Monday, March 9, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Over here we have to imagine many things—
for instance, a window to look through onto the sea.
We look at the sea differently through a window,
differently than from behind barbed wire.

The voice of a child in the afternoon—Where is that voice?
A woman at the doorstep of a house—Where is that house?
And a closet full of warm clothing
and the silence which drips from the clock above the chair
and the shadow cast by a gentle hand placing flowers in a glass—Where is that shadow?
A gramophone on the shaded window sill on a Saturday evening,
and a cat walking along the roof of the house next door
in a twilight all in mothballs—
the neighborhood's black cat, with no one to look after it now,
with two drops of the oil of loneliness in its eyes,
the neglected black cat walking along the roof of the house next door
and the strange quiet at dusk that it walks through,
rubbing its tail against the white moon. We have to imagine all these things.

There are many cold nights here.
There is so much loneliness beneath the fear,
so much friendship beneath the fear
at that hour when death descends upon the prisons
and, seated cross-legged on the ground, plays dice with the guards.

The cats are very different here;
fierce, standoffish, and patient
they won't rub their cheeks against our elbows,
they stand away from us and study us,
learning about death,
learning about grief,
learning about revenge and about resolve,
learning about silence and love.
The fierce, unpettable, and silent cats of Makrónisos
study our eyes, looking at the life inside.

And this August moon that hangs over us here
is like a word that can never be spoken,
a word that has turned to marble inside the throat of night.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 277-278]

this translation was originally published in the Great River Review

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