The clew paying out through his fingers, a deftness
that would bring him back to her, its softness the softness
of skin, as if drawn from herself directly, the faint
labial smell, guiding him up and out, as some dampness
on the air might lead a stone-blind man to the light.
Asterios dead for sure, his crumpled horn, his muzzle
thick with blood . . . So at Delos they stopped,
Theseus and the young Athenians, and stepped
up to the altar of horns to dance a puzzle-
dance, its moves unreadable except to those who’d walked
the blank meanders of the labyrinth.
And this was midday: a fierce sun, the blaze
of their nakedness, the glitter of repetitions, a dazzle
rising off the sea, the scents of pine and hyacinth . . .
Well, things change: new passions, new threats, new fears.
New consequences, too. Nowadays, we don’t think much
about Theseus, the Minotaur, Ariadne on the beach
at Naxos, staring out at the coming years.
But people still dance that dance: just common folk,
those criss-cross steps that no one had to teach,
at weddings and wakes, in bars or parks,
as if hope and heart could meet, as if they might
even now, somehow, dance themselves out of the dark.
by David Harsent
Notes from Enitharmon:
Yannis Ritsos (1909–1990) is one of Greece’s finest and most celebrated poets, and was nine times nominated for a Nobel Prize. Louis Aragon called him ‘the greatest poet of our age’. He wrote in the face of ill health, personal tragedy and the systematic persecution by successive hard-line, right-wing regimes that led to many years in prison, or in island detention camps. Despite this, his lifetime’s work amounted to 120 collections of poems, several novels, critical essays, and translations of Russian and Eastern European poetry. The 1960 setting, by Mikis Theodorakis, of Ritsos’s epic poem Epitaphios was said to have helped inspire a cultural revolution in Greece.
David Harsent‘s In Secret gives versions of Ritsos’s short lyric poems: brief, compressed narratives that are spare, though not scant. They possess an emotional resonance that is instinctively subversive: rooted in the quotidian but at the same time freighted with mystery. The poems are so pared-down, so distilled, that the story-fragments we are given – the scene-settings, the tiny psychodramas – have an irresistible potency. In Secret was the Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation for the Winter Quarter, 2012. You can find In Secret on the Enitharmon site here, and read a short article by David Harsent about Ritsos from The Guardian here.
Enitharmon Press takes its name from a William Blake character who represents spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. Founded in 1967 with an emphasis on independence and quality, Enitharmon has been associated with such figures as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Kathleen Raine. Enitharmon also commissions internationally renowned collaborations between artists, including Gilbert & George, and poets, including Seamus Heaney, under the Enitharmon Editions imprint. You can sign up to the publisher’s mailing list here to receive a newsletter with special offers, details of readings & events and new titles and Enitharmon’s Poem of the Month.
Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.