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]

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