Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Man with the Carnation

Yannis Ritsos

"In Marx's day, there were a handful of men. In our day there are 800 million. The day after tomorrow there will be a whole world." — Nikos Beloyannis

TODAY the prison camp grows quiet.
Today the sun trembles fish-hooked onto the silence
just like a dead man's coat on the barbed wire trembles.
Today the world is sad.

They took down a large bell and placed it on the ground.
Inside its dark copper, beats the heart of peace.
Silence. Listen to this bell.
Silence. The people go by, bearing on their shoulders
the great coffin of Beloyannis.

The murderers hide behind their knives.
Step aside murderers. Step aside.
Silence. The people go by, carrying on their shoulders
the great coffin of Beloyannis.

THEY KILLED them. They killed them.
A wind that passed through the dark tunnel of our silence brought us the news.

They killed them. They killed them.
Two forgotten lamps fade out at the day's gate.
They killed him.

Petros, who had been shaving in the courtyard in front of a pocket mirror,
froze with his arm in the air holding the razor
as if he were holding his two fingers on the wrist of the world and was checking its pulse.

Vangelis, who had been drinking his morning tea,
froze with a morsel in his mouth
as though he held a stone between his teeth.

The tea was very bitter today. They listened carefully
as a large car came to a stop on the street—
one of its wheels striking a rock.
Perhaps it was the wheel of History.
And that is why the old woman, who was brushing out
her black, Sunday dress in the balcony window,
stood there as if turned to stone,
as though she understood
how black the color black is
as though she looked at a black flag raised upon the mast of time.

Perhaps it was the wheel of History. They killed them.
The earth trembled. The corners of the horizon trembled.
The beams of the house trembled. The hanging lamp trembled
like a man's Adam's apple trembles when he stifles a sob.

Silence. Silence. They killed them. And yet it was strange—
the cows and sheep stood motionless on the butcher shop sign
only it appeared as though they bent their heads ever so slightly
and listened carefully for a very deep river beneath the earth.

Silence. Silence. They killed them.

WE COUNTED the days on our fingers: the day after tomorrow,
yes, the day after tomorrow it would be April.
We said: In Spring's basket we will find
plenty of gold needles, plenty of colorful spools of thread
to mend the laughter of children
to mend the wrinkles of our mothers
even mend an amputated foot, a split skull . . . So we said.

One heart torn in two,
on one hand bread and kisses
on the other, duty — It will be made whole again, we said,
the day after tomorrow, in April. Beneath the trees of peace,
men will be greeting each other within a net of the sun's rays,
the light shall stop the barrel of the gun with the palm of its hand,
shall lower the gun and press it into the dirt
making a small circle like a zero
and later around this zero more and more lines
like the rays of the sun that children trace in the sand.

We counted the days on our fingers:
The day after tomorrow, April, and Easter,
men will kiss in friendship.
They killed them.

THESE FACES are all like stopped clocks.
What time could it be? What time is it today?
Who made these clocks stop?
Who stopped April halfway?
Who drew crosses in ash over the doors?
Who made the smile in the mother's eye go out? What time can it be?
Who sliced hope in half? What time can it be? What sort of time?
The cigarette burns so quickly today. What time can it be? Tell me at least.

Mrs. Leni returns from the market with her empty basket.
I don't remember why I went, she says.
Whenever I go I find myself confronted by the dead.
If you have something to say to me I won't remember it.
I won't forget the dead. My black dress
gets tangled on the crosses. The dead possess me.
What they tell me, I shall do. Oh my son, my son,
these are the ones that died so that you could live.
Don't forget. As long as you remember this they will not have died.

Alekos doesn't talk. His toes fidget nervously
out of the holes in his sock. Nothing else is visible. Silence.
Men stand quietly in the wind
thick fists clenched in their pockets.
You don't hear a thing. Except when the joints in their fingers creak
as they clench pain inside their fists.

What time can this be? What sort of time?
Silence. Silence. My son remember.

Silence. The people go by, carrying on their shoulders
the great coffin of Beloyannis.

NO BELOYANNIS, this silent mourning doesn't suit you.
Nor these black ribbons on the fringe of Spring's dress,
this green soap that dissolves, forgotten in the basin, clouding the water.

Only large trumpets and large drums suit you,
large bells and large parades
the people's great oath over your coffin
the large day, the thirtieth day of March
the new name day for heroes and martyrs of peace.

THESE FACES are all like stopped clocks.
How long will this day be? What time will it be tomorrow?
What time will it be next year?

You climbed up Death's back
winding with fast hands the clock of the sun.
So the clock's hands can move faster.
So the day may depart.
So the darkness in our eye's may depart.
So the injustice of the world may depart.
The hands hurry across the horizon
light hurries across faces. You wound the clock of the sun
until its hands came together in peace
until the whole world came together in love.

Let Freedom's drums and trumpets thunder.

NIKOS, you had a heart filled with the blood of the sun.
when you walked among the ruins of Autumn
you always had the plans for our new country in the vest pocket of your coat,
because of this, the people smiled within your eyes.

You take your leave now Nikos,
igniting with a carnation of flame the whole world's courage,
igniting hope in the people's heart,
igniting constellations of peace in the firmament of the world,
above plains seeded with bones.

You fell, Nikos, with your ear pressed against the world's heart,
hoping to hear the footsteps of freedom marching into the future,
hoping to hear the future unfurl its millions of red banners
above the laughter of gardens and children.

There! We already see this night,
between the gap of this silence,
hanging from the rings of two large stars
the padlock of the universe unlocked.

THE DAY passed. Night arrived with her broken pitcher.
Don't say anything to me about her grief. Don't bow your heads. Listen:
A cripple passes by; his one foot striking the pavement—
Swear on Beloyannis' name that there will be an even number of steps.
One of the insane cries out chasing after the wind:
Who took my red horse. Thieves!—
lock your hands around its neck.

Swear on Beloyannis' name to find that man's horse.

With its jackknife, the night carves small pieces of dream.
A tree sprouts wings. A child grows up.
Swear that this child will have bread and books
will learn to write I love you
will prance arm-in-arm with the sun in a blossoming garden.—

Communism is the youth of the world,
the freedom and beauty of the world. Swear on it!

Beloyannis weeps whenever we stumble. Swear
to be the steady wheels that roll in the day
to have the koulouria seller's cry outside early morning doors
as though there is no doubt: we will wear new shoes,
we will build a house with three white rooms,
with an electric stove, an electric iron,
we will iron the flannel shirts of April
we will study poetry beneath the lilacs.

We will surpass our expectations;—each hour, each moment,
a little more freedom, a little more love;—the new factory
in the new working class neighborhood;—so intriguing this our joy.
Even though we are killed because of it;—so intriguing
this our joy to watch as the days arrive
happily at a bend in the horizon
as if we were watching railroad cars on an elevated track
in our new Socialist country
We swear.

TOMORROW, or the day after tomorrow, at our day-to-day jobs, we will recover from this large sorrow,
we will eat our bread. The bread tastes good
no matter how bitter our days. It is necessary to make our bread.
It is necessary to live, to lay claim to our lives and to your justice.
Even while eating we'll be ready. We know
how heavy your legacy is, Beloyannis—
we shall carry it on our shoulders.

Often we have to cope, we will have to cope more—
we will keep it on our shoulders.
Our wounds grow larger day by day, the same with our loyalty.
We will carry your legacy on our shoulders, Beloyannis,
even as far as the suns doorstep.

Good morning my brothers
Good morning sun
Good morning world.

Beloyannis instructs us one more time,
how to live and how to die.

With just one carnation he unlocked all of immortality.
With just one smile he brightened the world so darkness can never fall.

Good morning comrades
Good morning sun
Good morning Beloyannis.

Let Freedom's drums and trumpets thunder now!

Good morning Beloyannis.

ONE MORE time. One more time,
Nikos, you fought for all of us
you were victorious for all of us
you showed us all
how fleeting were our hours of tiny dreams
the garden's wicker chair, the little green table,
the security of the bed's rail at night—how petty
compared with the magnitude of the joy you died for,
the joy of this world.

You showed us
how small is the freedom to kiss a mouth,
to sit silently on the evening's stone threshold
without uttering a word about what your eyes are seeing,
to place beneath your heart two small warm stars
just as before going to sleep you place beneath your pillow
the key to your house and the key to your clock.

How small this freedom when compared to the wild freedom
that will pull your heart out of your breast pocket like a carnation
so that the fragrance of peace and sacrifice may spread in all the worlds.

Ah, yes, it pains us to be happy in being men,
keeping our nightly vigil on the world's hilltop
herding together the flock of stars above the ruins,
boiling in night's large cauldron
the thick milk of joy for the children to be born tomorrow.
Nikos, it pains us, as it did you, to be happy in being men.

Good morning my people
Good morning sun
Good morning Beloyannis.

St. Stratis prison camp, March 30, 1952

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The poem 'The Man with the Carnation' was written in the Concentration Camp for Political Prisoners at St. Stratis on March 30, 1952—the same day Beloyannis and his comrades were executed. That same year it was put into circulation by "New Greece" publications, and simultaneously as a French edition—translated by T. Pierridy. The second edition of this poem was printed twenty-three years later (in March of 1975) by Kedros.

The Man with the Carnation (1952) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 169-176]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Ease of Movement

Yannis Ritsos

Quiet, widening within its freedom, fluid,
in the attitude of shadow, line, or color;
a branch beckons to him, a shining crookedness;
"Good morning" — pause; "Beautiful day" — pause.
A roof lowers a shoulder and looks about to fall. No matter.
Even if it rains. Welcome it. And also the large clouds.
And the wind that tosses things to-and-fro. Don't let is scare you.
If you sew three shirts for me. I'll bring the twelfth plate,
the one that broke a few days ago, entire and golden.

from Small Dedications (1960-1965) [Collected Poems Delta' -- pg 147]

Monday, April 6, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Stone swept clean by wind—
wind, silence—
we never hear a thing
only the stone's heart
beating in anger and in pain
heavy, slow, constant.

Plentiful stone,
plentiful hearts,
we will use them to build tomorrow's factories,
the new working class,
red stadiums,
and grand monuments for the Heroes of the Revolution.

Of course, we won't forget a monument for Dick—
yes, our dog Dick,
in the artillery division,
that was killed by the prison guards
because he loved us exiles too much.

A monument for Dick—
a stone dog
with muscular hindquarters,
with two drops of devotion for eyes,
with a slightly raised upper lip
showing his left tooth
as if about to bite
night's ankle
or a prison guard's shadow
or the long, narrow beams cast by a lantern
placing a plaque of silence
between our words and our hands.

Comrades, we'll never forget Dick,
our companion
that barked at night by the prison gate facing the sea
and lulled us to sleep with his scratching
at Freedom's bare feet,
at the golden fly of the morning star
upon his raised ear.

Now, Dick rests in peace,
forever showing his left tooth.

Maybe the day after tomorrow we'll hear him again
barking happily at some demonstration
weaving back-and-forth under the banners
a small banner trailing from his left tooth
reading "Down with eardrums!"

Dick, you were the best dog.
Comrades, we'll never forget him,
our dog that they censored from our letters,
our dog that was killed
because he loved us too much.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 264-265]

The Roots of the World

Yannis Ritsos

A few scorched reeds in the armpit of summer,
a little sage, some thyme, a few ferns.

We were filled with thirst,
filled with hunger,
filled with suffering.

We never would have believed
men could be so cruel.
We never would have believed
our hearts could be so strong.

We, the unshaven, with a crust of death in our pockets.
Where does the grain kneel down before the sky?

Slowly evening arrives. Shadow won't soften the severity of stone.
The dead soldier's canteen stuck in the sand.
The moon was moored at some other shore
where a calmness rocks it with its little finger—
but which shore? what calmness?

We were filled with thirst,
laboring with stone all day long.
Only beneath our thirst
exist the roots of the world.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 266]

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Dry spit on the day's mouth, not even enough
moisture to stick a stamp on your mother's postcard.
Just dust, under fingernails and in eyes,
like bitterness adhering to memory's hide.

We went on, up and down the mountain,
our backs burdened with stone and with death,
under orders, under the whip.
We thought only of water and of stone,
of life and of death. We got used to it,
our sorrow lessened,
eventually or anger lessened,
only our resolve wouldn't lessen.

Between night's pick and its shovel
the comrades rested
teeth clenched,
using their fists for pillows.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 267]

Friday, April 3, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

Here the sun doesn't fool around—the furious sun, reigning over us,
with eyebrows arched, with jaws set,
with his hairy chest bared as far as the sea.

One month. Two months. More months.
We kept track by hauling stones and fears on our shoulders,
by tapping a hooked finger along the jug's spine
and listening to the far off sound of water
as though we could hear a woman's voice behind a door,
as though that woman could hear the voice of the smallest of stars,
as though those stars could hear the bleating of dusk.

Noons were immense—
as long as a Sunday in the country without children.
Here noon lasts all day, sunup to sundown.

If only we were less thirsty, it wouldn't occupy our minds,
if only there was a tree on the hillside or at the top of the island,
if only a handful of shade, and less bitterness, less injustice.

We no longer recall the shape of a tree—is it, perhaps,
like a large banner of water?
or like a "thank you" spoken to you in the past?
or like a lover's hand searching for your hand?

The day after tomorrow we'll plant a thousand trees.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 268]

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Yannis Ritsos

At first, when we looked at the sea, the men, our hearts,
our mouths filled with silence and our eyes with what lay ahead.

Because nothing was ever certain for us
it was certain that our children, tomorrow, would have their pockets filled
with gardens and with games we never had a chance to play.

It was certain that our women
would have the shade of a small lilac
at their every step, spring mornings.

It was certain that our old men would have a walking stick
that buds at dusk in the corner of the house.
We were able to sleep because of this,
despite the fear coiling up inside our boots.

The moon, at the opening of the tent,
was like a yellowed and heavily censored postcard.

Yet, we could read them,
even the ones that were erased,
even the ones that were never written,
even the ones that were known never to have been sent,

as if we could read spring in the green leaves,
as if we could read out the corner of our eyes
Phitsos's apology or the tiny scribblings of Aliki Tsoukala,
as if we could read beneath our bitterness Moscow's Red Square
with its processions of delegates from people's democracies around the world.

We slept soundly because of this, sprawled out beside our hearts.
A window open beyond our sorrow, beyond our fear.
And a branch in front of the window.
The bread.
And our oath.

We listened as our beards, our nails, and our hopes grew long.

Sleep, comrade.
I'm near you.
Take my hand.

The sun is near.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 269-270]