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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Yannis Ritsos: In Front of the Door ("a yellow mask identical with his face")


Various Balinese Topeng (dance masks), Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Jakarta: photo by Gunawan Kartapranata, 2009

There is an unconscious propriety in the way in which, in all European languages, the word person is commonly used to denote a human being. The real meaning of persona is a mask, such as actors were accustomed to wear on the ancient stage; and it is quite true that no one shows himself as he is, but wears his mask and plays his part. Indeed, the whole of our social arrangements may be likened to a perpetual comedy; and this is why a man who is worth anything finds society so insipid, while a blockhead is quite at home in it.

Arthur Schopenhauer: Psychological Observations, from Studies in Pessimism in Parerga und Paralipomena, 1851 (translated by Thomas Bailey Saunders)

He was about to knock on the door. He changed his mind. He stood there.
Should he leave? How? What if the door suddenly opened?
And what if he were seen from the upstairs window? Suppose they were to throw out
a glass of water or cigarette butts or rotten flowers
or his two-day-old letter all torn up? It got dark.
Nobody went in or out. No window opened.
The house abandoned. Not a single light on over the stairs. On the floor
he could now clearly make out the two rusted forks,
a pile of soda bottles and empty cartridges,
and beside these a yellow mask identical with his face.

Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990):
In Front of the Door
, from Sidestreet (1971-1972), in Exile and Return: Selected Poems 1967-1974, translated by Edmund Keeley, 1985

Rusty forks (fire remnants at destroyed home, San Bernardino, California): photo by Erik Lawrence, February 2008

Forks, black and white (fire remnants at destroyed home, San Bernardino, California): photo by Erik Lawrence, February 2008

Soda bottle, port of Kinvara, Ireland: photo by Pascal Moign, 3 August 2013

Still life with cartridge cases: photo by Elenovsky, 17 January 2013


Hazen said...

The master in his cyber-shop has turned out a fine assemblage this morning. “Still life with cartridges.” Wicked, dude. The world as clash, as meld and meeting, of personas. Excuse me now while I attend to mine, dose it up with caffeine. Who is that masked man?

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Interior murmur... humiliation and whimper: the mask of self, false twin, cracks at first morning light.

Tremendous Ritsos poem, Tom, tremendous.

Red Shuttleworth

Marcia said...

This post made my morning! Thanks.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Always thought Ritsos was at his best in his shorter poems and this is no exception.

TC said...

How is it that a poem composed covertly under an authoritarian regime in another century manages to sound so... contemporary?

Mose23 said...

That long detritus list and that fierce uncanny close...

They're working up our own masks as we speak.

I don't know how we smuggle anything through these days; everything is lovable code to these idiots.