Poem of a Political Prisoner

Yannis Ritsos: Concentration Camp


The whistle, the cry, the swishing, the thud;

the reversed water, the smoke, the stone, the saw;

a fallen tree among the killed men;

when the guards undressed them, you could hear falling

one by one from their pockets the telephone tokens,

the small pair of scissors, the nail-clipper, the little mirror

and the long, hollow wig of the bald hero

strewn with straw, broken glass and thorns

and a cigarette-butt hidden behind the ear.


Our Greek poet Yannis Ritsos lives through a hard history. The Metaxas dictatorship of the thirties burns his book ‘Epitaphios’, foreign occupation and civil wars are part of it. Years later, there is the time of the military junta lasting from 1967 to 1974.

He had also lived in times where there was song and there was hope. Yannis Ritsos is close to the resistance movement against occupation, the National Liberation Front (Ethnikó Apeleftherotikó Métopo/ΕΑΜ). Less with a rifle than with his songs and poems. EAM and its struggle for social change is defeated by the new regime with the aid of British tanks.

In 1948 Yannis Ritsos is arrested, spending four years in detention camps at Lemnos and later at Makronisos and Agios Efstratios. He hides his poems in bottles, which he buries in the ground, writing: ‘no one will silence our song’.

Yannis Ritsos. Selected Poems. Translated by Nikos Stangos with an introduction by Peter Bien. Efstathiadis (Attikis), 1993.


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