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 in 1977.

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 1971.

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.