Reading: The Meaning of Simplicity by Yannis Ritsos

Let’s do another Ritsos (1909-1990) poem today. I’ve read ‘Injustice’ before but felt like more Ritsos. You are looking at a translation by Edmund Keeley here, quoted (not ‘reprinted’!) from an anthology of international poetry:

The Meaning of Simplicity
I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me;
if you don’t find me, you’ll find the things,
you’ll touch what my hand has touched,
Our hand-prints will merge.

The August moon glitters in the kitchen
like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you),
it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence­
always the silence remains kneeling.

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often cancelled,
and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.

Hiding in order to be found is a great theme. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s famous aphorism about the old Greek: They were superficial – out of profundity! Does

Ritsos. Image Wikimedia

n’t this apply perfectly to this new Greek? So I see Yannis during silly morning rituals he enacts for the ‘you’, like making her coffee or kissing her or sharing something from the newspaper. He (his intention: his attempt to express his deep love for you) is behind these things. And hey, even if you don’t find him, she still finds the things. Your hand touches the coffee cup, the newspaper and the hand-prints merge.

I was right about that kitchen scene! But it seems to be a summer evening. He is saying things to her that light up the house, including its ‘kneeling silence’ (here is another translation by Rae Dalven, that says “silence kneeling in the house / silence is / always kneeling”). The silence is kneeling like a believer before a priest? Waiting to be spoken to, to be pierced with the words of an authority? Can it be, coming from a communist poet?

Yes. Because it is not about destroying the silence, the words must be true. And he has an innovative criterium for truth: “when it insists on the meeting”.  When it insists, despite being hidden behind simple things where there is always the risk of not being discovered, and always the little consolation that we will have shared the same time and that our hand-prints will have been on the same little things. Such is the meaning of simple things: The words and their unwavering intentions in the face of improbability are possible because of simple things.

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