Autumn Manuscripts

Tasos Leivaditis (1922–88) was one of the best-loved Greek poets of the twentieth century, part of the heroic generation of Communist poets that included Yiannis Ritsos, Nikiforos Vrettakos and Manolis Anagnostakis. The author of more than twenty books of poetry, many of his poems were set to music by his close friend Mikis Theodorakis. During the Second World War Leivaditis joined the Communist Partisans to fight against the Nazi Occupation of Greece. During the Civil War he was arrested and imprisoned on the islands of Lemnos, Makronisos and Agios Efstratios. Eventually released, he was charged in 1955 with ‘incitement to rebellion’ for writing subversive poetry. After the US-sponsored Fascist coup of 1967, he was forced to write under pseudonyms. But when Leivaditis died he was given a state funeral.

Autumn Manuscripts was Leivaditis’ last book, comparable to Brecht’s Buckow elegies, Aragon’s Les Adieux and Ritsos’ last poems. Published shortly after his death, it’s a book of sly fables and strange dreams, farewells and departures, migrating birds and autumn leaves, embers and ash. Reflecting on the political defeats of his generation, the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the bitter divisions inside the Greek Communist Party and the wider demoralisation of the European left, Leivaditis contemplates the relationship between belief and doubt. ‘The old comrades have not died but reside now at the far end of the roads – whichever one you take you will run into them.’

Sample Poems

Street Song

The garden railings are wet from the rain like the poor who are left outside
but as night falls a flute somewhere or a star pleads for all humanity –
when we were children we would hide under the stairs and whenever we came out we’d leave
	behind a royal destiny
silence makes the world bigger, sorrow makes it more just
and later in youth we embraced the first tree and told it about the past
joyless days: you went away and yet you left behind a moving memory
and I who was mad about the future now look anxiously at the advancing hands of the clocks.

One night meanwhile someone walks along the street singing.
	Where have you heard that song before? You can’t remember.
And yet the nostalgia for everything you had dreamed trembles within the song. You stand by
	the window
and listen spellbound. And suddenly at the turn of the road the song vanishes. Everything
	disappears. Silence.
Now what will you do?

The Bird with the Truths

Oblivion has covered the past, the unknown besieges the house
phantoms of things we loved and lost
and now only spiders know what comes next – but nostalgia for the unknown had won us
	over since childhood, and loneliness had promised us great distances. 
Oh the children we were with those long neckties for a childhood so short! 
And the evening breeze blew away the ribbons in Maria’s hat to other constellations – we
	never reached her. 
And I loved with passion all things I was not destined to know.  
And I lived all my life in a dream
	and immortality in a few cognacs.

One morning a bird sat on the tree opposite and whistled something.
Oh, if only I understood what it wanted to tell me, perhaps I would have found the meaning
	of the world.

Pages of the Calendar

Who knows what will happen tomorrow, or whoever learned what happened yesterday?
my years were lost here and there, in rooms, in trains, in dreams 
but sometimes the voice of a woman as night falls resembles the farewell of a part of life that
	has come to an end
and the days you lack, oh February, perhaps they will be returned to us in paradise – 
I think about the small hotels where I scattered the sighs of my youth
until in the end no one escapes, but where would they go anyway?
and eros is our mad hope in the face of the impossibility that one person may come to know 
	another –  
Lord, you have treated poets unjustly by giving them only one world,
and when I die I want to be buried in a pile of calendar pages so that I might take time with
	me.

And perhaps whatever of us remains will lie by the edge of our path: a small forget-me-not.  

November Wind

But now it’s night. Let’s close the door and close the curtains
because the time of review has arrived. What have we done in our life? Who are we? Why
	you and not me?
For some time now no one has knocked on our door and the postman hasn’t shown up in 
	centuries. Ah, so many letters, so many poems
swept away by the November wind! And if I lost my life
I lost it for trivial things: a word or a key, a yesterday or a tomorrow
but my nights always have the aroma of violets
because I remember. So many friends left without leaving an address, so many words without 
	any response
and music, I think to myself, is the sadness of those who never had the chance to love.

Until in the end nothing remains from the past but a hazy memory (when did we live?)
and every time spring arrives I cry because in a short while we will leave and no one will
	remember us. 

Departure

The clocks strike the lost hours, but no one believes them,
ah the endless danger signals I sent and still no one has replied –
but someday I will try to remember, to remember how I got here,
everything happened so quickly, friends went their separate ways, some were lost in the war, 
	others at the turn in the road
lovers got married and now grow old next to strangers
at times in the afternoon a wind arises, the shutters are battered like pangs of remorse – for 
	what beautiful blunder, I wonder?
and childhood: a heavenly gloss on the enigma that we exist.

And when I leave someday I won’t take anything with me other than a little violet from the
	twilight and a star from some fairy tale. 

Immortality

The old comrades have not died but reside now at the far end of the roads – 
whichever one you take you will run into them.