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Yiannis Ritsos (Greek: Γιάννης Ρίτσος ) (Monemvasia 1 May 1909 - Athens 11 November 1990) was a Greek poet and left-wing activist and an active member of the Greek Resistance during World War II.

Yiannis Ritsos

Early life

Born to a well-to-do landowning family in the Monemvasia, Ritsos suffered great losses as a child. The early deaths of his mother and his eldest brother from tuberculosis, the commitment of his father who suffered with mental disease and the economic ruin of losing his family marked Ritsos and affected his poetry. Ritsos, himself, was confined in a sanitarium for tuberculosis from 1927 - 1931.[1]


Birthplace of the poet Yiannis Ritsos

Literary start

In 1931, Ritsos joined the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). He maintained a working-class circle of friends and published Tractor in 1934, inspired of the futurism of Vladimir Mayakovsky. In 1935, he published Pyramids; these two works sought to achieve a fragile balance between faith in the future, founded on the Communist ideal, and personal despair.

The landmark poem Epitaphios, published in 1936, broke with the shape of Greek traditional popular poetry and expressed in clear and simple language a message of the unity of all people.[1]

Political upheaval and the poet

In August 1936, the right-wing dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas came to power and Epitaphios was burned publicly at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens. Ritsos responded by taking his work in a different direction: exploring the conquests of surrealism through access to the domain of dreams, surprising associations, explosion of images and symbols, lyricism which shows the anguish of the poet, soft and bitter souvenirs. During this period Ritsos published The Song of my Sister (1937), Symphony of the Spring (1938).[1]

Axis occupation and the Junta

During the Axis occupation of Greece (1941–1945) he became a member of the EAM (National Liberation Front). He authored several poems for the Greek Resistance.

In 1967 he was arrested by the Papadopoulos dictatorship and sent to a prison camp in Gyaros.

Today, Ritsos is considered one of the five great Greek poets of the twentieth century, together with Konstantinos Kavafis, Kostas Karyotakis, Giorgos Seferis, and Odysseas Elytis. The French poet Louis Aragon once said that Ritsos was "the greatest poet of our age." He was unsuccessfully proposed nine times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. When he won the Lenin Peace Prize (also known as the Stalin Peace Prize prior to 1956) he declared "this prize is more important for me than the Nobel".

His poetry was banned at times in Greece due to his left wing beliefs.

crossless among crosses

The tomb of Yannis Ritsos at Monemvasia,Greece

Notable works by Ritsos include Tractor (1934), Pyramids (1935), Epitaph (1936), and Vigil (1941–1953).

One of his most important works is Moonlight Sonata:

I know that each one of us travels to love alone,
alone to faith and to death.
I know it. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t help.
Let me come with you.

—from Moonlight Sonata. Translation by Peter Green and Beverly Bardsley

Ritsos is also a Golden Wreath Laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings for 1985.

Chronicle of Exile, tr. M. Savvas (1977) [select poems]
Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland, tr. A. Mims, illus. Y. Ritsos (1974) [Greek and English]
Exile and Return, tr. E. Keeley (1985; repr. 1987, 1989) [select poems]
Gestures and other poems, 1968-1970, tr. N. Stangos, illus. by the poet (1971)
Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses, tr. E. Keeley (1990)
Selected Poems 1938-1988, tr. K. Friar, K. Myrsiades & others (1989)
Selected Poems, tr. N. Stangos (1974)
The Fourth Dimension, tr. P. Green, B. Bardsley (1993)

External links

Poetry translated into English
Moonlight Sonata (Greek) & (English)


^ a b c Wagner, Guy (2003). "Ritsos". Retrieved 2009-01-24.

Late Into the Night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos, trans. Martin McKinsey (Oberlin College Press, 1995). ISBN 0-932440-71-1


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