Yiannis Ritsos–Graffiti November 19, 2009
Yiannis Ritsos was proposed for the Nobel Prize for Literature nine times–he never won. His great poem Epitaphios was burned at the foot of the Acropolis by the Metaxas regime. Tuberculosis and repressive regimes were his bêtes noires. Exile and confinement in prison camps or the hospital marked a large portion of his life. The tuberculosis that took away his mother and eldest brother when he was a child haunted his health for years. He spent many years in institutions getting it under control. His poetry and his lifelong relationship with the Communist party (he joined in 1931) resulted in confinement of another sort in 1948-52 and parts of 1967 through 1970. Some of that time was broken by more time spent in the hospital.
He’s been considered by many to be one of the great Greek poets of the 20th Century (along with Kostis Palamas, Giorgos Seferis, Odysseus Elytis and Cavafy); while others, like the French poet, Louis Aragon, thought him “one of the greatest, one of the most remarkable poets of our time”.
Despite the persecution, the illness, the hardship Ritsos published 117 books, including numerous plays and essays by the time he died on November 11, 1990.
Born, May 1, 1909, if still alive Yiannis Ritsos would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Since he’s not here to share this moment with us, I’ve invited Professor Peter Bien to speak about the poet and his work.
Professor Bien is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He’s translated three of Kazantzakis‘s novels plus Myrivilis‘s LIFE IN THE TOMB.
He’s also translated Ritsos’s MOONLIGHT SONATA, PHILOCTETES, and the short poem “Peace.” He wrote the introduction to the Penguin collection of Ritsos’s poetry, plus critical studies of “Philoctetes” and “Moonlight Sonata.”
Besides translating Ritsos’s work he was a colleague–having visited Ritsos several times in Athens.
Professor Bien is also one of the author/editors for the book: A Century of Greek Poetry. This is an essential volume for anyone interested in modern Greek literature. The anthology is unique in its breadth– encompassing 109 poets and 456 poems. The original poem in Greek is on one side and the English translation on opposite pages.