Saturday, March 21, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Alexis was at peace,
like someone making it their duty.
When he went to bed, he fell asleep instantly
like someone making it their duty.
Both of his foot soles, wide, earthen,
stuck out from under the blanket
as if great plane trees or eucalyptus trees
had sprung up in the night.
Alexis, when we said your name
it was like saying, "tomorrow the sun shall shine."

They broke that peace, Alexis—
they woke you up in the middle of the night, comrade,
you weren't given time to pack your dufflebag with clothes,
you weren't given time to lace your boots. We saw them
as you stepped out the door of the tent
and pointed to your laces dragging on the ground.
We didn't want you to trip over them. You understood
and smile. We smiled.

Ah, yes, it wasn't fear that you would trip over,
you had never tripped over that in your life.
You stepped out the door. Your leaving
created a silence of vast significance.
On your wooden cot remained
a piece of bread and a comb.
And that untied lace
was still dragging along in our thoughts
like a sadness dragging though our souls. We're not afraid.

They took you away to be court-martialled
and for that you were sentenced to death, comrade,
and for that you'll be kept hidden in all hearts,
in all life, in all eyes, in all trees, comrade.
Because of this you're so embittered
so confident
so happy—
a star blinks on and off within your eyes,
this red star that never forgets us.

Today you became even more of a comrade, comrade.

Take our last two cigarettes,
we have nothing else—only our hearts, comrade,
take the cigarettes,
on for you, the other for your shadow—
as if you could light his with your match in front of that large wall,
and stand there talking about peace like two real people,
talking about yesterday's parades
about communist functions
about world-wide freedom.
You went on talking about peace,
you and your shadow,
like two old agitators,
until you finished your cigarette
until you heard the shot
breaking your conversation in half
as well as our hearts.

You know, dear comrade, that every thing's not lost—
we will carry on your heart and your work.
And for this we will be so confident
so peaceful
so happy.

And, comrades, we are happy. He looked after us—don't weep.
No, comrades. Weep. We can't hold it back.
Because we are communists, and we loved you, dear comrade,
and you will be missed in our struggle, and we will miss you.
No matter how much you are inside us or near us, we will miss you.
We will miss your eyes
that were like two blue windows opened at the far end of a dark corridor
and we will miss your smile
that was like a banner on a balcony in the poor districts
and those hands of yours that were strong together as well as shy
that had in their motions both urgency and stealth
as if they were posting in the night a poster for the Revolution.

Dear comrade, we are grieving. We can't hide it,
even the Party grieves—and therefore acts seriously and solemn,
and it is by far the most serious Party today—to not lament, friend,
when it places your party membership cards in their proper order
in the archive at the People's Memorial for the Resistance.

Today you became even more of a comrade, comrade.
Today we became better comrades, comrades.
Farewell dear comrade. Sleep peacefully
beside your boots and their undone laces,
as peacefully as one who has completed their duty,
peacefully—and don't worry, comrade,
we will also do our duty.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 271-273]

1 comment:

Drew said...

Scott, What beautiful lines! I ache from their honesty and turmoil. This one inspired a poem of my own. Were I a painter, I would create an ekphrastic homage to the imagery evoked by this fine poem.