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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Baskin, Virginia
Editorial comment: Greek intellectuals and the tradition of the resistance,   pp. 439-[446] PDF (8.1 MB)

Page 441

prisoner who fought for peace and liberation,
constantly in danger of being killed. His
memoirs of the Resistance, the demonstrations,
the heroism, are written in a narrative style.
Today Ritsos has changed techniques and
themes and writes more introspectively of
decadence and death.
lannis Ritsos spent five years on a prison
island, one of the worst. When asked how
the Civil War had influenced his writing,
he evaded the question delicately:
As an experience, the Civil War was a
dreadful thing. It was an experience, a bad
experience, but an experience. It was good in
the sense that it taught us many things.
There are always two ways of getting something.
To borrow an allusion from the dance, you
can turn with a pirouette, and you can turn
with a "tour renverse" (in ballet terminology,
a reverse turn), the Civil War was a '!tour
In his poem, Moonlight Sonata, one of his
more recent works, an old woman lives in
a decaying house trying to recapture
through a young man the vitality of her
youth. At first the house is a dominating,
closed place. Then the relationship of the
objects changes and becomes a
relation to man and his feelings, an
almost carnal connection, like a chain of
objects leaning on a person's body. Both
the objects and the person form one thing,
said Chrysa Lambrinou. The objects derive
a human quality. The house and the
woman synthesize and each becomes an
expression of the other's personality. It is
an organic symbol and man gives the
quality to the symbol. Instead of
fighting the traditional Sphinx, the Greek
protagonist finds himself trying to overcome
For Ritsos, woman is the symbol of an
entire civilization, a symbol of rebirth.
In a poem about two women he stresses the
conflict between solitude and the need for
communication. Communication is
equated with survival. He concentrates on
the essentials of life to show man, himself,
his time and his role. He sees the past as
responsible for the present and as a key
to change tomorrow.
Chrysa Lambrinou characterizes Ritsos'
sense of role as follows:
During the war and the Resistance progressive
poetry was concentrated on the future, but
Ritsos sees the past as responsible for the
present and as a key to change tomorrow. The
dynamics of the present lead to a faith in
the future and this is how Ritsos triumphed over
the defeat of the revolution. He guarded
his integrity even through confinement on
Makronisos prison and emerged with an optimism
not achieved through ignorance, but through
The unhappiness of the past gives us a
sense of how to conquer life now. The strength
to surpass difficulties arises not in a straight
line but in a roundabout way and progresses
toward an ideal. This is his dialectic and he
can translate this into poetry. Ritsos has been
one of the poets with revolutionary ardor and
saw faith as not only a need but a reality.
Odysseus Elytis, who is not of the left, was
apolitical before the war, a surrealist
writing decorative poems about the sea,
nature, the mountains. In 1940 he was
drawn into the fighting and became a
soldier. This affected his themes and he
started writing poetry about contemporary
events with the techniques of surrealism.
He wrote of the German Occupation. Then
for twelve years he stopped writing.
He says:
1, too, have written of the war and the
Occupation. In Greece we have always lived
in danger. In poetry one writes of what one
loves so that the poetry of the Resistance was
more flourishing during the Resistance. Greek
poetry, perhaps, has kept more of the human
We have a different sort of poetry in this
country, for poetry is linked with the language
and we have basically the same language as
in ancient Greece. The language has a history
of the people and we are different from other
people. There is a solid base of tradition
to which I try to add a small stone. The real
language representing the evolution of the
Greek of antiquity is Demotic, not Katharevousa.
It is enriched by the words we use and is the
true development of ancient Greek.
Now I am interested in the development of
form. It is not a question of going back to
the ancient scheme, but we must find a new
architecture to give solidity and continuity to
our poetry from the point of view of
technique. The Greek spirit can contribute this
to the universal spirit in its own way.

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