Diaries of Exile – Yannis Ritsos: Leaf’s Shadow

Yannis Ritsos’s poems written between 1948 and 1950 during and just after the Greek Civil war – collected and translated by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley – offer glimpses into the daily routines of life in exile, the quiet violence Ritsos and his fellow prisoners endured, the fluctuations in the prisoners’ sense of solidarity, and their struggle to maintain humanity through language.


Makronisos - April 24

Makronisos – April 24


The leaf’s shadow is opposite the sun

Take off your shoes. Rest a while. Otherwise remember.

The woodcutters’ hands smell of pine sap.

Little girls behind the baskets

arrange the purple and the red.

Your mistake is that you don’t want to die.

But maybe the dead feel hunger too.


From Diaries of Exile, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley.

Reprinted with permission from Archipelago Books (c) 2013.

Wild River Review congratulates Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley for receiving the 2014 PEN Literary Award for poetry in translation.

Karen Emmerich


Karen Emmerich

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Karen Emmerich has a masters in Comparative Literature from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, where she specialized in translation studies, textual scholarship, and Modern Greek literature. She spent 2010-2011 as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, and in 2011 taught translation studies in the Department of English Studies at the University of Cyprus, before joining COLT in 2012.
Her current research focuses on the material aspects of both poetry and translation, and on the overlap in the tasks of the editor and the translator, particularly with regard to the instability of literary works. She has published articles on the visual and material poetics of Greek poets including C. P. Cavafy, Miltos Sachtouris, and Eleni Vakalo, and on the ways translators and editors have approached, or might approach, the challenges presented by the visual idiosyncrasy and textual instability manifested by these and other works. She is also interested in experimental poetry in an international context, and in experimental modes of translation (visual translation, homophonic translation, radical domestication, etc.)

Her academic commitment to translation as a mode and model for comparative work in the humanities is complemented by her work as a translator of modern Greek literature; she has translated novels, short story collections, and volumes of poetry by Margarita Karapanou, Amanda Michalopoulou, Yannis Ritsos (in collaboration with Edmund Keeley), Miltos Sachtouris, Ersi Sotiropoulos, and Vassilis Vassilikos.

Articles by Karen Emmerich


Diaries of Exile Yannis Ritsos: Leaf’s Shadow

Edmund Keeley


Edmund Keeley

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Edmund Keeley, author, translator, educator, critic, and administrator, was born in   Damascus, Syria, on February 5, 1928. When he was three, his family moved to Canada for five years. He lived in Greece from ages 8 to 11, receiving his primary education in Thessaloniki. After attending high school and college in the U.S., Keeley was a Fulbright Scholar and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and went on to receive a Doctorate in Comparative Literature from Oxford University in 1952.

In 1954, he began teaching at Princeton University, where he became a full professor of English and creative writing, continuing in that capacity until his retirement in 1993.

During his career at Princeton, Keeley held directorships of the Creative Arts Program, the Creative Writing and Theatre Program, and the Hellenic Studies Program. Keeley also held various offices outside of Princeton’s walls. He served as president of the Modern Greek Studies Association, vice-president of the Poetry Society of America, and president of PEN American Center.

Keeley has written eight novels, fourteen volumes of poetry in translation, and ten volumes of nonfiction. His first novel, The Libation, won him the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959 and an honorable mention in the New Jersey Author’s Award the following year. His translation in Six Poets of Modern Greece, which he translated with Philip Sherrard, won the Guiness Poetry Award in 1962. Keeley captured the New Jersey Author’s Award two more times: in 1968 for George Seferis: Collected Poems, 1924-1955, and for his third novel, The Impostor, in 1970. In 1959, he received his first Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in Fiction; and in 1973 he was named a Guggenheim Fellow for the second time. In 1973, C. P. Cavafy: Selected Poems was nominated for a National Book Award in Translation. In 1999, he received an Academy Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters.

His novel, The Megabuilders of Queenston Park, was published in Fall/2013 by Wild River Books. In 2014, Edmund Keeley and Karen Emmerich received the 2014 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for their translation of Yannis Ritsos’s poems, Diaries of Exile.  Three Poems for Mary is part of a suite of seven poems published as Requiem for Mary by Greenhouse Review Press, 2015. The Act of Nature was first published in the Yale Review, Fall 2014. The Asphodel Plain, Act of Faith and Hospice were first published in the Hudson Review, Winter, 2015.

Yannis Ritsos


Yannis Ritsos

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Yannis Ritsos is a poet whose writing life is entwined with the contemporary history of his homeland in Greece. Ritsos is considered one of the five great Greek poets of the twentieth century, though his poetry was banned there repeatedly due to his left wing beliefs. Notable works by Ritsos include Tractor (1934), Pyramids (1935), Epitaph (1936) and Vigil (1941-1953).

The poems in Diaries of Exile (Archipelago Books) presents a series of three diaries in poetry that Ritsos wrote between 1948-1950, during and just after the Greek Civil War while a political prisoner first on the island of Limnos and then at the infamous camp on Makrionis. While imprisoned, Ritsos dedicated his days to poetry, trusting in writing and in art as collective endeavors capable of resisting oppression and bringing people together across distance and time.