For Yannis Ritsos, a Greek poet, left-wing activist and an active member of the Greek Resistance during World War II, on his 111th birth anniversary (May 1, 1909 – November 11,1990). Exiled in 1979 on the island of Samos (Greece), during one of his many periods of confinement by the fascist government, Ritsos wrote Monochords: single-lined miniature poems. This poem of monochords is a tribute to Ritsos. He won the Lenin Prize in 1977.
Over all those days, only crumbs of sky.
You broke your back on stones.
The mirror was not enough for nakedness.
You dreamt in the company of shadows.
Poetry untied your hands.
Words are more powerful than sunlight.
Walls are thinner than words.
You wrote on your back, hunched like a cat.
Your lean poems were hungry for cloud.
You breathed like a hammer.
Those who shout liberty, shout your name.
Your poems are birds inside bars.
Our time is back to your time of prisons.
You wrote to last longer than lies.
You had more than history – you had time.
“Poetry didn’t always have the first word. It always had the last”.*
You held truth like a fruit in your hand.
Power and hope is never given to the same man.
Those who choose hope, face the barracks.
You must choose between marketplace and poetry.
Because the poem is free, it must pay the price.
Your poems are O+. They run like blood in my veins.
Liberty carries your name on its forehead.
* From Ritsos’ Monochords: 264 (August, 1979), translated by Paul Merchant.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, translator and political science scholar from JNU. His poems have appeared in Rattle, World Literature Today, The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, Acumen, The Fortnightly Review, among other publications. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems (2013), was published by The London Magazine.