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Ritsos, Yiannis - 1950 Letter to Joliot-Curie



Type of Spiritual Experience


By the time of the second Civil 'War, Ritsos had grown sufficiently dangerous to the Right to cause his imprisonment.

Arrested in 1948, he was sent for detention to Lemnos and then to the infamous 'Institute for National Re-education' on Makronisos, where the guards administered physical and psychological torture in an attempt to transform communists into 'good Hellenes'.

Lastly, he was transferred to Agios Efstratios. Though released at last because of ill-health, he was picked up again in 1951 and detained for an additional year.

The four years in these various concentration camps did not, however, silence him. On Makronisos he placed his poems in a bottle which he buried in the stony ground; on Agios Efstratios ('Ai Stratis') he was able to recite his works to his fellow prisoners - which explains the straightforward style employed during this period. Probably the most celebrated individual piece is the 'Letter to Joliot-Curie', dated November 1950, a poem which was smuggled out of Greece at the time, unknown to its author. It begins:

A description of the experience

Dear Joliot, I am writing you from Ai Stratis.

About three thousand of us are here,

simple folk, hard workers, men of letters,

with a ragged blanket across our backs,

an onion, five olives and a dry crust of light in our sacks,

folk as simple as trees in sunlight,

with only one crime to our accounts:

only this - that we, like you, love

peace and freedom.

The source of the experience

Ritsos, Yiannis

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