Wednesday, 28 July 2010


“Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.” - Abraham Lincoln

For Poetry Wednesday today, Yannis Ritsos (1909–90), a Greek poet. He is one of modern Greece’s most widely translated poets and moved from an early concern with classical themes and style to a more deeply personal lyricism. His writing reflects family tragedies, a stay in a tuberculosis ward, and his political engagement against dictatorship that earned him periods of deportation and house arrest. He served time in prison camps during 1947-1952 and after the 1967 coup, thence living under house arrest or surveillance. He took moral power from his poems, and spoke of political enemies with compassion rather than bitterness.

Some of his best known works include: Tractor (1934), and Pyramids (1935). These two works  achieve a fragile balance between faith in the future, founded on the Communist ideal, and personal despair. Epitaph (1936). This was a lengthy poem which uses the mechanics of traditional poetry but expresses in a clear and simple language a message of fraternity and brotherhood. Vigil (1941-1953), and  Districts of the World (1949-1951). These were written from his experiences in prison camps, which occurred because of the Greek civil war and his stance against the Fascists

Later works marked Ritsos’ development and maturity as a Poet: The Moonlight-Sonata  (1956) – When Comes the Stranger (1958), The Old Women and the Sea (1958),  The Dead House (1959-1962) This is a long monologue partly inspired by the ancient Greek mythology and the ancient tragedies:  A characteristic of his latest poems such as: Late in the Night (1987-1989) is that they are filled with sadness and the awareness of suffering. But in a humbly poetic way Ritsos preserves a gleam of hope in his creative tragedy.

With These Stones

Yannis Ritsos

An unexpected wind blew. The heavy shutters creaked.
Leaves were lifted from the ground. They flew away, flew away.
Until only stones remained. Now we must make do with these –
he kept repeating – with these, with these. When night descended
the great, inky mountainside, he threw our keys into the well.
Ah, dear stones—he said—one by one I'll chisel
the unknown faces and my body, with its one hand
tightly clenched, raised above the wall.

May 30, 1968

Yannis Ritsos

Saturday, Sunday, Saturday again – and before you know it, Monday.
A quiet dusk without colour, or trees, or chairs.
We have nothing to spend. The old pitcher on the dinner table;
the plates, the glasses, the sad hands, the deserted –
the spoon rises; another mouth finds it – but which mouth?
Who eats? Who grows quiet? In the open window
a small, forgotten moon swallows its own spit.
It's not that we're no longer growing fat, but that we're no longer hungry.

June 4, 1968
Partheni concentration camp
Translated by Scott King

1 comment:

  1. They are very intense, these poems. I have never heard of this poet before but I am intrigued enough to find some more of his work on the web...