I've added a few tracks to RADIO AXION ESTI (Widget located on the right margin). A few from an album containoing 23 hits of the great singer of Cretan folksongs, Nikos Xylouris (Item Code # CDMBI-11021-2), and a two CD set Romiosini-Axion Esti (Item Code # 1720-942-3) featuring the poetry of Yiannis Ritsos and Odysseas Elytis in musical form composed by Mikis Theodorakis and sung by George Dalaras. The are available for purchase at GreekMusic.com
Yannis Ritsos was a distinguished, modern Greek poet. He was born in Monemvasia, Greece in 1909. Ritsos was born into a wealthy but unfortunate family. His father died insane; his mother and a brother died of tuberculosis when he was 12. Reared by relatives, Ritsos attended Athens Law School briefly (1925), and was confined to a tuberculosis sanitarium (1927–31). His first collection was published in 1934. He was sent into exile in 1948 - 52 because he was a member of the EAM (National Liberation Form) against the Germans.
Despite all his misfortunes, Ritsos rose above the tragic events of his life to pour his feelings into a poetic medium devoid of anger and recrimination. In long poems like his celebrated Romiosini (1947), Moonlight Sonata (1956) and most of his later volumes, Ritsos writes with compassion and hope, celebrating the life, toil, and dignity of the common man in an unadorned and direct language. In 1967, Ritsos was arrested again by the Greek junta and exiled, and was prohibited from publishing until 1972. By the end of his life, and despite the odds against him, Ritsos had published 117 books, including numerous plays and essays.
The poet came under heavy criticism for his militant verse and his devotion to the Greek Communist Party, from both comrades and opponents. His inner conflicts are evident in some recently discovered and newly published poems, as they are throughout his work. In a poem he wrote in 1958, Titos Patrikios sketched Ritsos: “And my teacher told me: / ‘The bourgeoisie have to recognize you first / so you can make your mark on the movement; / till then don’t say that further afield / you’ll get into trouble.’”
The poems of his last book: Late in the Night 1987-1989) are filled with sadness and the realization of loss, but, as always, the poet restores life and the world around him, preserving a gleam of hope. Having witnessed the downfall of his political ideology, he died in his sleep at home in 1990.
The following are some of the ‘simple things’ as Ritsos used to call his short poems. The poems were translated by the distinguished translator, Edmund Keely and are found in his book “ Yannis Ritsos: Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses ”
You know, death doesn’t exist, he said to her.
I know, yes, now that I’m dead, she answered.
Your two shirts are ironed, in the drawer.
The only thing I’m missing is a small rose.
Mode of Acquisition
Whatever you hold in your hands
so carefully, wish so much love,
yours so totally, my companion,
you must give away
in order for it to become yours.
Because the buses were stopped in front of the railing
because the dolls in the lighted shop windows gesticulated
because the girl with the bicycle lingered outside the drugstore
because the carpenter broke the glass door of the beer hall
because the child was alone in the elevator with a stolen pencil
because the dogs had abandoned the seaside villas
because the rusty grater had been covered over by nettles
because the sky was ashen with a red fish
because the horse on the mountain was more alone than the star
because these and those both were hunted
because of this, only because of this, I told you lies.
The grandmother was a good woman, she was quiet.
Beside her eyes there were many thin wrinkles like those of tea napkins
carefully embroidered. She also had a light heart like a small bag full of cotton.
The grandmother left. Maybe she went to spin her cotton
on the edge of the great night’s fireplace.
But how is it possible that the grand mother went out of the house,
and in the rain, and without taking her woollen shawl even ?
The little maid is crying on a chair in the hallway.
The light rain is also crying on the steps of Elkomenos Church.
The smallest grandchild didn’t cry, seeing how beautifully the rain,
the steps, the chair, and the little maid all were crying
over the little grandmother who now spins her wool unseen.
In the Ruins of an Ancient Temple
The museum guard was smoking in front of the sheepfold.
The sheep were grazing among the marble ruins.
Farther down the women were washing in the river
. You could hear the beat of the hammer in the blacksmith’s shop.
The shepherd whistled. The sheep ran ti him as though the marble ruins were running.
The water’s thick nape shone with coolness behind the oleanders. A woman spread her
washed clothing on the shrubs and the statues -
she spread her husband’s underpants on Hera’s shoulders.
Foreign, peaceful, silent intimacy - years on years. Down on the shore
the fishermen passed by with broadbaskets full of fish on their heads,
as though they were carrying long and narrow flashes of light:
gold, rose, and violet - the same as that procession bearing the long,
richly embroidered veil of the goddess that we cut up the other day
to arrange as curtains and table-cloths in our emptied houses.
We climbed the hill to look over our land:
fields poor and few, stones, olive trees.
Vineyards head toward the sea. Beside the plow
a small fire smoulders. We shaped the old man's clothes
into a scarecrow against the ravens. Our days
are making their way toward a little bread and great sunshine.
Under the poplars a straw hat beams.
The rooster on the fence. The cow in yellow.
How did we manage to put our house and our life in order
with a hand made of stone? Up on the lintel
there's soot from the Easter candles, year by year:
tiny black crosses marked there by the dead
returning from the Resurrection Service. This land is much loved
with patience and dignity. Every night, out of the drywell,
the statues emerge cautiously and climb the trees.