MONOCHORDS Yannis Ritsos

MONOCHORDS Yannis Ritsos

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Translated from the Greek by Paul Merchant


From the introduction: "The poems in this volume were written in the village of Karlovasi on Samos at the rate of about ten a day in the summer of 1979, a first draft written August 1st through 26th, the second completed by September 1st. After becoming dangerously ill in 1968, Ritsos had been released from the prison island of Leros and sent to strict house arrest on Samos, where his wife had a medical practice. He was allowed to return to Athens and to publish again in 1971. He subsequently spent summers on Samos, for instance in 1972, 1975, and 1979, when these poems were composed." -Paul Merchant

"These remarkable, highly compressed poems? utterances? are what R.H. Blyth was talking about when he said Zen literature is neither regional nor cultural. ‘I closed my books. The hill entered my room’ could have been written by Bashō, Buson or Issa. But from sun-baked Greece, from a life of suffering and political oppression, Ritsos has created some of the sharpest Zen literature in the world. Hopefully, as someone said to me recently, he will become your new favorite. Of course he will." 

—Matthew Rohrer


Yannis Ritsos was born in 1909 at Monemvasia in the southern Peloponnese, into a family marked by disease and early death. He himself was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of eighteen. A lifetime communist, his unpretentious, memorable poems were a prominent feature of his active resistance to the German occupation of Greece and to a succession of fascist regimes. They led to the public burning of his lament “Epitaphios” in 1936 by the Metaxas dictatorship, and to his imprisonment during the Civil War from 1948-1952 and again during the 1967 dictatorship of the Colonels. He was transferred from this imprisonment to island exile on Samos when he became dangerously ill, and was allowed to return to Athens and to be published again in 1971. He was awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize in 1975 and received honorary degrees from the universities of Thessaloniki, Birmingham, Leipzig, and Athens. During his highly productive life he worked as an actor, dancer, book editor, calligrapher, and author of over eleven volumes of translations. His more than one hundred volumes divided between long meditations on historical themes and short enigmatic reflections on everyday events have been translated into over forty languages in more than three hundred editions. He also published three volumes of plays and four books of essays. He died in November 1990, aged eighty-one.


Paul Merchant was born in Wales in 1945, and was educated at Cambridge, the University of Athens, and the Shakespeare Institute. His poems and translations from Greek, Modern Greek, Latin and Welsh have been published by Five Seasons Press in England, and Trask House Books and Tavern Books in Portland.

106 pages | 5.5 x 7.5 in.
ISBN-13: 978-1-935635-70-3 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-1-935635-71-0 (hardcover)

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