November 29, 2022

Yannis Ritsos (Greece) 1909-1990

Yannis Ritsos (Greece)


Recognized as the foremost poet of the Greek political left, Yannis Ritsos is also one of the most productive poets of the 20th century, with nearly 100 collections of poetry, as well as plays, essays and other works, by the time of his death. He was also an accomplished painter.
     The youngest of four children, Ritsos was born in Monemasiá, on the southwestern tip of Pelopennesos. Despite his prolific output, his personal life was filled with tragedy. At the age of twelve, his older brother Dimitri died of tuberculosis; within three months, his mother also died of the same disease, and he was striken with the disease and suffered throughout his life. His father was sent the asylum in Daphni for the mentally insane, and Ritsos's sister, Loula, suffered from mental problems and was institutionalized in 1936.

     From his late teens to his mid-twenties, Ritsos spent his time in and out of sanatoriums, working when he was well as a dancer, a professional actor, and a poet. With outbreak of World War II, he joined the Greek Democratic Left, and followed its guerilla arm into retreat before the Britsh troops in Northern Greece. In 1945 he headed the Popular Theatre of Macedonia, a theater that exalted the actions of the partisans. During the Greek civil wars, Ritsos was incarcerated as a prisoner in a number of concentration camps, and it was only during the years from 1953 to 1967 that he was free to work full time on his great body of writing.

     With the coup of Papadopoulous in 1967, and the junta attack on Greek liberties, Ritsos was again arrested, imprisoned, and exiled on various islands, where he spent much of his time in military hospitals fighting tuberculosis. Freed, he remained under house arrest until the student revolt of 1974 which brought down the junta.

     The last years of his life were spent between his home in Athens and his house on the island of Samos, where his wife practiced medicine. He died in 1990.


Trakert (Athens: Govostis, 1934); Pyramides (Athens: Govostis, 1935); Epitafios (Athens: Rizospastis, 1936); To tragoudi tes adelfis mou (Athens: Govostis, 1937); Earini Symfonia (Athens: Govostis, 1938); To emvatiro tou okeanou (Athens: Govostis, 1940); Palia Mazurka se rythmo vrohis (Athens: Govostis, 1943); Dokimasia (Athens: Govostis, 1943); O syntrofos (Athens: Govostis, 1945); A anthropos me to garyfallo (Bucharest: Ekdotiko Nea Ellada, 1952); Agrypnia (Athens: Pyxida, 1954); Proino astro (Athens, 1955); He sonata tou selenofotos (Athens: Kedros, 1956); Chroniko (Athens: Kedros, 1957); Hydria (Athens: 1957); Apoheretismos (Athens: Kedros, 1957); Cheimerine diavgeia (Athens: Kedros, 1957); Petrinos Chronos (Burcharest: Politikes Ke Logotechnikes Ekdoseis, 1957); Otan erchetai ho xenox (Athens: Kedros, 1958); Any potachti Politeia (Bucharest: Politikes Ke Logotechnikes Ekdoseis, 1958); He architectoniki ton dentron (Bucharest: Politikes Ke Logotechnikes Ekdoseis, 1958); Hoi gerontisses k 'he thalassa (Athens: Kedros, 1959); To parathyro (Athens: Kedros, 1960); He gefyra (Athens: Kedros, 1960); Ho mavros Hagios (Athens: Kedros, 1961); Poiemata [4 vols] (Athens: Kedros, 1961-75); To nekro spiti (Athens: Kedros, 1962); Kato ap'ton iskio tou vounou (Athens: Kedros, 1962); To dentro tis fylakis kai he gynaikes (Athens: Kedros, 1963); Martyries [2 vols] (Athens: Kedros, 1963-66); Dodeka poiemata gia ton Kavafe (Athens: Kedros, 1963); Paichnidia t'ouranou kai tou nerou (Athens: Kedros, 1964); Philoctetes (Athens: Kedros, 1965); Orestes (Athens: Kedros, 1966); Ostrava (Athens: Kedros, 1967); Petres, Epanalepseis, Kinglidoma (Athens: Kedros, 1972); He epistrofe tes Iphigeneias (Athens: Kedros, 1972); He Helene (Athens: Kedros, 1972); Cheironomies (Athens: Kedros, 1972); Tetarte diastase (Athens: Kedros, 1972); Chrysothemis (Athens: Kedros, 1972); Ismene (Athens: Kedros, 1972); Dekaochto lianotragouda tes pikres patridas (Athens: Kedros, 1973); Diadromos kai skala (Athens: Kedros, 1973); Graganda (Athens: Kedros, 1973); Ho afanismos tis milos (Athens: Kedros, 1974); Hymnos kai threnos gia tin Kypro (Athens: Kedros, 1974); Kapnismeno tsoukali (Athens: Kedros, 1974); Kodonostasio (Athens: Kedros, 1974); Ho tikhos mesa ston kathrefti [The Wall in the Mirror] (Athens: Kedros, 1974); Chartina (Athens: Kedros, 1974); He Kyra ton Ambelion (Athens: Kedros, 1975); Ta Epikairika 1945-1969 (Athens: Kedros, 1975); He teleftea pro Anthropou Hekatontaetia (Athens: Kedros, 1975); Hemerologhia exorias (Athens: Kedros, 1975); To hysterografo tis doxas (Athens: Kedros, 1975); Mantatoforos (Athens: Kedros, 1975); To thyroreio (Athens: Kedros, 1976); To makrino (Athens: Kedros, 1977); Gignesthai (Athens: Kedros, 1977); Epitome [selection of poems] (Athens: Kedros, 1977); Loipon? (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Volidoskopos (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Toichokolletes (Athens: Kedros, 1978); To soma kai to haima (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Trochonomos (Athens: Kedros, 1978); He pyle (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Monemavassiotisses (Athens: Kedros, 1978); To teratodes aristourhima (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Phaedra (Athens: Kedros, 1978; To roptro (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Mia pygolampida fotizei ti nychta (Athens: Kedros, 1978); Grafe tyflou (Athens: Kedros, 1979); 'Oneiro kalokerinou messimeriou (Athens: Kedros, 1980); Diafaneia (Athens: Kedros, 1980); Monochorda (Athens: Kedros, 1980); Ta erotica (Athens: Kedros, 1981); Syntrofica tragoudia (Athens: Synchroni Epochi, 1981); Hypokofa (Athens: Kedros, 1982); Italiko triptycho (Athens: Kedros, 1982); Moyovassia (Athens: Kedros, 1982); To choriko ton sfougarhadon (Athens: Kedros, 1983); Teiresias (Athens: Kedros, 1983); Arga, poli argá mésa sti nihta (Athens: Eri Ritsou and Kedros, 1991).


Romiossini: The Story of the Greeks (Paradise, California: Dustbooks, 1969); Poems, trans. by Alan Page (Oxford: Oxonian Press, 1969); Romiossini and Other Poems (Madison, Wisconsin: Quixote Press, 1969); Gestures and Other Poems 1968-1970, trans. by Nikos Stangos (London: Cape Goliard Press/New York: Grossman, 1971); Contradictions, trans. by John Stathatos (Rushden, Northamptonshire: Sceptre Press, 1973); Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland, Amy Mims (St. Paul, Minnesota: North Central, 1974); The Moonlight Sonata, trans. by John Stathatos (New Maiden, Surrey: Tangent, 1975); The Corridor and Stairs, trans. by Nikos Germanacos (Curragh, Ireland: Goldsmith Press, 1976); The Fourth Dimension: Selected Poems, trans. by Rae Dalven (Boston: Godine, 1976); Chronicle of Exile, trans. by Minas Savvas (San Francisco: Wire Press, 1977); Ritsos in Parenthesis, trans. by Kimon Friar (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979); Scripture of the Blind, trans. by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979); Subterranean Horses, trans. by Minas Savvas (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980); The Lady of the Vineyards, trans. by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (New York: Pella, 1981); Erotica: Small Suite in Red Major, Naked Body, Carnal Word, trans. by Kimon Frair (Old Chatham, New York: Sachem Press, 1982); Selected Poems, trans. by Edmund Keeley (New York: Ecco Press, 1983); The House Vacated, trans. by Minas Savvas (La Jolla, California: Parentheses Writing Series, 1989); Selected Poems 1938-1988, edited and trans. by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades (Brockport, New York: BOA Editions, 1989); The Fourth Dimension, trans. by Peter Green and Beverly Bardsley (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993); Late Into the Night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos, trans. by Martin McKinsey (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press/Field Translation Series, 1995)

A Small Invitation

Come to the luminous beaches─he murmured to himself
here where the colors are celebrating─look─
here where the royal family never once passed
with its closed carriages and its official envoys.

Come, it won't do for you to be see─he used to say─
I am the deserter from the night
I am the breacher of darkness
and my shirt and pockets are crammed with sun.

Come─it's burning my hands and my chest.
Come, let me give it to you.

And I have something to tell you
which not even I must hear.

Athens, 1938

Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

from Romiosini


Thus with the sun breasting the sea that whitewashes the opposite
shore of day,
the latching and pangs of thirst are reckoned twice and three times over,
the world wound is reckoned from the beginning,
and the heart is roasted dry by the heat like Cytherian onions left by
the door.

As time passes, their hands begin to resemble the earth more,
as time goes by, their eyes resemble the sky more and more.

The oil jar has emptied. A few lees on the bottom. And the dead mouse.
The mother's courage has emptied together with the clay pitcher and
the cistern.
The gums of the wilderness are acrid with gunpoweder.

Where can oil be found now for St. Barbara's oil-wick,
where is there mint now to incense the golden icon of the twilight,
where is there a bit of bread for the night-beggar to play her
star-couplets for you on her lyre?

In the upper fortress of the island the barbery figs and the asphodels
have gorwn rank.
The earth is ploughed up by cannon fire and graves.
The bombed-out Headquarters gapes, patched by sky. There is not the
slightest room
for more dead. There is no room for sorrow to stand in and braid her hair.

Burnt houses that with eyes gouged out scan the enmarbled sea
and bullets wedged in the walls
like knives in the ribcate of the saint tied to a cypress tree.

All day long the dead bask on their backs in the sun,
and only when ight falls do soldiers drag themselves on their bellies
over smoked stones,
and with their nostrils search for the air beyond death,
search for the shoes of the moon as they chew a pieace of bootleather,
strike at a rock with thier fists in hopes a knot of water will flow,
but the wall is hollow on the other side
and once again they hear the shell twisting and turning as it strikes
and falls into the sea
and once again they hear the screams of the wounded before the gate.

Where can one go now? Your brother is calling you.
The night is built everywhere with the shadows of alien ships.
The streets are barricaded with rafters.
There are ways open only for the high mountains.
And they curse the ships and bite their tongues
to hear their pain that as yet has not turned to bone.

On the parapets the slain captains stand guard at the fortress;
their flesh is melting away under their clothing. Eh, brother, haven't
you tired?
The bullet in your heart has budded,
five hyacinths have poked out their heads in the armpit of the day
breath by breath the musk-fragrance tells you the legend─don't you
tooth by tooth the would speaks to you of life,
the cammomile planted in the filthy of your large toe
speaks to you of the beauty of the world.

You take hold of the land. It is yours. Damp with brine.
Yours is the sea. When you uproot a hair from the head of silence
the fig tree drips with bitter milk. Wherever you may be, the sun sees you.

The Evening Star twists your soul in its fingers like a cigarette,
as it is, you smoke your soul lying on your back.
wetting your left hand in the starlight,
your gun glued to your right hand like your betrothed
to remember that the sun has never forgotten you
when you take out your old letter from your inner pocket
as you unfold the moon with your burned fingers you will read of
gallantry and glory.

Then you will climb to the highest outpost of your island
and using the star as a percussion cap, you will fire in the air
above the walls and the masts
above the mountains that stoop like wounded infantrmen
only that you may boo at ghosts until they scurry under the blanket's

You will fire a shot into the bosom of the sky to find the asure mark
somewhat as though you were trying the find the ripped of a woman
somewhere on her blouse, and who tomorrow will suckle your child,
somehow as though you were finding, after many years, the knob on the
outer door of your ancestral home.

Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

Summer Noon at Karlovasi

Melted iron, noon, stone shadows.
Cicadas and cicada. Hammer blows at the blacksmith's.
Veins of water lurking under the stones.
The cupola of the closed church glitters.
Insufficient fullness─he said. And there is no one to speak,
there is no one to hear. The passing of a seagull:
a sudden burst of semen. And immediately after,
that unaccountablje, inexplicable repentence. Under the mulberry tree
a very significant thud was heard as the donkey
flipped one of its ears to chase away a fly.

Athens, Dhiminió, Sámos, 1953-1957

Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

The Same Meaning

Experienced words, dense, defined,
indefinite, insistent, simple, mistrustful─
useless memories, pretexts, pretexts,
the stress on modesty─stones supposedly,
dwellings supposedly, weapons supposedly─the handle of the door,
handle of the pitcher, table with a vase,
tidy bed─smoke. Words─
you beath them on air, on wood, on marble,
you beat them on paper─nothing; death.

Knot your tie more tightly. Like that.
Be silent. Wait. Like that. Like that.
Easy, easy, in the narrow niche, there
behind the stairs, flat against the wall.

─Translated from the Greek by N. C. Germanacos

The Stairs

He ascended and descended the stairs. Little by little
the going up and the coming down blurred in his tiredness,
took on the same meaning─no meaning at all─the same point
on a revolving wheel. And he, motionless,
tied to the wheel, with the illusion he was traveling,
feeling the wind combing his hair back,
observing hiscompanions, successfully disguised
as busy sailors, pulling nonexistent oars,
plugging their ears with wax, though the Sirens
had died at least three thousand years before.

January-June, 1970

Translated from the Greek by N. C. Germanacos


The dead nailed to the walls, next to the advertisements
of state bonds; the dead propped on the pavements,
on the wooden platforms of the notables, with flags, with helmets,
carboard masks.
The dead
have nowhere to hide anymore, they can't command
their dry bones (negotiable deaths, boxes
liften by winches, yellow paper with pins). The dead
are more endangered.
And he, prudent, with his umbrella,
walking high on the electric wires, a tightrope walker
above the parade, with a handkerchief tied over his eyes,
as the first raindrops began to fall.
The the storm burst.
The trumpeters were shouting to the women to wring the flags dry,
but they had locked themselves in the basements and had swallowed
their keys.

March-October 1971

─Translated from the Greek by Andonis Decavalles

The Uncompromising

Streets, avenues, signs, doors,
dust, smoke, a tree, self-interest. It was I
who threw the ring into the plate. Every night the beer pubs
open and close with calculated noise. The windows
are opaque with golden letters. The waiters have gone
to the toilets for a smoke. The other man is tired,
gazes at the floor or the wall, avoids seeing,
avoids showing, avoids naming. Every word
is a betrayal. On the billboard table
the flabby woman is lying naked, hinding
her eaten face in her scant hair
as large flies with cut wings walk on her breasts.

Athens, April 27, 1971

─Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

Naked Face

Cut the lemon and let two drops fall into the glass;
look there, the knives beside the fish on the table─
the fish are red, the knives are black.
All with a knife between their teeth or up their sleeves, thrust in
their books or their breeches.
The two women have gone crazy, they want to eat the men,
they have large black fingernails, they comb their unwashed hair
high up, high up like towers, froom which the five boys
plunge down one by one. Afterward they come down the stairs,
draw water from the well, wash themselves, spread out their thighs,
thrust in pine cones, thrust in stones. And we
nod our heads with a "yes" and a "yes"─we look down
at an ant, a locust, or on the statue of Victory─
pine tree caterpillars saunter on her wings.
The lack of holiness─someone said─is the final, the worst kind of
it's exactly such knowledge that now reamins to be called holy.

Athens, September 30, 1972

Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades

The Distant

O distant, distant; deep unapproachable; receive always
the silent ones in their absence, in the absence of the others
when the danger from the near ones, from the near itself, burdens
during nights of promise, with many colored lights in the gardens,
when the half-closed eyes of lions and tigers scintillate
with flashing green omissions in their cages
and the old jester in front of the dark mirror
washes off his painted tears so that he can weep─
O quiet ungrantable, you with the long, damp hand,
quiet invisible, without borrowing and lending, without obligations,
nailing nails on the air, shoring up the world
in that deep inaction where music reigns.

January-February, 1975

─Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley

from Carnal Word


The day is mad. Mad is the house. Mad the bedsheets.
You are also mad; you dance with the white curtain in your arms;
you beat on a saucepan above my papers as on a tambourine;
the poems run through the rooms; the burnt milk smells;
a crystal horse looks out of the window. Wait─I say─
we've forgotten Phymonóis' tripod in the woodcutters' guild hall;
the oracles are turned upside down. We've forgotten yesterday's
bleeding moon,
the newdug earth. A carriage passes by laden with oleanders.
Your fingernails are rose petals. Do not justify yourself. In you closet
you have placed
tulle bags filled with lavender. The sun's umbrellas have gone mad,
they've become entangled with the wings of angels. You wave your
whom are you greeting? What people are you greeting? ─ The whole world.
A brown water-turtle has comfortably settled on your knees;
wet seaweed stirs on its sculptured shell. And you dance.
A hoop from a barrel of olden times rools down the hill,
falls into the stream, tossing off drops that wet your feet,
and also wet your chin. Stop that I may wipe you.
But in your dancing, you do not hear me. Well then, duration
is a whirlwind, life is cyclical, it has no ending. Last night
the horsement passed by. Naked girls on the horses' rumps;
perhaps that is why the wild geese were screaming in the bellow tower.
We did not hear them
as the horses' hoofs sank in our sleep. Today before your door
you found a silver horseshow. You hung it above the lintel. My luck─
you shout─
my luck─you shout, and dance. Beside you the tall mirror is also dancing,
glittering with a thousand bodies and the statue of Hippólytos crowned with
My parrot has gone─you say as you dance─and no one imitates my voice any
more; aye, aye─
this voice from within me comes out of the forest of Dodóna.
Clear lakes rise in the air with all their white waterlilies,
with all their underwater vegetation. We cut reeds,
build a golden hut. You clamber up the roof.
I grasp you by the ankles with both hands. You don't come down.
You fly. You fly into the blue. You drag me with you
as I hold you by the ankles. From your shoulder
the large blue towel falls on the water; for a while it floats
and then with wide folds sinks, leaving on the surface
a trembling pentagram. Don't go higher─I shout─. No higher.
And suddenly
with a mute thump we both land on the mythical bed. And listen─
in the street below strikers are passing by with placards and flags.
Do you hear? We're late. Take the handkerchief you dance with, too.
Let's go. Thank you, my love.

Athens, February 15-18, 1981

─Translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar

Closing Words

The unhappy girl gnaws at her collar.
So long ago. Our mothers are dead.
A hen cackles in the rubble.
We hand no answers. Later,
we stopped asking. Night was falling,
wind blowing. A straw hat tumbled
out of the stands of the empty Stadium. Below,
in the river,
waternsakes and turtles roamed at will.
And maybe this would serve as closure
for a story already remoted from us, strange.

Karlóvasi, 7-6-87

─Translated from the Greek by Martin McKinsey


"A Small Invitation," VI from "Romiossini," "Summer Noon at Karlovaski," "The Same Meaning," "The Stairs," "Dangers," "The Uncompromising," "Naked Face," "The Distant," and X from "Carnal Word,"
Reprinted from Selected Poems: 1938-1988, trans. by Kimon Frair and Kostas Myrsiades (Brockport, New York: BOA Editions, 1989. Copright ©1989 by BOA Editions. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions.

"Closing Words"
Reprinted from Late into the Night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos, trans. by Martin McKinsey. Copyright ©1995 by Oberlin College. Reprinted by permission of Martin McKinsey.

pyright ©1995 by Oberlin College. Reprinted by permission of Martin McKinsey.


Unknown said...

I am looking for a poem by Ritsos that has a title
similar to Weeping Over the Graves of Our Ancestors.
I remember it from a time that I was studying at Princeton Seminary. If anyone out there knows where I can find it please let me hear from you.

Taylor said...

There is a collection of Ritsos', a selected poems collection, edited and translated by Friar and Myrsiades (sp?). The poem you're looking for is on page 217, titled "The Graves of Our Ancestors".

Taylor said...

There is a collection of Ritsos', a selected poems collection, edited and translated by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades. The poem you're looking for can be found on page 217, titled "The Graves of Our Ancestors".

Lisa Paglin said...

I am looking for the poem WHEN COMES THE STRANGER - or. possibly, WHEN THE STRANGER COMES by Yannis Ritsos.

Can anyone help me?

Richard Devereux said...

I have been trying to translate Kapnismeno Tsoukali for abot 25 years - without much success!

Can you let me know if there is an English translatoin.

Richrd Devereux

Unknown said...

First time I try to translate a poem.
Γυμνο σώμα (Naked body) by Ritsos

(S)He said:
I vote for blue.
I vote for red.
And so do I.

Your body is beautiful
Your body is endless.
I lost myself in the immense.

Dilation of the night.
Expansion of the body.
Contractions of the soul.

The more distant you get
I am getting closer.

A star
burned my house.

The nights makes me feel tighter
in your absence.
I can breathe you.

My tongue in your mouth
Your tongue in my mouth-
dark forest.
The woodcutters were lost
and birds.

Where you are
I exist.

My lips
endorsing your ear.

Both small and soft
How can it fit
all the music?

Hedone (Pleasure) -
Beyond birth,
Beyond death.
Final and eternal

Touching the toes
of your feet.
What innumerable place that is the world.

Within a few nights
How can be shaped and collapsed
the whole world;

The tongue touches
deeper than the fingers.

With your own breath
my pace is adjusted
and so is my pulse.

Two months that did not mingle.
A Century
and nine seconds.

What to do with all the stars in the sky if you are missing?

With the red of the blood
I am.
I am for you.