Yannis Ritsos (1909–90) is generally considered to be – along with Cavafy, Seferis and Elytis – one of the most significant Greek poets of the last century.
His life was, to say the least, troubled. From an early age, he was dogged by the tuberculosis that killed his mother and brother. His father and sister suffered breakdowns and spent time in institutions.
His poem Epitaphios (1936), a lament for a young man shot dead by the police during a tobacco workers’ strike, was publicly burned by the Metaxas regime and his books banned. During the post-World War Two civil war – because he sided with the left – Ritsos was arrested and sent to prison camps. Then, in 1967, when the Papadopoulos military junta took control of the country, he was again arrested, again his books were banned, again he spent time in prison camps, before being confined to house arrest on the island of Samos.
The violence and tyranny of dictatorship is often fractured by the surreal. In the poems collected here, written by Ritsos while in prison and under house arrest, that fracture in perception is a wound.
A Broken Man in Flower has an introduction by John Kittmer and includes the text of an illuminating and vivid letter sent by Ritsos to his publisher in 1969 while under house arrest on Samos describing his life – and the lives of Greeks – under the repressive rule of the Colonels.
David Harsent’s thirteen collections have won a number of awards, including the Forward Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Griffin International Prize. He is also a librettist: his collaborations with composers, chiefly with Harrison Birtwistle, have been performed at major venues worldwide.
‘David Harsent’s versions of the great Greek poet Yannis Ritsos make superb English poems. I can’t recommend them too warmly. They’re well complemented by an introduction by Harsent’s Greek-speaking collaborator, John Kittmer, that sets them in the context of Ritsos’s experiences under the dreadful Papadopoulos regime, and by a moving long letter Ritsos wrote to his publisher from house arrest on Samos ... [a] remarkable book.' – Edmund Prestwich, London Grip
‘His versions are unyielding in their consistency, and the poet-translator has succeeded in finding an apt literary voice for a well-curated collection of poems… I recommend reading A Broken Man in Flower not only for its mesmerizing formalist strength and ingenuity, but for its profound importance as a document of courage and resistance against a brutally repressive regime, a testament to the quiet yet formidable might contained in the poet’s verse. In the shrunken world of the individual under both confinement and the microscope of surveillance, we watch as time cinematically slows down, and man becomes his own sole companion.’ – Suzana Vuljevic, Words Without Borders
‘Harsent certainly captures something vital and lasting about the work … the poems are not simply transcribed, but employ a poetic sensitivity using the materials and scaffolding of another language and idiom. But finally the work stands as a beautifully harsh indictment of militarism in Greece, and a testament to the human spirit, to artistic endeavour and the capacity for communism to instil hope and perspective when the jackboot of fascism has descended on the necks of the people.' – Chris Davis, Morning Star
‘Harsent’s A Broken Man in Flower presents poems from multiple series written during Ritsos’s years of arrest under the Greek military dictatorship of 1967-74, in a prison camp on the island of Leros (June 1967-October 1968) and under house arrest on Samos (October 1968-November 1970). Ritsos was prolific, and there is a good selection here of poems about the terror of oppression and the misuse of power.’ – Evan Jones, Times Literary Supplement
‘This intimate record of thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, the ‘intensity of vision’ under extreme conditions is historically important and will illuminate studies in different areas of the curriculum.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian, on A Broken Man in Flower
Reviews of David Harsent's In Secret:
'These are "versions" of Ritsos by a major English poet. Yannis Ritsos, one of the most celebrated Greek poets of the 20th century, has at last found a "companion translator" up to the task. The work that is experimental and revolutionary in Greek is experimental and revolutionary in English. Ritsos's output is enormous, his life heroic and eventful, his voice an embodiment of national courage.' – The Times Literary Supplement
'[Ritsos] records, at times celebrates, the enigmatic, the irrational, the mysterious and invisible qualities of experience.' – The New York Times Book Review
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