Generally regarded as one of Greece's finest 20th century poets, Nikos Gatsos also ranked as perhaps the greatest lyricist in Greek popular music. Working with legendary songwriters like Manos Hadjidakis and Mikis Theodorakis, Gatsos helped to forge a new era of Greek pop in which traditional-style melodies could be married to intelligent, poetic lyrics, with all the accessibility of contemporary pop. Gatsos was born in the village of Asea in Arcadia, likely on December 8, 1911 (though some accounts hold 1914). He spoke several languages and studied at the School of Philosophy in Athens. His first short poems were published in 1931, and another set appeared in 1933; however, for the next decade, most of his writing was dedicated to scholarship.
In 1943, while Greece was in the midst of a crippling famine and suffering under Nazi occupation, Gatsos published his major work, the epic poem Amorgos. Written in one night of concentrated, stream-of-consciousness effort, Amorgos was a surrealist reimagining of the Greek poetic tradition whose influence is still being felt. Surprisingly, it proved to be the only book of Gatsos' literary career. After World War II, Gatsos worked as a scholar and translator for a time, until the legendary Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis adapted part of Amorgos into a pop song. The result was a smash hit, and Gatsos soon became the premier lyricist in Greek pop, able to balance his trademark surrealism with simplicity of language and feeling. He worked not only with Hadjidakis, but also Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Xarchakos, and several other top composers who led the new flowering of Greek popular music in the postwar era. Eventually, Gatsos branched out into the theatrical world, providing high-quality Greek translations of numerous foreign plays. He passed away on May 12, 1992.