Five poems of YANNIS RITSOS Translated by Manolis Aligizakis

15 November 2019
Author :  

Yannis Ritsos was born in Monemvasia, Greece, in 1909 to a well-heeled family of land owners. He did his early schooling in the region and finished high school in Gythion and in 1925 he moved to Athens where he started working in typing and copying legal documents. . He published his first poetry book Tractor, referring to the working class in 1934 and in 1935 his second book Pyramids; a year later his famous Epitaphios was published in an edition of ten thousand copies although some of them were publicly burned by the military government. In 1948 the poet is arrested and sent to exile on Limnos and then to Makronissos and later one to Saint Eustratios. In 1954 he married Filitsa Georgiadis, a doctor on the island of Samos and their daughter Ery was born in 1955. From this point on, his work began appearing in Greece regularly and his Moonlight Sonata won him the National Prize for Poetry. He died in 1990 at the age of 81.

 

 

FEAR OF LIFE

 

Stony day

stony sun

stony silence

 

the horses died on the mountain

the trees died in the whitewash

you didn’t die

 

sound of their distant hooves

sound of the old panting

in the petrified noon

 

and the fear that perhaps you wouldn’t die

and the fear of water trickling

fear, water, breath – life

 

 

 

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

 

  

ONE DEAD

  

He said: the light with the enlarged eyes

with the enlarged arm hairs

with the magnified voices of builders on the opposite

construction site with the blinding sea

between their naked ribs is terrible

 

you have to get saddled with a mountain – he said –

that you may pass standing through the sun’s responsibility

 

however down in the basement – he said –

are the large empty barrels like coffins of your ancestors

there is the conciliatory shadow

and the oil stains on the floor

and the roots of the tree that pushes through the wall

its contorted fingers

 

The security of death – he said

 

there you hear the distant words of vineyards and seeds

you taste the silence and the moisture

you get used to being dead

 

and he was truly dead without being accustomed to it

when the long days came with flags

when light knocked on his door

no one opened

 

he was dead without being used to it

 

 

INVITATION

  

Come to the luminous beaches – he murmured to himself –

here where the colors celebrate – look –

here where the royal family never passed

with their closed carriages and official emissaries

 

come – it’s not good if they see you – he said –

I am the deserter of the night

I am the burglar of darkness

I have filled my shirt and my pockets with sun

 

come – it burns my hands and my chest

come let me give it to you

 

and I have something to tell you

that even I cannot hear

 

 

 

ADMISSION

  

Defeated by the light- blue

with his head leaning on the knees of silence

dead tired of life

dead tired of youth

sunken inside his fire

and the seaweed stirring in his armpit –

 

the wave of day didn’t find resistance

not even on a pebble of his thought

 

as he was ready for love

and for death

 

Translated by Manolis Aligizakis

 

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