging out of the windows just above your head. You pull in right under their frosty nostrils, as though for a shave and a haircut en route. The loungers on the quay are walking with the same speed as the boat. They can walk faster than the boat if they choose to quicken their pace.”
This is how Henry Miller describes the impression he got upon his arrival in Poros.
In 1939, Henry Miller left Paris, his home of nine years, as the events of the Second World War began to unfold. An impoverished writer in need of rejuvenation, he travelled to Greece at the invitation of his friend, the writer Lawrence Durrell, who lived in Corfu. Miller had already found his voice as an author whilst an expatriate and had published some of his best-known works, including Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn.
The Colossus of Maroussi is an impressionist travelogue by Henry Miller which was first published in 1941 by Colt Press of San Francisco. Set in pre-war Greece of 1939, it is ostensibly a characterization of the “Colossus” of the title, George Katsimbalis, a poet and raconteur. The work is frequently heralded as Miller’s best.
“I will cling to Poros…if I should ever have the choice of attaining Nirvana or remaining behind to watch over and guide those to come, I say now let me remain behind, let me hover as a gentle spirit above the roofs of Poros and look down upon the voyager with a smile of peace and good cheer…”
Henry Miller, 1941, “The Colossus of Maroussi”
The text is inspired by the events that occurred during Miller’s nine months living there. Miller’s evaluation is tempered by the outbreak of the Second World War which eventually forced him to return to America in December 1939.
The book, written in New York, was influenced by Miller’s resentment at having to return to his native land and his subsequent feeling of isolation.
Miller travels across Athens, Crete, Corfu, Poros and Delphi.
The text is ostensibly a portrait of the Greek writer George Katsimbalis (the “Colossus” of the book’s title), although some critics have opined that the Colossus is more of a self-portrait of Miller himself.
The influence of D. H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway on the work has been noted.
The work is considered to be Miller’s best by critics, a view which the author himself also held. Pico Iyer describes the novel as an “ecstatic ramble”. Will Self depicts Miller in the novel as “a relentless fabulist who advances solipsism to the status of one of the fine arts.”.