The Crane Dance

By Yannis Ritsos 1909–1990 Yannis Ritsos

Translated By David Harsent Read the translator's notes

The clew paying out through his fingers, a deftness   
that would bring him back to her, its softness the softness   
of skin, as if drawn from herself directly, the faint   
labial smell, guiding him up and out, as some dampness   
on the air might lead a stone-blind man to the light.

Asterios dead for sure, his crumpled horn, his muzzle   
thick with blood, so at Delos they stopped,   
Theseus and the young Athenians, and stepped   
up to the "altar of horns" to dance a puzzle-
dance, its moves unreadable except to those who'd walked   
the blank meanders of the labyrinth.   
And this was midday: a fierce sun, the blaze   
of their nakedness, the glitter of repetitions, a dazzle   
rising off the sea, the scents of pine and hyacinth. . .

Well, things change: new passions, new threats, new fears.   
New consequences, too. Nowadays, we don't think much   
about Theseus, the Minotaur, Ariadne on the beach   
at Naxos, staring out at the coming years.   
But people still dance that dance: just common folk,   
those criss-cross steps that no one had to teach,   
at weddings and wakes, in bars or parks,   
as if hope and heart could meet, as if they might   
even now, somehow, dance themselves out of the dark.

Source: Poetry (April 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008


"Yannis Ritsos," wrote Peter Levi in the Times Literary Supplement of the late Greek poet, "is the old-fashioned kind of great poet. His output has been enormous, his life heroic and eventful, his voice is an embodiment of national courage, his mind is tirelessly active." At their best, Ritsos' poems, "in their directness and with their sense of anguish, are moving, and testify to the courage of at least one human soul in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism, Greek & Roman Mythology


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