Winter 1983 • Vol. V No. 1 Two Poems |

Penelope’s Despair

It wasn't that she didn't recognize him in the dim light of the fire, it wasn't his disguise, the beggar's rags. No, there were clear indications: the scar on his knee, the bodily vigor, the cunning gleam in his eye. Stunned, leaning up against the wall, she searched for a way out, anything to gain a little time before giving an answer, before giving herself away. So she'd squandered twenty years, twenty years of waiting and dreaming, for this old blood-spattered wreck of a man. She fell speechless into a chair, resting her gaze on the suitors' corpses as if on her own slain hopes. And when at last she bid him welcome, her voice sounded far off, as if somebody else's. From the corner of the room her loom cast barlike shadows across the ceiling, and the birds she'd woven with her bright red thread, among the green of the leaves, suddenly on this night of his return, became gray and black, flying low against the flat sky of her final endurance. ---Translated from the Greek by Mart

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During his long career, Yannis Ritsos suffered exile, imprisonment, and the banning or burning of his works by successive Greek governments for his political activism. Twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, Ritsos drew the great tradition of Greek myth and history into the modern political struggle over the future of his homeland. And yet, John Simon has also described Ritsos as “a great bard of loneliness, but of loneliness ennobled and overcome.”

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