Original by Yiannis Ritsos
Translated, from the Greek, by Catherine Nina Evarkiou


These trees are not content with less sky.
these stones are not content under foreign steps
these faces are not content except in the sun,
these hearts are not content except in justice.

This place is as harsh as silence,
it squeezes into its bosom its scorched rocks,
it strangles its orphan olive trees and its vineyards in the light,
it gnashes its teeth.  There is no water.  Only light.
The road is lost in the light and the shade of the stone hedge is steel.

The trees, the rivers, and the voices have turned to stone in the whitewash of the sun.
The root stumbles on the marble.  The dusty cattails.
The mule and the boulder.  They pant.  There is no water.
Everyone thirsts.  For years now.  All chew a mouthful of sky in excess of their bitterness.
Their eyes are red from insomnia,
one deep gash wedged in between their eyebrows
like a cypress in between two mountains at sunset.
Their hand is glued to the gun
the gun is an extension of their hand –
their hand is an extension of their soul
they have anger on their lips
and they have suffering deep inside their eyes
like a star in a basin of salt.
When they shake hands,  the sun is confident of the people
when they smile, a small swallow escapes from their wild beards
when they sleep, twelve stars fall from their empty pockets
when they are being killed, life travels uphill accompanied by flags and drums.

For so many years, all hunger,  all thirst,  all are being killed
besieged by land and sea,
fire consumed their fields and brine watered their houses
the wind blew down their doors and the few lilacs of the town square
death comes and goes from the holes of the overcoat
their tongue is acrid like the cones of the cypress
their dogs died wrapped in their shadow
the rain strikes their bones.

Up on the watchtowers petrified they smoke horse dung and during the night
they watch the manic sea where
the broken mast of the moon sank.

The bread ran out, the bullets ran out,
they fill their guns now only with their heart.   

So many years besieged by land and sea
they all hunger, all are being killed and no one died –
up on the watchtowers their eyes glisten,
one large flag, one large intense red fire
and every dawn thousands of pigeons flee from their hands
for the four doors of the horizon.

.    .    .    .    .


The house, the road, the prickly pear, in the yard where the chickens peck the peels of the sun.
We know them, they know us.  Here in the middle of the brush
the treesnake has abandoned her yellow blouse.
Here below are the hut of the ant and the tower of the wasp with the many crenelations,
on the same olive tree the hollow carcass of last year’s cicada and the voice of this year’s
your shadow follows you over the cattails like a silent dog having been sorely tortured
faithful dog – the afternoons he sits next to your dirt sleep smelling the oleander
in the evenings gazing at a star he curls around your feet.

There is a silence of pears that grows in the thighs of summer
a watery drowsiness that wanders amongst the roots of the carob tree –
spring has three orphans sleeping at her feet
one eagle half-dead in her gaze
and there up high behind the pine forest
the small church of St. John the Faster is parching,
like the sparrow’s white bird-shit on a leaf of a mulberry drying in the heat.

This shepherd wrapped in his sheepskin
has on each of the hairs of his body a dry river
he has a forest of oak trees in each hole of his flute
and on his shepherd’s staff he has the same knots as the oar that first struck the blue of the

There is no need for you to remember.  The vein of the plane tree
has your blood.  As do the asphodel of the island, and the caper.
The voiceless well raises a round voice in the afternoon of black glass and white wind
as round as the ancient storage jars – the same ancient voice.  

Each night the moon turns the killed ones upside-down
she searches their faces with frozen fingers to find her son
by the cut on his chin and by his stony eyebrows,
she searches their pockets.  She will always find something.  We find something.
A key, a letter, a watch stopped at seven.  We wind the watch again.  The hours march on.

Tomorrow when their clothes rot they will remain naked amongst their military buttons
like when the pieces of the sky remain amongst the summer stars
then we can find their names and it will be possible for us to shout: I love.
Then.  But again these things are a little far off.
They are a little too close, like when you shake a hand in the dark and you say good evening
with the bitter recognition of the exile who returns to his ancestral home
and not even his own relatives recognize him, because he has met death
and he has met life before life and beyond death
and he knows them.  He does not get bitter. Tomorrow, he says.  He is certain
that the longest road is the shortest one in the heart of God.
And the hour when the moon kisses him on the neck,  with some sadness
flicking off the ashes of his cigarette from the railing of his balcony, he can cry from his
he can cry from the certainty of the trees and of the stars and of his brothers.

Athens 1945-1947



Γιάννης Ρίτσος


Αὐτὰ τὰ δέντρα δὲ βολεύονται μὲ λιγότερο οὐρανό,
αὐτὲς οἱ πέτρες δὲ βολεύονται κάτου ἀπ᾿ τὰ ξένα βήματα,
αὐτὰ τὰ πρόσωπα δὲ βολεύονται παρὰ μόνο στὸν ἥλιο,
αὐτὲς οἱ καρδιὲς δὲ βολεύονται παρὰ μόνο στὸ δίκιο.

Ἐτοῦτο τὸ τοπίο εἶναι σκληρὸ σὰν τὴ σιωπή,
σφίγγει στὸν κόρφο του τὰ πυρωμένα του λιθάρια,
σφίγγει στὸ φῶς τὶς ὀρφανὲς ἐλιές του καὶ τ᾿ ἀμπέλια του,
σφίγγει τὰ δόντια. Δὲν ὑπάρχει νερό. Μονάχα φῶς.
Ὁ δρόμος χάνεται στὸ φῶς κι ὁ ἴσκιος τῆς μάντρας εἶναι σίδερο.
Μαρμάρωσαν τὰ δέντρα, τὰ ποτάμια κ᾿ οἱ φωνὲς μὲς στὸν ἀσβέστη τοῦ ἥλιου.
Ἡ ρίζα σκοντάφτει στὸ μάρμαρο. Τὰ σκονισμένα σκοίνα.
Τὸ μουλάρι κι ὁ βράχος. Λαχανιάζουν. Δὲν ὑπάρχει νερό.
Ὅλοι διψᾶνε. Χρόνια τώρα. Ὅλοι μασᾶνε μία μπουκιὰ οὐρανὸ πάνου ἀπ᾿ τὴν πίκρα τους.
Τὰ μάτια τους εἶναι κόκκινα ἀπ᾿ τὴν ἀγρύπνια,
μία βαθειὰ χαρακιὰ σφηνωμένη ἀνάμεσα στὰ φρύδια τους
σὰν ἕνα κυπαρίσσι ἀνάμεσα σὲ δυὸ βουνὰ τὸ λιόγερμα.

Τὸ χέρι τους εἶναι κολλημένο στὸ ντουφέκι
τὸ ντουφέκι εἶναι συνέχεια τοῦ χεριοῦ τους
τὸ χέρι τους εἶναι συνέχεια τῆς ψυχῆς τους –
ἔχουν στὰ χείλια τους ἀπάνου τὸ θυμὸ
κ᾿ ἔχουνε τὸν καημὸ βαθιὰ-βαθιὰ στὰ μάτια τους
σὰν ἕνα ἀστέρι σὲ μία γοῦβα ἁλάτι.

Ὅταν σφίγγουν τὸ χέρι, ὁ ἥλιος εἶναι βέβαιος γιὰ τὸν κόσμο
ὅταν χαμογελᾶνε, ἕνα μικρὸ χελιδόνι φεύγει μὲς ἀπ᾿ τ᾿ ἄγρια γένειά τους
ὅταν κοιμοῦνται, δώδεκα ἄστρα πέφτουν ἀπ᾿ τὶς ἄδειες τσέπες τους
ὅταν σκοτώνονται, ἡ ζωὴ τραβάει τὴν ἀνηφόρα μὲ σημαῖες καὶ μὲ ταμποῦρλα.

Τόσα χρόνια ὅλοι πεινᾶνε, ὅλοι διψᾶνε, ὅλοι σκοτώνονται
πολιορκημένοι ἀπὸ στεριὰ καὶ θάλασσα,
ἔφαγε ἡ κάψα τὰ χωράφια τους κ᾿ ἡ ἁρμύρα πότισε τὰ σπίτια τους
ὁ ἀγέρας ἔριξε τὶς πόρτες τους καὶ τὶς λίγες πασχαλιὲς τῆς πλατείας
ἀπὸ τὶς τρῦπες τοῦ πανωφοριοῦ τους μπαινοβγαίνει ὁ θάνατος
ἡ γλῶσσα τους εἶναι στυφὴ σὰν τὸ κυπαρισσόμηλο
πέθαναν τὰ σκυλιά τους τυλιγμένα στὸν ἴσκιο τους
ἡ βροχὴ χτυπάει στὰ κόκκαλά τους.

Πάνου στὰ καραούλια πετρωμένοι καπνίζουν τὴ σβουνιὰ καὶ τὴ νύχτα
βιγλίζοντας τὸ μανιασμένο πέλαγο ὅπου βούλιαξε
τὸ σπασμένο κατάρτι τοῦ φεγγαριοῦ.

Τo ψωμὶ σώθηκε, τὰ βόλια σώθηκαν,
γεμίζουν τώρα τὰ κανόνια τους μόνο μὲ τὴν καρδιά τους.

Τόσα χρόνια πολιορκημένοι ἀπὸ στεριὰ καὶ θάλασσα
ὅλοι πεινᾶνε, ὅλοι σκοτώνονται καὶ κανένας δὲν πέθανε –
πάνου στὰ καραούλια λάμπουνε τὰ μάτια τους,
μία μεγάλη σημαία, μία μεγάλη φωτιὰ κατακόκκινη
καὶ κάθε αὐγὴ χιλιάδες περιστέρια φεύγουν ἀπ᾿ τὰ χέρια τους
γιὰ τὶς τέσσερις πόρτες τοῦ ὁρίζοντα.

.    .    .    .    .


Τὸ σπίτι, ὁ δρόμος, ἡ φραγκοσυκιά, τὰ φλούδια τοῦ ἥλιου στὴν αὐλὴ ποὺ τὰ τσιμπολογᾶν οἱ κόττες.
Τὰ ξέρουμε, μᾶς ξέρουνε. Δῶ χάμου ἀνάμεσα στὰ βάτα
ἔχει ἡ δεντρογαλιὰ παρατημένο τὸ κίτρινο πουκάμισό της.
Δῶ χάμου εἶναι ἡ καλύβα τοῦ μερμηγκιοῦ κι ὁ πύργος τῆς σφήγκας μὲ τὶς πολλὲς πολεμίστρες,
στὴν ἴδια ἐλιὰ τὸ τσόφλι τοῦ περσινοῦ τζίτζικα κ᾿ ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ φετεινοῦ τζίτζικα,
στὰ σκοῖνα ὁ ἴσκιος σου ποὺ σὲ παίρνει ἀπὸ πίσω σὰ σκυλὶ ἀμίλητο, πολὺ βασανισμένο,
πιστὸ σκυλὶ – τὰ μεσημέρια κάθεται δίπλα στὸ χωματένιον ὕπνο σου μυρίζοντας τὶς πικροδάφνες
τὰ βράδια κουλουριάζεται στὰ πόδια σου κοιτάζοντας ἕνα ἄστρο.

Εἶναι μία σιγαλιὰ ἀπὸ ἀχλάδια ποὺ μεγαλώνουνε στὰ σκέλια τοῦ καλοκαιριοῦ
μία νύστα ἀπὸ νερὸ ποὺ χαζεύει στὶς ρίζες τῆς χαρουπιᾶς –
ἡ ἄνοιξη ἔχει τρία ὀρφανὰ κοιμισμένα στὴν ποδιά της
ἕναν ἀϊτὸ μισοπεθαμένο στὰ μάτια της
καὶ κεῖ ψηλὰ πίσω ἀπὸ τὸ πευκόδασο
στεγνώνει τὸ ξωκκλήσι τοῦ Ἅη-Γιαννιοῦ τοῦ Νηστευτῆ
σὰν ἄσπρη κουτσουλιὰ τοῦ σπουργιτιοῦ σ᾿ ἕνα πλατὺ φύλλο μουριᾶς ποὺ τὴν ξεραίνει ἡ κάψα.

Ἐτοῦτος ὁ τσοπάνος τυλιγμένος τὴν προβιά του
ἔχει σὲ κάθε τρίχα τοῦ κορμιοῦ ἕνα στεγνὸ ποτάμι
ἔχει ἕνα δάσος βελανιδιὲς σὲ κάθε τρῦπα τῆς φλογέρας του
καὶ τὸ ραβδί του ἔχει τοὺς ἴδιους ρόζους μὲ τὸ κουπὶ ποὺ πρωτοχτύπησε τὸ γαλάζιο του Ἑλλήσποντου.

Δὲ χρειάζεται νὰ θυμηθεῖς. Ἡ φλέβα τοῦ πλάτανου
ἔχει τὸ αἷμα σου. Καὶ τὸ σπερδοῦκλι τοῦ νησιοῦ κ᾿ ἡ κάπαρη.
Τὸ ἀμίλητο πηγάδι ἀνεβάζει στὸ καταμεσήμερο
μία στρογγυλὴ φωνὴ ἀπὸ μαῦρο γυαλὶ κι ἀπὸ ἄσπρο ἄνεμο
στρογγυλὴ σὰν τὰ παλιὰ πιθάρια – ἡ ἴδια πανάρχαιη φωνή.
Κάθε νύχτα τὸ φεγγάρι ἀναποδογυρίζει τοὺς σκοτωμένους
ψάχνει τὰ πρόσωπά τους μὲ παγωμένα δάχτυλα νὰ βρεῖ τὸ γιό του
ἀπ᾿ τὴν κοψιὰ τοῦ σαγονιοῦ κι ἀπ᾿ τὰ πέτρινα φρύδια,
ψάχνει τὶς τσέπες τους. Πάντα κάτι θὰ βρεῖ. Κάτι βρίσκουμε.
Ἕνα κλειδί, ἕνα γράμμα, ἕνα ρολόι σταματημένο στὶς ἑφτά. Κουρντίζουμε πάλι τὸ ρολόι. Περπατᾶνε οἱ ὧρες.

Ὅταν μεθαύριο λυώσουνε τὰ ροῦχα τους καὶ μείνουνε γυμνοὶ ἀνάμεσα στὰ στρατιωτικὰ κουμπιά τους
ἔτσι ποὺ μένουν τὰ κομμάτια τ᾿ οὐρανοῦ ἀνάμεσα ἀπὸ τὰ καλοκαιριάτικα ἄστρα
τότε μπορεῖ νὰ βροῦμε τ᾿ ὄνομά τους καὶ μπορεῖ νὰ τὸ φωνάξουμε: ἀγαπῶ.
Τότε. Μὰ πάλι αὐτὰ τὰ πράγματα εἶναι λιγάκι σὰν πολὺ μακρινά.
Εἶναι λιγάκι σὰν πολὺ κοντινά, σὰν ὅταν πιάνεις στὸ σκοτάδι ἕνα χέρι καὶ λὲς καλησπέρα
μὲ τὴν πικρὴ καλογνωμιὰ τοῦ ξενητεμένου ὅταν γυρνάει στὸ πατρικό του
καὶ δὲν τὸν γνωρίζουνε μήτε οἱ δικοί του, γιατὶ αὐτὸς ἔχει γνωρίσει τὸ θάνατο
κ᾿ ἔχει γνωρίσει τὴ ζωὴ πρὶν ἀπ᾿ τὴ ζωὴ καὶ πάνου ἀπὸ τὸ θάνατο
καὶ τοὺς γνωρίζει. Δὲν πικραίνεται. Αὔριο, λέει. Κ᾿ εἶναι σίγουρος
πῶς ὁ δρόμος ὁ πιὸ μακρινὸς εἶναι ὁ πιὸ κοντινὸς στὴν καρδιὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ.
Καὶ τὴν ὥρα ποὺ τὸ φεγγάρι τὸν φιλάει στὸ λαιμὸ μὲ κάποια στεναχώρια,
τινάζοντας τὴ στάχτη τοῦ τσιγάρου του ἀπ᾿ τὰ κάγκελα τοῦ μπαλκονιοῦ, μπορεῖ νὰ κλάψει ἀπὸ τὴ σιγουριά του
μπορεῖ νὰ κλάψει ἀπὸ τὴ σιγουριὰ τῶν δέντρων καὶ τῶν ἄστρων καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν.


Ρίτσος, Γιάννης. Ρωμιοσύνη. Ποιήματα 1930-1960, B´, Κέδρος, 1961.


Translator’s Note:
Special thanks go out to Dr. Denise Demetriou, Gerry and Jeannie Ranglas Chair in Ancient Greek History, Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, UCSD for reading my translation and ensuring that I stayed close to the original demotic Greek language.  Additional thanks go to Dr. Amelia Glaser of the UCSD Literature Department, Director of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program, Director of Jewish Studies Program, and UCSD Hellman Fellow for inspiring me to translate a work from modern Greek to English. I am also grateful for the permission to reprint the original modern Greek text and to translate it by Keli Daskala of Kedros Publishers and the daughter of the poet, Eri Ritsou. The publication of this translation would not have been possible without the generosity of the poet John Tripoulas, MD.

I have translated the first and last chapters of the poem here. I have kept the translation literal and the word order parallel to the original when possible and not overtly clumsy in order to capture the poet’s rhetorical and syntactical order of things.


Yiannis Ritsos (1909-1990) has been heralded as one of modern Greece’s foremost poets who gives voice to the common people of Greece and their struggles, especially during the time of the Second World War and the devastating Civil War that followed. On several occasions he was incarcerated and put under house arrest due to his political leanings, but to Hellenes, whether left or right, he captures their heartbeat in unvarnished tones and images in a raw but rich demotic language.  His poetic missives serve as correspondences between the land, sea, and sky, their plants, their creatures, and humans. In straightforward language like the utterances of Richard Wright or James Baldwin, Ritsos craftily spins his grainy scenes.  His style also hearkens the style of the imaginative poetry of the French symbolists and modernists, all the while staying close to the Greek earth. His common images provoke uncommon sensations and lofty thoughts of struggle and humanity, but a thickly Greek humanity. His poem “Romiosini” and other of his poems have been famously set to music by Mikis Theodorakis.

Ritsos was honored with the Greek National Prize for Literature in 1956 for “Moonlight Sonata.” Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature nine times and denied, presumably because of his Communist and far-left leanings, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1977.  In 1970 he was elected member of the Academy of Literature of West Germany.  In 1972 he was awarded the Great International Award for Poetry in Belgium, the Georgi Dimitrov International Award in Bulgaria and the Great Prize for Poetry Alfred de Vigny in France in 1975, while in 1976 he received the Etna-Taormina International Prize in Italy.  In 1986 he received the Peace Poetry Award by the United Nations, and in 1990, a few months before his death, he received the Joliot-Curie Prize by the World Peace Council, the highest distinction for world peace. 

Catherine Nina Evarkiou is presently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at UCSD. Her research interests include two principal periods of study, ancient Greece and early modern England concerning issues of monetization, property rights, origins of capitalism, proto-racism, (post)colonialism, cultural studies, cultural history of empire(s), and the literary and artistic imaginings of new worlds. She completed her MA in Comparative Literature in French and English Literature at the University of Michigan after receiving a BA from Pomona College with a double major in French and English Literature and attending the Sorbonne. She has taught a variety of literature, humanities, and writing courses at Point Loma Nazarene University since 2006 and incorporates an interdisciplinary approach to her courses and includes not only literature, but also the visual arts and music as well. Born in the US, her first language was modern Greek, her second English, and she has studied Classical Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian. She has maintained close ties with Greece often visiting the country of her heritage and dear friends.