Yannis Ritsos – Selected Poems

Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, BC, Canada, 2013, $30.00

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A careful hand is needed to translate the poems of Yannis Ritsos, and Manolis is the ideal poet to undertake such an enormous task.  Born in Crete, Manolis’s youth was intermingled with the poetry of Ritsos.   Once a young man moved by the Theodorakis version of Epitaphios, he’s now a successful poet in his own right who is still moved to tears hearing the refrains of those notes from half a century ago.  His Greek heritage, with its knowledge of the terrain, people, history and cultural themes, makes his translation all the more true to what Ritsos intended.  Having visited the very places of which Ritsos wrote, he knows how the light and sea shift, and how Ritsos imagined those changes as being a temperament and personality of the Greece itself.

The parallels in their lives are uncanny: when Ritsos was imprisoned, Manolis’ father also was imprisoned on false charges.  Both men dealt with the forces of dictators and censorship, and experienced the cruel and unreasoning forces of those times.  In fact, they even lived for a time in the same neighborhood.  In his foreword to Poems, Manolis relates that he viewed him as a comrade, one whose “work resonated with our intense passion for our motherland and also in our veracity and strong-willed quest to find justice for all Greeks.”

Amy Henry

 

 

ΤΟ ΑΓΝΩΣΤΟ

Ήξερε τί παράσταιναν οι διαδοχικές του μεταμφιέσεις

(συχνά κι αυτές αναχρονιστικές και πάντα αόριστες)

τον ξιφομάχο, τον κήρυκα, τον ιερέα, τον σκοινοβάτη,

τον ήρωα, το θύμα, τον νεκρό, την Ιφιγένεια. Δεν ήξερε

εκείνον που μεταμφιεζόταν. Τα πολύχρωμα κοστούμια του

σωρός στο πάτωμα, καλύπτοντας την τρύπα του πατώματος,

και στην κορφή του σωρού το λαξευμένο, χρυσό προσωπείο,

και μες στο κούφωμα του προσωπείου το αχρησιμοποίητο πιστόλι.

 

THE UNKNOWN

He knew what his successive disguises stood for

(even them often out of time and always vague)

a fencer, a herald, a priest, a rope walker,

a hero, a victim, a dead, Iphigenia. He didn’t know

the one he disguised himself as. His colorful costumes

pile on the floor, covering the hole of the floor,

and on top of the pile the carved golden mask,

and in the cavity of the mask the unfired pistol.

 

ΤΟ ΑΔΙΕΞΟΔΟ

Με το φθινόπωρο ακούσαμε ξανά κάτω απ’ τις καμάρες

το κέρας των αρχαίων κυνηγών. Ο ραβδοσκόπος καθόταν στην

πόρτα.

Μπροστά στο Διοικητήριο έκαιγαν τους χαρταητούς. Λίγο πιο πέρα,

μονάχο το άγαλμα, γυμνό, τρέμοντας όλο πάνω στο βάθρο του,

(αυτό που τόσα είχα τραβήξει ώσπου να γίνει άγαλμα), αυτό,

ολότελα πια λησμονημένο, μελετούσε κρυφά, μέσα στην πέτρα,

ένα καινούργιο, εκπληχτικό διασκελισμό, που να επισύρει

την προσοχή των κυνηγών, του κρεοπώλη, του φούρναρη, της χήρας,

διαψεύδοντας ό,τι περσότερο είχε ονειρευτεί: την άσπιλη εκείνη,

την ένδοξή του, τη μαρμάρινη, την αναπαυτικά εσταυρωμένη ακι-

νησία.

 

 

DEAD END

 

In the fall we heard the ancient hunters’ horns

blare under the arches. The dowser

sat by the door.

In front of Government House they burned kites. Farther on

the statue was alone, naked, completely shivering on its pedestal,

(the one that had endured so much to become a statue),

now, totally forgotten, secretly contemplating in the rock

of a new amazing straddle, that would draw

the hunters’ attention, the butcher’s, the baker’s, the widow’s,

disproving what it had dreamed the most: its unblemished,

its glorified the made-of-marble comfortably crucified

motionlessness.

 

 

 

 

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