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Yiannis Ritsos

Born May 1, 1909(1909-05-01)
Monemvasia, Greece
Died November 11, 1990 (aged 81)
Athens, Greece
Occupation poet
Nationality Greek
Notable award(s) Lenin Peace Prize
1975

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

Contents

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]

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]

Legacy

The tomb of Yannis Ritsos at Monemvasia, Greece.

Today, Ritsos is one of the four great Greek poets of the twentieth century, together with Kostis Palamas, Giorgos Seferis, and Odysseus 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 it's more important for me than the Nobel".

His poetry was banned at times in Greece for its left wing content. Notable works by Ritsos include Tractor (1934), Pyramids (1935), Epitaph (1936), and Vigil (1941–1953).

Ritsos mainly wrote poems with political content, "serving communism with his art" as modern philologists describe. One of his few works that differ 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

External links

References

  1. ^ a b c Wagner, Guy (2003). "Ritsos". http://www.mikis-theodorakis.net/ritsos_e.html. 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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