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Unconventional reading of Yannis Ritsos 100 years after his birth

20 April 2010 / 08:04:18  GRReporter
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People like the poet Louis Aragon recognize right away an ally in young Ritsos. Reading the poem "The Moonlight Sonata", the French poet says he felt the "thrill of the bright genius”. “With Ritsos pathos always lies in the simplicity of things...", says Aragon. His writing strongly vacillates between perishability, death, destruction and their overcoming. Imperfection stands up even from the brightest of his poems. Exactly through this accessible writing for the simple people, Ritsos offers his greatest service for Greek modernism, which, nevertheless, perhaps, never accepted him as an equal interlocutor. Because his work is loved and understandable to a broad audience Ritsos clears the way for modernists like Elitis and Seferis – all three poets belong to the so-called generation of the 30s in Greek literature. 

Although a literary icon, Ritsos’ poetry remains not completely discovered in depth even in Greece. With its collapse socialism dragged to forgetfulness even its great names. After his death in 1990 comes a period of silence enveloped his speech. Today, evidence of the revived interest in the creativity of the poet in Greece, was the published the most complete to date Anthology of the poet (Ed. 'Kedros, 2000) by Greek literary critic Chryse Prokopaki, who is a recognized connoisseur of the poet’s work. The lengthy preface of the author is a luminous introduction to the work of Ritsos and thanks that her successful selection the reader has an idea of the many-faced, layered writing of the poet from Monemvasia, through one of his most representative works: poetry "Spring Symphony", "Burial mourning (Epitasis”), "Stones", "Stone Time," "Neighborhoods of the world”, "Greece", "Testimonies", "Gestures”, “Walls", “Monstrous masterpiece" and others. 

Yannis Ritsos’ approach to mythology in the cycle dramatic poems monologues "Fourth Dimension” significantly differs from the traditional interpretation of the myth. The poet gives up any "aesthetics" of the myth, evaluates the set in it values and doubts regular motivation of the usual mythological events, by offering his own interpretation, which in his opinion, is much more consistent with the logic of human behavior. He transfers associative bridges between modernity and mythology, recreates situations, which are internally kindred to the mythological ones, fills myth with contemporary content and motifs, he moves the frameworks of the traditional story by developing it in time and space. 

The greater freedom in this interpretation is expressed in the absence of any sequence of events, in mixing of the myths, in the peculiar use of the mythological "hints", "guides", etc. These are poems which are inspired by mythology, Homer and ancient tragedy writers like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, only to a certain extent. Their structure and action are much more complex, almost all of them are sketches and variations of a mythological theme, based on three or four major tragic motifs. In the face of the sister, who has lost her mind, who speaks in the "Dead house" (1959), we can recognize Electra. In later poems we can recognize constant references to ancient myths and heroes, and they bear their names: Philoctetes, Orestes, Ajax, Agamemnon, Persephone Chrysothemis, Elena, Izmena, Iphigenia, and Phaedra. Ritsos’ burning interest in ancient mythology and his reference to it, are not random. They are attributed to the wealth of literary tradition, as in modern Greek literature, Greek mythology feels "at home". Proximity to the rich folk traditions gives a hint of why Ritsos, like many other Greek writers - C. Cavafy, G. Seferis, K. Varnalis, N. Kazantzakis, freely handled mythological motifs, without fearing that this would limit the circle of his readers. The confidential confessions of the characters are imbued with subtle lyricism, multidimensional view of the world and epic sweep of the narrative. The philosophical summary in the earliest of them - "Moonlight Sonata", shows the complex relationships of a character with society and history expands and deepens in the later poems. 

The poet draws from personal memory of one different mythological time - from childhood and his family, which was marked by particularly tragic fate. "Dead House" is the wealthy father's house in Ritsos’s native Monemvasia in Peloponnese, tumbled and identified with palaces of Mycenae, seen in their rise and decline. Here, in the poet's childhood can be recognized the fundamental psychological layers of the poems, the key of personal relationships in the family, even Freudian complexes that become alive in such an interesting way in these texts, the birth of the idealized image of mother Clytemnestra and one extremely tyrannical father, etc. Standing out is the heavy emotional load of a child's life, which later is destined to sink in diseases, destruction and mourning. Most often the area in which monologues are read out loud is the closed home, perished by the signs of ruin and decay that is synonymous with the poet's father's home, surrounded by the nature of Laconia, fields near Eurotas, the cut “blue ridges" of Taygetus from his childhood. 

Tags: Yannis Ritsos poetry Greece
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