Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

We don't speak anymore.
We don't even utter our own song.

Kept behind our voice the noise of a parade
winding its way past a thousand doors,
while the people proceed waving their songs in the air
while the handicapped wave back from tenement windows,
it's then our hearts are flown with a thousand other hearts
like a shout among a thousand red banners.

Later, again, the cannon fire at first light
scattering the sparrows out of the cypress trees.
Transport planes loaded with fighters,
heading for the battle grounds,
cutting the sun in half with their propellors.

Comrades, they stopped our mouths.
We didn't have a chance to utter our song.
Again, a lot of dust remained in the afternoon,
dust raised by the black dresses worn by mothers,
as they return from Averoff or from Hadzikosta Hospital,
or from the department of transfers,
mothers with black dresses,
with their hearts wrapped tightly in handkerchiefs
like a dry piece of bread that even Death isn't able to chew.

Comrades, they locked our mouths shut.
They locked away our sun.
We couldn't utter our song—
that one that starts out simple, strong, and bitter:
Workers of the world, unite!

Nights when an illegal, mute moon rises above the horizon,
the shadow from a huge crutch is cast on the rock of Makrónisos.
We must make this crutch into a ladder,
Vangélis said bending to the ear of Petros
as though he pronounced the first line from our song of tomorrow.

Comrades, we're late. We're very late.
We need to let out that song.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 279-280]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

The flapping of the tent over our sleep—
sleep cut to pieces by the wind:
a landscape half black, half pale,
an amputated limb in search of its body
and a diviner rapping against the stone—testing it;
death rapping against our hearts—testing it.

Someone mutters in his sleep.
Another cries out as if wounded in battle.
The others don't hear him. They're sleeping.
Have they not died as well?
Then the same voice crying out, Water, water.

It's nothing. Go back to sleep.
Tomorrow I'll carry you a well in my arms,
I'll carry you a river, tomorrow. Go back to sleep.
It isn't a ship. It's only the wind.
The corridor with tiles, half black, half yellow
and the crutches of night in the corridor.

It's nothing. It's the wind. Go back to sleep.
The resistence of stretched rope.
The rope holds—the resolve holds.
It doesn't break in half. Panagia of the Moon
walks barefooted through the tent.

In such wind what do you want?—someone mutters.
The words of the dying are cut off in the middle.
What do you want? What do you want?
What could the moon want in a tent of old men?
The moon has a pocket knife
in order to harvest grape leaves from old man Mitsos' wooden chest.
The moon with two small Sabbaths in her eyes.

What shall we use this knife for?
There's a vein in the wrist above the hand—it's not there—
deep within is a pulse, deep within,
and the rope that fights with wind—
oo—oo, oo son—old Moon,
don't cut these ropes
put down your knife—and be gone,
go to the sick children to sell your silver crosses.
Inside those wide shoes are your slender feet.
Your feet aren't able to drag
the heavy shoes of comrades.

She bends over and measures them
to calculate the distance they have traveled,
the distance they have still to travel,
the distance that has no end.
These boots, patched and heavy,
aren't for your feet, Moon.
These boots traveled through pain,
traveled through death, old Moon,
without stumbling.

So be gone, moon, traveler from a distant place.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 281-282]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Clay: 22

Yannis Ritsos

He sits on the bridge
watching the water
(what will he do?)
The arsonists
hid in the church.

Athens—January 18, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 89]

Clay: 21

Yannis Ritsos

You shall capture a little
of the olive grove's color
the horse on the hill.
And then what?
Bulldozers scrape off the fields
pipes are run
the month of January
and from the other part
has no shops.

Athens—January 18, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 89]

Old Man Mitsos

Yannis Ritsos

Old man Mitsos slept.
Over his flinty mustache
passed the lamplight of Panagia.

Gone are his three children to the struggle,
gone are his small house and his vineyard.
There's nothing else left. All of his life is gone.

Old man Mitsos had one joy: that his children were members of the Communist Party.
Old man Mitsos had one sorrow: that he himself wasn't a member.
Old man Mitsos wouldn't sign a confession. So they killed him.

Old man Mitsos sleeps.
Three clouds in the shape of calves
drink water from the stone trough of the moon.

Old man Mitsos sleeps.
A large red bird is in his dream,
and a holy relic of the struggle sewn into the lining of his jacket.

If we searched his pockets perhaps we'd even find
a small field of corn
or the shade of a poplar tree beside a river.

Inside his tied-up handkerchief he had kept
a wedding ring and a newspaper clipping
that announced the execution of his eldest son.

Old man Mitsos tell your son it's ok.
You know how you'll tell the others of Roumeli,
tell him it's ok. We take in everyone we believe in.

We're not asking much—just wiggle your mustache a little.
So that we know he knows. Goodbye old man Mitsos.
He'll understand. So long old man Mitsos.

Leave your cane here. It's needed.
We'll use it to fly a red flag.
Depend on it, old man Mitsos, dark dark red.

Good bye Mitsos—it will be red
like the blood of your children who were killed by the fascists
like the blood of all those who struggle in the world.

So long old man Mitsos.
So long comrade Mitsos—don't worry.
Your application has been accepted by the Party.

And today the light is very great,
great as the oath of a Revolutionary
who's committed forever.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 283-284]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Our Children

Yannis Ritsos

These children go completely naked for hours,
lice of stars crawl upon their underclothes,
and at night, hawks lay eggs in their shoes.

Each Sunday when they dress they put on a pair of plane trees for pants,
a small almond shirt,
their handkerchief made from the sea, a cloth cap made from the wind,
in their eyes are mountains, a river, and a forest.

The buttons on their jackets are acorns,
they slice the round loaf of their longing with their pocket knives,
they dine off stones, they drink in the sky,
and in their bowels it all gets mixed up.
The month of May hand in hand with December.

They have strong arms, stout voices and the will of mules. They won't back down.
They're dutiful children.
They know how to say struggle, how to say duty. Headstrong,
though they can't grow a beard on their obligations.

When it grows rose colored in the late afternoon around the tent,
when beyond the quietness the first gunshots of the evening star are heard,
they stand on the stone with their legs apart, transfixed,
they clench their fists inside their pockets
and make their way uphill for the evening roll-call
dragging their shadows behind them like a leashed lion.

Later on, after the evening rations, as the wind calms down,
the hour when night's goldfish glide between their toes,
they watch the distant town of Lavrios turn on its lights,
they load their eyes like bullets into the cartridge clip of the Milky Way
and they, the still ones, move toward their tent.

Mikalis stood in the doorway,
looking somewhere off in the distance.
He said, "They are fighting for us."

We didn't speak. We lit the lamp.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 285-286]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Pitchers and baskets in the dusk,
metal plates, cups made from empty tin cans,
shadows from nightmarish screams beneath the wooden cots.
This night passes like the last. The army-green colored soil,
the army-green tent and the army-green scarecrow.
Patched blankets, and the sky.

The white sheets of dawn flutter in the wind—but who will see them?—
a leaf swinging madly like a clothes-pin on a rope—who pays attention to such things?—
the clothes-pin is holding summer's handkerchief—who will take it down?

Beyond the mountains there's a white country: the window have green shutters,
there's a lot of noise from all the heavy trucks hauling
workers, sacks of cement, and telephone poles.

Far away—we know—there are women,
women who are bitter and of few words. They bend over their work
holding their needles as though they were tiny rays of light,
sewing a large flag. And the windows there
shall turn rose colored as if freshly dyed.

Daybreak arrives.
A cat plays in the field with a piece of the moon
as if it were a discarded lemon rind.

No, we're no longer exhausted. We're no longer thirsty.
We put on our shirts—morning's blue shirt.
We shave. What shall we see today?

Beyond the mountains there's a white country
and there are women sewing a large flag.

Good morning, Kalimera.
The prison work begins.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 287]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Behind our tent the blaze of sunset.
Evening roll call. 7 pm.
The sun colors the face of the sergeant,
the sun colors the shaved heads of the exiles,
and below the sea.

4th Concentration Camp of Makronisos.
12 enclosures.
10,000 political prisoners.
The day's last light.

Each of us has upon our shoulder
the fatigue of 12 hours of stone,
the fatigue of 12 hours of sun,
a lifetime's resolve
and this small bag
with colored spools of late afternoon light.

Our shoes are torn open by stone,
our shoes are black with dirt.
Through the bitter cracks enters now and again a little of the sea.

Evening sits down upon our shoes
like a trusty black dog,
the hour when we fix the steps of our tsourapia
the hour when we fix hope with a star.

When we fall asleep the donkeys of night walk outside our tent,
many kind looks as olives are tossed in the air
—they're the peaceful donkeys of night—
suspending in the shadows a small landscape with corn,
a small garden with beans, with celery, with dill,
a well, a rustic hut, a woman combing her hair.
They are the donkeys that graze upon quietude.

Ah, dear mother, what difficult days these are.
But in sleep, mother, it's like inside a house
when the chairs are arranged neatly around a table,
wise chairs and patient like good neighbors,
when your shadow is seated in the doorway
dismissing evil and fear of the dark
as if you dismissed a buzzing mosquito near our sleeping faces
with a wave of your hand.

We live in a difficult time, mother. Don't be bitter.
The struggle is hard, mother,
but our brothers and sisters are many
your children are many, mother.
At daybreak we hear your shadow as it departs,
we hear the tiny windows being closed.

A gun shot into the air.
The guards whistle.
A shot that kills
the bird of the morning star.

The small donkeys of the night slowly depart
behind the white fence of dawn.
their shadows slip into the still harbor
between the first two words of the wind.

Later, the large stone on the shoulder,
the long uphill climb,
the heart's great resolve.

Our great days are ahead, mother.

With large stones on our shoulders,
climbing uphill toward death,
we'll build great countries.

Mother, don't be bitter.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 288-289]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Old Man Karas and His Son

Yannis Ritsos

Old man Karas has been sick for days.
His mustache ages and withers.
In his eyes it drizzles as at dusk in Thessaly,
a cloud from Bralos drags across his forehead.

His hands holding his head
are like the silhouettes of two fir trees in the mist.

Old man Karas has one son of flint-colored stone.
His son has two black pigeons hidden in his patched shirt,
because now and then his smile becomes like a saddle out in the rain,
when a broom of sunlight sweeps the new grass,
because in his eyes graze four cows
and a colt with a blue bead and bell.

We hear that bell at day break,
when the son of old man Karas heats up his tea,
when he takes hold of his father's hand and leads him out in the sun.
That son rolls up his father's rough blanket
and straightens his father's mattress,
like a small energetic puppy caring for an old sheep dog,
he changes the water in the bowl
he picks the burrs and thorns.

Old man Karas gets better—
because he hears that bell in the eyes of his son,
because the son hears the bell of birds beyond the mountains,
because we too are the sons of old man Karas, his son's brothers,
because we're all comrades.

Every evening, the shepherd's star tolls inside the tent
and the bells of the mountain sound noisily above
and old man Karas sleeps peacefully,
and we sleep peacefully,
only the son of old man Karas stays up and attends his father
lighting a lamp of doves above the rocks of our dreams.

Old man Karas, nothing frightens you as long as that lamp burns.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 290-291]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Each Evening

Yannis Ritsos

The earth is hard.
Toward evening, as the wind subsides,
some slender broken sticks remain
and a torn undershirt on the rocks.

Over here death walks many times.
These holes in the stone
are from the nails of his shoe soles,
these other holes, in our hearts,
are from them as well.

Each evening the stars seem to grow larger.
Some dates, some signatures, some cryptic fragments
these stars in the sky—we study them each evening
like the names of rebels we study on the prison walls.

The eyes of the newly arrived are two smoke-blackened stones
like those black stones in the solitude of late afternoon
where a refugee family boils dandelion greens.

And the eyes of the other comrades
are the fire between the blackened stones.
And others are the same.
The world is cooking something immense among these eyes.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 292]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Little by Little

Yannis Ritsos

Little by little we learn about the world and about our hearts.
We try out words that have the same weight on everyone's lips:
words like mother
words like bread
words like comrade.

We cook beans and potatoes every day.
We carry water and stones,
we take turns cleaning the latrine
and we worked together on the ascent the handcart and our sweat

Because of this our hands have the same motions:
they search at night for silence and death,
they ball-up into fists in our pockets,
they study the lines of a rifle
the way they used to study the body of a woman,
they curl around the pole of our flag
the way they once curled around our mother's breast.

Because of this our eyes meet the same symbol seeing in the distance the sea
as when we go three or more days without water
and the water carriers still don't arrive
and Patience bites at her hands.

It is then that the same angry ship passes through every eye,
a ship which we all know well
full of containers, with dufflebags and flags.

Later on we don't speak at all.
The eyes understand without words.
Only that feet are kneading the mortar stronger
we will settle the bricks, we will build a wall around the tents,
we will escape the winter, from the rain and from the cold.
They are beautiful, these red-colored bricks
whole armies of bricks—perfectly square, they will dry in the sun
peacefully, serious, judicious—

So we are convinced, that our words must be made the same,
kneaded of the sea and the color red,
kneaded by the hard, angry feet of thirsty comrades,
we will let them dry in the sun and in the wind
for we will build plenty of songs to protect our heart from the rain and from the cold.

We don't speak.
The day before yesterday a comrade ate his knowledge and didn't give evidence,
another comrade cut off his own hand so as not to sign,
and yesterday they took another fourteen comrades away for questioning.

In the evenings we reflect upon the cries of those who have been summoned with severed thoughts,
some words are written out by a severed hand,
some common words like bread at the knees of the starving,
like the curse that bites all night long at the mouth of the wronged,
like the "ah" of mothers that light the small olive oil lamp above the three empty beds of children,
like the bitten bullet in the palm of the Democracy.

Moonlight falls through a hole in the tent as if it were a severed thought.
Still we aren't able to speak.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 293-294]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Clay: 20

Yannis Ritsos

The hand I moved
to rest upon your shoulder
I took back again.
A glass of water
left on the window ledge
above the statues
and the news vendors.

Athens—January 18, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 88-89]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Clay: 19

Yannis Ritsos

In the square, they'd left
a basket.
You didn't open it.
Perhaps oranges
perhaps snakes.
The night watchman
shined his flashlight
at your face.

Athens—January 17, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 88]

Clay: 18

Yannis Ritsos

A suffocating dimension
beneath the water
alongside the fish.
You caught hold of the coin
carried it up to the surface.
You took a deep breath.
It wasn't gold.

Athens—January 17, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 88]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Clay: 17

Yannis Ritsos

I'll sit in the chair
I'll smoke my cigarette
I'll think about the nails
in the yellow wall
the ones I didn't use to hang
the nearly invisible picture frame
the shaving mirror
and the wolf skin.

Athens—January 17, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 87]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Clay: 16

Yannis Ritsos

Sin joy
sin and denial—
that's how it is he said.
The sheets fallen
on the floor.
Perhaps tomorrow,
outside the poem,
I'll know better.

Athens—January 17, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 87]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Clay: 15

Yannis Ritsos

I forgot to mention
the moon—
it was white
over the cobblestones
beside the small hammer
beside the crushed
almond shells.
crushed the almonds
with your teeth.

Athens—January 17, 1978

from Clay (1980) [Collected Poems: IDelta ---pg 86-87]