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Observations placeholder

Ritsos, Yiannis - from When the Stranger comes



Type of Spiritual Experience


In When the Stranger comes, the mysterious redemptive figure of The Window who has been glimpsed also in Chronicle and the Dead House takes centre stage. 

The scene is set in a house of mourning, with veiled mirrors, a setting that also recalls the Ritual of Holy Week before Greek Easter.  To the Bereaved there appears, without explanation, a stranger, a spiritual healer, whose magic reveals the coexistence of past and future in the present, stills the fear of death and opens the mourners’ hearts with words ‘like a row of small pitchers in island windows’ ………..

There is always a birth, says the Stranger, and death is an addition, not a subtraction.  Nothing is lost.

A description of the experience


The time we waited, shut up in the large room with the covered mirrors,
He came, uninvited, a stranger-
what was he looking for?
We did not want to see, to hear, to recognize him.
His pitiful dusty clothes - we were not looking for compassion
his worn-out shoes demanded sympathy -
we didn't have anything to give a stranger, uninvited, with no share in our sorrow,
he came to feel sorrow for us;
behind his dusty beard glittered the stars of his smile
with that complacency of forbearance,
with the assent of his ancient ordeal, as if to say:
 "This too will pass,"

What did he want?
And even if we have anything we don't want to give it.
Let them leave us at last to our venerable, respectable grief,
to our death, to our pride,
so we don't shrink before the shadows of things;
 let them leave us to exhaust our posture of genuflection,
listening to the comforting woodworm in the corners of the silence of here, we said,
a stranger, uninvited,
wily acting the poor man to make us confident in our wealth,
 so as not to abase us,
to bribe us with his orphaned state,
 Get him out with his gauntness (he was already displaying his naked ribs, his broad chest)
to extract from us a smile once more, a new sign of life;
his gaze rang above us like a child's rattle to focus our attention elsewhere;
 he turned out the pockets of his trousers and his coat to demonstrate his poverty,
 to convince us
and from his pockets fell only a little lint,
a few limp shreds of tobacco,
as if it were snowing on a small, gray spot, half a yard across,
and his turned-out, empty pockets were like the ears of gentle creatures that eavesdrop beyond the silence,
or like small wooden steps up to a dove cote,
smelling of whitewash, droppings, and warm feathers.

It was a beginning
from a slight tenderness that causes neither shock nor displacement;
 it was a measured forgetting, to encourage us,
to extend our memory toward things beyond or above.

Where did he come from, this Stranger?
What was he looking for?
Did his road run from yesterday or from tomorrow?
In his unwashed hair were ashes and dewdrops -
clearly he had walked through the night
and perhaps he had travelled from the fire,
come down from the conflagration.

In his voice we recognized
the creaking of the door when they open it to give us a little heat,
when the carpenters' crews in our neighbourhood
 are planing large planks for new buildings,
when in the shade of the wall, at summer noontimes,
foremen and craftsmen, laborers and errand boys
 gather and talk about the day's work,
simplifying time,
rounding out life into two perfect hemispheres,
two only, one light and the other dark;

and later in the brief silence that intervened
 they heard the final leaf from last year detach itself from the tree
and fall with a fearful and incredible din between their knees
and they went on with their neutral conversation about bread and salt
while the Stranger went on further, alone.

 Outside the window the wall opposite shone stark white in the slanting sun;
it made us look, made us listen,
we didn't hear our own crying.
Those things we lost and are losing, he said,
those that are coming, above all those that we fashion, are our own,
we can give them - so he said
uninvited, a stranger, unacceptable,
and his words were like a row of small pitchers in island windows
strong, stout-hearted pitchers,
sweating, recalling cool water in young mouths
and though we denied the water and our thirst,
 they recalled them
or flowerpots with basil, geraniums, pelargoniums,
at the hour when evening falls and the cattle return from pasture
and time is gentle and boundless,
 interrupted only by the ringing of cowbells -
various metals, various sounds, varying distance,
confirming the boundlessness in every direction, …………….


The source of the experience

Ritsos, Yiannis

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps