In 1936, the long poem Epitaph exploits the shape of the traditional popular poetry and express in a clear and simple language a moving message of fraternity. The music of Theodorakis on Epitaphios will be 1960 the detonator of the cultural revolution in Greece.
The dictatorial regime of Metaxas, from August 1936, constrained Ritsos to prudence, especially because Epitaphios has been burnt publicly. The poet is going to explore some conquests of surrealism: access to the domain of the dream, surprising associations, explosion of images and symbols, lyricism which shows the anguish of the poet, soft and bitter souvenirs: The Song of my Sister (1937), Symphony of the Spring (1938). excerpts of this œuvre constitute the basis of the Seventh Symphony of Theodorakis (1983-1984), named Symphony of the Spring precisely.
In Old Mazurka to the rhythm of rain (1942), Ritsos articulates for the first time his attachment to the Greek space, to the "Greecity" as holder of the historic memory that will fill all his future œuvre: Romiossini (Greecity, published only in 1954, set into music by Theodorakis in 1966), is a shattering hymn to tht humiliated land of the Greek, and The Lady of the Vineyards (1945-1947), of which an excerpt is integrated in the Seventh Symphony of Theodorakis.
During Greek civil war, Ritsos commits in the struggle against the fascists, and is sentenced to spend four years in detention in various camps of so-called "rehabilitation": Limnos, Ayios Efstratios, Macronissos.
In spite of this, he achieves an important production collected in Vigil (1941-1953), and in a long poetic chronicle of this terrifying decade: Districts of the world (1949-1951), the basis of another later composition of Theodorakis.
Comes then the big œuvre of his maturity: The Moonlight-Sonata (1956) – national price of the poetry, – When comes the Stranger (1958), The Old Women and the Sea (1958), The dead House (1959-1962) which introduces the set of the long monologues inspired by mythology and the ancient tragedies: Orestes (1962-1966), Philoctetes (1963-1965).
Between 1967 and 1971, the military junta constrained him to a new deportation to Yaros and Leros, and an assignment to residence to Samos. This didn't stop him from enriching again his vast œuvre and to prolong the inspiration of the Greek antique: Persephone (1965-1970), Agamemnon (1966-1970), Ismene (1966-1971), Ajax (1967-1969) and Chrysothemis (1967-1970), both written on the islands of his deportation, Helena (1970-1972), The Return of Iphigenia (1971-1972), Phaedra (1974-1975).
Fourth Dimension regroups all texts that have the shape of the theatrical monologue and that are inspired by the ancient myth. The heroes of these works are often before a conflict or at the doorstep of the death, at the moment where they are about making the balance of their life. While addressing themselves to some mute character, they launch themselves in a speech full of digressions and anachronisms. In fact, all these poems are a meditation on the old age, the death, the time, the familiar dilapidation, history and existences taken between personal requirements and collective imperatives, solitude and the crisis of revolutionary movements.
Ritsos writes also several sets of short poems who reflect in a moving way his people's awake nightmare: Stone, repetition, bars (1968-1969), Gestures, papers; The Wall in the mirror (1967-71), Passageway and staircase (1970), 18 little Songs of the bitter Homeland (1968-1970), put in music by Theodorakis in 1973, and The Sounder (1973). From 1970, the poetry of Ritsos takes the shape of long syntheses where oniric ruptures, awake dream, and the surreal constantly intervene in the daily life with strange presences of people and a continuous displacement in the time and in the space. A world is created in To Become (1970-1977), The Buffer (1976) or Song of Victory (1977-1983) which celebrate the beauty of life, while Erotica (1980-1981) is a vivid hymn to love in all its dimensions. The Monochordeses (1980) show the extreme concentration which Ritsos expressivity has reached.
In the 80es, Ritsos also wrote novels. Nine books are united under the title of Iconostase of the Anonymous Saints (1983-1985). The prose puts to profit the poet's conquests: liberty of metapher, alternation of the real and the onirique, sudden ruptures, daring language, blossoming of senses opening on an erotic universe, where times and ages always coexist.
The poems of his last book: Late in the night 1987-1989) are filled with sadness and the conscience of losses, but the humbly poetic way by which Ritsos restores life and the world around him, preserves a gleam of hope in an ultimate start of creativeness.
However, the poet lives the reduction of his health and the downfall of his political ideals grievously. Internally broken, he dies in Athens, November 11, 1990.
© Guy Wagner 2003
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