Yannis Ritsos, a Greek Poet, 81;
Wrote Verse Inspired by Politics
By Paul Anastasi, Special to the New York Times (Wednesday, November 14, 1990)
Yannis Ritsos, Greece's most popular poet, died in his sleep on Monday. He
was 81 years old.
The cause of death was not disclosed.
Mr. Ritsos was famous for the quantity and quality of his work and for his
dedication to Communism. The Soviet Union gave him the Lenin Peace Prize
Despite his politics, the Conservative Government of Greece announced that
he would be buried with full state honours.
The poet was born in southern Greece in 1909 and joined the Communist Party
in 1934. His first collection of poetry, "Tractor", appeared that year. Two
years later, upon the imposition of a right-wing dictatorship, he was
detained, and his famous collection of poems, "Epitaphios" ("Funeral
Procession"), was burned by the authorities at the foot of the Acropolis.
But most copies of the work, a eulogy to working-class suffering and the
death of a young worker in a demonstration, had been sold.
Mr. Ritsos wrote 117 books of poetry, and his work was translated into 21
languages. Most of his verse was inspired by his politics, and it often
expressed the pessimism and suffering that plagued much of his life. His
father died insane, and his mother and elder brother died of tuberculosis.
The poet entered law school in 1925 but had to abandon studies because
of poor health. He spent five of the next six years in a sanitarium.
At the end of the Nazi occupation of Greece in 1944 and the start of the
civil war in Greece, Mr. Ritsos joined the Communist guerilla forces. Upon
their defeat in 1949, he was arrested and spent four years in prison camps.
In 1967, when another right-wing dictatorship came to power, he was again
jailed, then banished to an island. He was allowed to return to Athens in
The eventual collapse of the junta in 1974 brought a resurgence in the
popularity of his work.
He is survived by his wife, Garoufalia, and a daughter, Eleftheria.