Ritsos, Yannis 1909–
Ritsos, a Greek poet, has worked in many forms: long narrative poems, dramatic monologues, and short lyrics. Because of his devotion to revolutionary socialism, and the expression of that love in poetry, Ritsos spent many years in political prisons. Capitulating to the demands of European intellectuals, the Greek government now allows Ritsos freedom to live in Athens. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
["Belfry"] passes through three movements: the first ambiguous and ephemeral, the second moving toward the concrete (a transition movement), and the third highly concrete and palpably immediate. "Belfry" is a work which, like Romiosíni, celebrates those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom; it is both a paean to the oppressed and a call to arms…. [The] poet speaks for the first time in many years in specific terms of the bitterness of his people, of the specters of the CIA, the B-52s and the Hilton beside the hovering headless Winged Victory and the lesson of Ché.
One hopes that "Belfry" can be considered a landmark of Ritsos's recent poetry. In much of his latest work he has launched his reader into a metaphysical realm of apparently solid obstacles occupying a fantasy landscape. His poems have appeared as incomplete statements sometimes without a clear object, the veiled expressions of a man who has learned to forbid himself any other mode. This ideological shadow-boxing is largely missing in "Belfry," much to the advantage of the wholeness and effect of this striking poem. "Belfry" displays a convincing force which others of Ritsos's recently published poems might have achieved, had the poet been able to publish freely without fear of reprisal from the ruling Junta.
Not to be compared with "Belfry," but deserving of note, is Ritsos's "Hymn and Lament for Cyprus." Dedicated to Makários, it is a brief testament to the Cypriots composed and published within a few months after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The work is made up of five short poems and is written in a Byzantine-style calligraphy in the poet's own hand (the only other work published in Ritsos's own hand is his Eighteen Songs of a Bitter Country …). The poems are rhymed lyrics written in the popular style of the demotic songs. (p. 826)
Kostas Myrsiades, in Books Abroad (copyright 1975 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 49, No. 4, Autumn, 1975.
Yannis Ritsos's output since his first published book in 1934 has been almost exclusively poetic. His latest book, "Studies," a selection of six essays written between 1961 and 1963 and originally included as introductions to other works, is his only work of criticism. These essays—four on poets (Mayakovsky, Hikmet, Ehrenburg, Éluard) and two shorter ones on his own works….—comprise the only theoretical writings published by Ritsos on his art. For this reason "Studies" is one of the most important works in Ritsos's oeuvre.
Ritsos finds the importance of the four leftist poets he is studying in the message of their poetry and not in their technique or style. Concerned that a poet may limit himself too strictly to his own times, Ritsos defends the need of his subjects to root among temporal materials for the very backbone of their work and finds in the immediate present and in material reality a springboard for crossing the gap to the realm of the universal….
Reluctant to act as an intermediary between the reader and the poem, the poet refuses to comment at any length on his own work…. He reveals, nevertheless, that the intent of his later body of work, in particular Martiríes, has been to express gratitude toward human life and art, in all its trials, and toward death. He recognizes that his work has, over the years, tended more and more toward … an uplifting or positive poetry which depreciates and exploits the nightmare of death. (p. 217)
Kostas Myrsiades, in Books Abroad (copyright 1976 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 50, No. 1, Winter, 1976.
(The entire section is 3,523 words.)