Plagued by turberculosis, family misfortunes, and repeated persecution for his Communist views, Yiannis Ritsos ( Monemvasia 1909-Athens 1990) spent many years in sanatorums, prisons, or in political exile while producing dozen of volumes of lyrics, dramas and translations.
Beginning as a follower of the updated demotic tradition, Ritsos went through a phase of militant, doctrinaire poetry, as in Trakter [Tractors] (1934) and O Epitaphios [Funeral Procession] (1936) – a work symbolically burned by the fascist government of Metaxas at the foot of the Acropolis. During the Nazi Occupation of Greece (1941-1944) and the subsequent Civil War (1946-1949), Ritsos fought with the communist guerillas; after their defeat he was arrested and spent four years in prison camps. In the 1950s O Epitaphios, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, became the anthem of the Greek left.
Despite all his misfortunes, Ritsos eventually achieved a personal, humanitarian medium devoid of anger and recrimination. In long poems like his celebrated Romiosyni (1947), Moonlight Sonata (1956) and most of his later volumes, Ritsos writes with compassion and hope, celebrating the life, toil, and dignity of the common man in an unadorned and direct language. In 1967, Ritsos was arrested again by the Greek junta and exiled, and was prohibited from publishing until 1972. By the end of his life, and contrary to all odds, Ritsos had published 117 books, including numerous plays and essays.