The exultant tone disappeared from Ritsos’s poetry during the four years (1948-1952) that he spent once more in internment camps. His aim was no longer either epic or transcendental; it was merely to encourage his fellow prisoners with simple verses which they could understand. There is an entire collection of these poems written in 1949 while he was on the infamous island of Makronesos, the “Makronesiotika,” available in Ta epikairika.
Many more were composed on Agios Efstratios (Ai-Strati), the most celebrated being the “Letter to Joliot-Curie” of November, 1950, which was smuggled out of Greece at the time. It begins:
Dear Joliot, I’m writing you from AiStrati.
We’re about three thousand here,
simple people . . .
with an onion, five olives and a stale crust of light in
. . . people who have no other crime to their account
except that we, like you, love
freedom and peace.
To his credit, Ritsos later realized that the comrades did have other crimes to their account, but the circumstances of imprisonment made such self-criticism inappropriate for the moment. What is remarkable, as Pandeles Prevelakes remarks, is that Ritsos “not only maintained his intellectual identity, but also prodded his sensibility to adjust to the conditions of exile.”
More important is the tender poem titled “Peace,” written soon after Ritsos’s release. Here, the title word is no longer a political slogan; it expresses the poet’s genuine sense of tranquillity after four years of terror:
Peace is the evening meal’s aroma,
when a car stopping outside in the street isn’t fear,
when a knock on the door means a friend. . . .