Yannis Ritsos – Poems

poetry by Yannis Ritsos
translated by Manolis

Preview

Pantelis Prevelakis writes:

"Ritsos' breath raises a wind in which wafted and swirled flakes from the crust of our land, seeds of its vegetation and sparks of its sky. Without Ritsos' eloquence, Greeks would have forgotten how to name a major part of all those things that are there before their eyes and restoration of his work to its totality is an imperative duty to the Greek nation itself, which deserves to regain its unity after nearly forty years of strife"

Chrysa Prokopaki writes:

"Myth in Ritsos' works on three main levels reflecting the historical background, personal memory and contemporary social problems. Due to the symbolic weight that the myth carries, it enriches the psychological truth of the real-life persons that the poet carries within, as he also carries the emotional weight of a childhood destined to crumble under disease, disaster and grief."

Review

One can certainly appreciate Ritso's poetry in terms of the social and cultural referents that weave in and out of his work. But that I fear would display a shallow sense of the poetic landscape he occupied so fully in time and space, and would ultimately reduce the value of his work to one of compensation and mastery. Instead I would focus my attention on the imaginal exploration he conducted, and the poetic voice he adopted which predisposed him to transformative yearnings, and an almost promethean moral burden to rescue life from the regressive miasma thwarting its potential. I doubt very much if Ritsos believed even for an instant that the archaic struggle of man against the forces that subdue him would end in freedom from illusory attachments and entanglements. On the contrary, what he skillfully presents in his work are mediating symbols, incarnating out of the depths of his awareness–diligently crafting a literary isthmus to the heart of his personal truth. Ritsos's life, wrought with imposed detentions, health limitations, and personal tragedies, bears witness to this attitude that paradoxically, is best understood as something yet to be experienced... a future homecoming of sorts. His is the poetry of waiting, and yearning, and finally projecting the heroic Eros of the Greek psyche: the dominant imperative of an unfettered existence at the zero point of man's subjectivity. Such an assertion I'm sure issued out of the odyssey of his life, a life sustained not only by the ancestral hiss of myth and political rationalism, but also by the differentiating activity of consciousness which works, collectively at least, in favour of the soul that still must survive its harness. Indeed, his poems lack the compliance of subjugation and the often wounded indulgence of a narcissistic persona. What they do exhibit however, is the very authentic human endeavour of striving, reaching... imagining, and somehow, against all odds, assimilating the dissonance of an encountered self in the midst of upheaval... and in what he had to intuit as a metaphoric fall from grace despite his religious denouncements. This desire for a unitary reality is the value I see, feel, and admire in his work. Ritsos was a poet who lived in chaotic but exciting times, and like Odysseus, was fated by the gods to take the scenic way home. I am awed by the integrating expanse of his gaze and by the process of his mind that was able to distinguish between reality and its representation... and also... also by the sense-memory in things he projected–things lost–but still things yet to be gained. He was a poet who survived the enchantment of rival impulses, as well as a poet who celebrated the sacred return of the imagination out of the deep ocean that contained him.

Ilya Tourtidis

Excerpt

Ocean's March
Harbor at night
lights drown in the water
faces without memory or continuance
faces lit by passing spotlights of distant ships
and then sunken in the shadow of voyage
slant masts with hanging dream lamps
like the cracked wings of angels who sinned
the soldiers with helmets
between the night and embers
wounded hands like the forgiveness
that reached late                                             
Moonlight Sonata
I know that everyone marches to love alone
alone to glory and to death
I know it I tried it It's of no use
Let me come with you                                             
Farm Scene
The hunter under the tree A bird
flutters opposite him In his beak
he has one bullet – the one that almost
killed him For this the bullet shines
for this his beak shines and the whole forest                                            
Myth
At night we lighted the oil lamps
and took the roads asking the passers-by
She wore a dress we said
in the color of dreams Didn't you see her?
She wore two light blue earrings
No one had seen her Only in the cabin at the end of the village
the old woman the lumberjack's mother pointed her finger
and showed us the river behind the trees
Down to where two light blue stars flickered                                           
Duty
One star gleams in the twilight like a lit
keyhole
you glue your eye on it – you look inside – you see everything
The world is fully illuminated behind the locked door
You need to open it                                     
"In this amazing collection, Manolis introduces us to the life work of Greek poet, Yannis Ritsos. This translated collection paints the poetry of a man's life and as such it captures the great magnitude of that life lived."
– Cathi Shaw

About the Author

Yannis Ritsos was born in Monemvassia (Greece), on May 1st, 1909 as cadet of a noble family of landowners. His youth is marked by devastations in his family: economic ruin, precocious death of the mother and the eldest brother, internment of the father suffering of mental unrests. He spends four years (1927-1931) in a sanatorium to take care of his tuberculosis.

These tragic events mark him and obsess his œuvre. Readings decide him to become poet and revolutionary. Since 1931, he is close to the K.K.E., the Communist Party of Greece. He adheres to a working circle and publishes Tractor (1934), inspired of the futurism of Maïakovski, and Pyramids (1935), two works that achieve a balance still fragile between faith in the future, founded on the Communist ideal, and personal despair...

The poems of his last book, Late in the night (1987-1989), are filled with sadness and the conscience of losses, but the humbly poetic way by which Ritsos restores life and the world around him, preserves a gleam of hope in an ultimate start of creativeness.

However, the poet lives the reduction of his health and the downfall of his political ideals grievously. Internally broken, he dies in Athens, November 11, 1990.

More on Yannis Ritsos

About the Translator

Manolis (Emmanuel Aligizakis) is a Greek-Canadian poet and author. He was recently appointed an honorary instructor and fellow of the International Arts Academy, and awarded an honorary Bachelor of Arts in Literature. He is recognized for his ability to convey images and thoughts in a rich and evocative way that tugs at something deep within the reader.

Born in the village of Kolibari on the island of Crete in 1947, he moved with his family at a young age to Thessaloniki and then to Athens, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Sciences from the Panteion University of Athens. After graduation, he served in the armed forces for two years and emigrated to Vancouver in 1973, where he worked as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker, and studied English Literature at Simon Fraser University.

He has written three novels and numerous collections of poetry, which are steadily being released as published works. His articles, poems and short stories in both Greek and English have appeared in various magazines and newspapers in Canada, United States, Australia, Sweden and Greece. He now lives in White Rock, where he spends his time writing, gardening, traveling, and heading Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company which he founded in 2006 with the mission of publishing literary books.

More about Manolis Aligizakis

Praise

"We should be grateful to Manolis for hauling this horn o' plenty to Canada. He doggedly traces the manifold styles and voices of the remarkable Ritsos, who is at times like Rilke, in his sweeping metaphors and comprehension of the human heart; at times Lorca, with his visionary surrealism: hand mirrors, shadows, statues descending their plinths; and at times Kay Ryan, with lyrics so fragile that they might crumble if touched. Yet Ritsos is always Ritsos. He suffered much personal and public violence, in the autocratic Greece of the 20th century, but his poems resist judgment. They flower with the force of humility and pathos. We readers are his brothers and children and comrades, under the hot sun which is and is not a god, beside the "endless sea." Love trumps Death. Every object is awake. "Every hour is our hour.""

– John Wall Barger
author of Pain-Proof Men
Lecturer at St. Mary's University

"In this amazing collection, Manolis introduces us to the life work of Greek poet, Yannis Ritsos. This translated collection paints the poetry of a man's life and as such it captures the great magnitude of that life lived. From the sea-soaked childhood through the impatient adventures of a naïve summer youth and shattered innocence. The reader can follow the poet, Ritsos, through the heartache of life to experience the shifting of his voice into a maturity that is cynical and painful but edged with truth. And all is enveloped in the metaphor of nature, upon the backdrop of a Greece, painted in white and pastel and gold, tastes and textures exotic and foreign but beautiful and real.

Ritsos writes of seasons shifting to reflect a coming darkness. The bitter desolation that is war. Hard, sharp, hostile words that paint a time too painful to remember and yet which must be written.

Ritsos writes about life and in this collection, spanning so many years, the reader is gifted with the true sense of a life experienced. One is able to see a poet play with form and style to reflect an abundance of shifting moods and experiences, each poem telling its own story but also echoing the larger story of life. Each poem is a snapshot of a place in time, of a moment in a life, of a story being told. The reader is invited to browse through a truly amazing anthology of observations, both personal and public. This collection reflects a depth and vastness that must be savoured and digested, revisited and reviewed."

– Cathi Shaw, Ph.D.
Communications Instructor
Okanagan College