The word romiosini (ρωμιοσύνη) or 'Greekness' derives from the Byzantine idea that the Greeks are the true Romioi, the heirs of the Roman Empire. For hundreds of years under the Turkish occupation the flame of romiosini was kept alive in codes of honour, loyalty, bravery, love of the land, religious devotion and patriotism. For the Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos, the Greek Partisans of EAM/ELAS in the Second World War were the heroic heirs to the romiosini of the mountain klephtes, the medieval epic hero Digenis Akritas, and the revolutionaries who fought against the Turks in the 1820s. First published in 1954, Romiosini was later set to music by Mikis Theodorakis. This is the first time the poem has been published in book form in English.

Sample Poems

extract from Romiosini

Τράβηξαν ὁλόισια στὴν αὐγὴ μὲ τὴν ἀκαταδεξιὰ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
ποὺ πεινάει,
μέσα στ᾿ ἀσάλευτα μάτια τους εἶχε πήξει ἕνα ἄστρο
στὸν ὦμο τους κουβάλαγαν τὸ λαβωμένο καλοκαῖρι.

Ἀπὸ δῶ πέρασε ὁ στρατὸς μὲ τὰ φλάμπουρα κατάσαρκα
μὲ τὸ πεῖσμα δαγκωμένο στὰ δόντια τους σὰν ἄγουρο γκόρτσι
μὲ τὸν ἄμμο τοῦ φεγγαριοῦ μὲς στὶς ἀρβύλες τους
καὶ μὲ τὴν καρβουνόσκονη τῆς νύχτας κολλημένη μέσα στὰ
ρουθούνια καὶ στ᾿ αὐτιά τους.

Δέντρο τὸ δέντρο, πέτρα-πέτρα πέρασαν τὸν κόσμο,
μ᾿ ἀγκάθια προσκεφάλι πέρασαν τὸν ὕπνο.
Φέρναν τὴ ζωὴ στὰ δυὸ στεγνά τους χέρια σὰν ποτάμι.

Σὲ κάθε βῆμα κέρδιζαν μία ὀργιὰ οὐρανὸ – γιὰ νὰ τὸν δώσουν.
Πάνου στὰ καραούλια πέτρωναν σὰν τὰ καψαλιασμένα δέντρα,
κι ὅταν χορεῦαν στὴν πλατεῖα,
μέσα στὰ σπίτια τρέμαν τὰ ταβάνια καὶ κουδούνιζαν τὰ γυαλικὰ
στὰ ράφια.

Ἄ, τί τραγούδι τράνταξε τὰ κορφοβούνια –
ἀνάμεσα στὰ γόνατά τους κράταγαν τὸ σκουτέλι τοῦ φεγγαριοῦ
καὶ δειπνοῦσαν,
καὶ σπάγαν τὸ ἂχ μέσα στὰ φυλλοκάρδια τους
σὰ νάσπαγαν μία ψείρα ἀνάμεσα στὰ δυὸ χοντρά τους νύχια.

Ποιὸς θὰ σοῦ φέρει τώρα τὸ ζεστὸ καρβέλι μὲς στὴ νύχτα νὰ
ταΐσεις τὰ ὄνειρα;
Ποιὸς θὰ σταθεῖ στὸν ἴσκιο τῆς ἐλιᾶς παρέα μὲ τὸ τζιτζίκι μὴ
σωπάσει τὸ τζιτζίκι,
τώρα ποὺ ἀσβέστης τοῦ μεσημεριοῦ βάφει τὴ μάντρα ὁλόγυρα
τοῦ ὁρίζοντα
σβήνοντας τὰ μεγάλα ἀντρίκια ὀνόματά τους;

Τὸ χῶμα τοῦτο ποὺ μοσκοβολοῦσε τὰ χαράματα
τὸ χῶμα ποὺ εἴτανε δικό τους καὶ δικό μας – αἷμα τους – πὼς
μύριζε τὸ χῶμα –
καὶ τώρα πὼς κλειδώσανε τὴν πόρτα τους τ᾿ ἀμπέλια μας
πῶς λίγνεψε τὸ φῶς στὶς στέγες καὶ στὰ δέντρα
ποιὸς νὰ τὸ πεῖ πὼς βρίσκονται οἱ μισοὶ κάτου ἀπ᾿ τὸ χῶμα
κ᾿ οἱ ἄλλοι μισοὶ στὰ σίδερα;

Μὲ τόσα φύλλα νὰ σοῦ γνέφει ὁ ἥλιος καλημέρα
μὲ τόσα φλάμπουρα νὰ λάμπει ὁ οὐρανὸς
καὶ τοῦτοι μὲς στὰ σίδερα καὶ κεῖνοι μὲς στὸ χῶμα.

Σώπα, ὅπου νἄναι θὰ σημάνουν οἱ καμπάνες.
Αὐτὸ τὸ χῶμα εἶναι δικό τους καὶ δικό μας.
Κάτου ἀπ᾿ τὸ χῶμα, μὲς στὰ σταυρωμένα χέρια τους
κρατᾶνε τῆς καμπάνας τὸ σκοινὶ - περμένουνε τὴν ὥρα, δὲν
περμένουν νὰ σημάνουν τὴν ἀνάσταση. Τοῦτο τὸ χῶμα
εἶναι δικό τους καὶ δικό μας - δὲ μπορεῖ κανεὶς νὰ μᾶς τὸ πάρει.

extract from Romiosini (English)

They pushed on, all together, toward the dawn, with the disdain
of a hungry person.
In their unflinching eyes a star had formed.
They were bearing the wounded summer on their shoulders.

The troop passed by here with the flags stuck to their bodies,
with hard-bitten obstinacy between their teeth like an unripe
wild pear,
with sand of the moon in their boots,
and coal-dust of the night stuck in their nostrils and ears.

Tree by tree, rock by rock they passed through the world.
With thorns as a pillow, they passed through sleep.
They carried life in their dry hands like a river.

With each step they gained two yards of sky – to give it back.
Up on the lookouts they grew hard as fire-tempered trees,
and when they danced in the square,
ceilings trembled inside the houses and glassware tinkled on the

Ah, what song shook the summits!
They would hold the moonlit pot between their knees, and dine,
and suppress the complaint in their heart of hearts
as if squeezing a louse between thick fingernails.

Who now will bring you at night that warm loaf of bread to feed
your dreams?
Who will keep company with the cicada in the olive's shade, and
not let the cicada be silent –
now that the whitewash of noon coats the horizon's entire corral,
wiping out their grand heroic names?

That ground with its sweet dawn fragrance,
the ground that was theirs and ours – their blood – ah, the scent
of that ground!
And now, how our vineyards have barred their gates!
How the light on the roofs and trees has dimmed!
Who is there to tell that half of them are under the earth,
the other half in irons?

Are those all the leaves you get when the sun bids you good
Is that the only banner in the shining sky,
with these in irons and those beneath the earth?

Never mind. The bells will sound their names.
This land is theirs, this land is ours.
Under the earth, between their crossed hands,
they hold the bell-rope. They await the hour, they're not asleep,
they're waiting to announce the resurrection. That land
is theirs and ours: no one can take it from us.


'a brave and beautiful long poem rendered into English with enormous sensitivity and imagination.'


'a wonderfully figurative, lyrical and cadent long poem... Highly recommended.'

The Recusant

‘works at the highest level of poetic brilliance.’

Mistress Quickly’s Bed