Ritsos as Reader
: the poetics of eclecticism in the mature work of Yannis Ritsos

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to demonstrate the utility of the concept of ‘Ritsos as reader’ for furthering the understanding of Yannis Ritsos’ mature poetry and poetics (from the mid- 1940s onwards). It examines the relationship between Ritsos’ reading and several (sometimes neglected) modes of his writing, showing how Ritsos positions himself in relation to other poets and their work. It advances a new comprehension of the notion of poetic influence in Ritsos’ career.
Previous attempts to assess that influence have tended to view Ritsos’ relationship with other poetry as a source of anxiety or embarrassment. It is, by contrast, here argued that Ritsos’ concept of reading, which defines and limits the roles of literary criticism and translation, clarifies his work’s relationship with other poets and embraces intertextual practice and creative reading. This poetic allows for a self-conscious and complex eclecticism, supporting Ritsos’ own concerns to reconcile Modernism with the Left.
Through examination of available sources, the thesis surveys Ritsos’ reading. It shows that, at the time he was introduced to Marxist-Leninist writings (in the late 1920s), he also made his first forays into world literature. It suggests that Ritsos regards reading as an act that is both interior and attuned to external realities, reflecting the commitments of a poet who is both engagé and attracted to existential questions. 
The thesis examines three modes of reading: the reader-critic, the reader-translator and the reader-poet. Chapter 1 demonstrates the centrality of reading in Ritsos’ autobiographical poem, Το τερατώδες αριστούργημα (1977), examining intertextual practices and alternative literary canons. Through an exploration of Μελετήματα and selected correspondence, chapter 2 examines Ritsos’ concerns about how critics read poetry and his counter-proposal in favour of direct and creative reading. Chapter 3 surveys Ritsos’ activities as a translator (1946-1988), assessing his views of translation, analysing two examples of his work, and showing the interplay of creativity and translation in the collection Όστραβα. Chapter 4 draws the threads together in a case study of Ritsos’ creativity as a reader, analysing how he draws on Whitman and Cavafy to read the body through and against the Left’s ideology. Here, as overall, the thesis argues that Ritsos’ poetics is dynamic and protean, absorbing poetry eclectically and producing creative work that is at once original and rooted in his world view and experience as a reader
Date of Award1 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDavid Ricks (Supervisor) & Roderick Beaton (Supervisor)

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