Here is a remarkable collection of poetry. Yannis Ritsos is nearly unknown in America--apart, that is, from the readership of the few tiny journals where some of these translations first appeared--but he's been read, set to music, and honored highly in his native Greece and in Europe for 30 years. Ritsos is a democrat; as Rae Dalven explains in her helpful introduction, he paid for his commitment to ""a philosophy of resistance, affirmation, brotherhood and Romiosni (Greekness)"" with long periods of imprisonment and exile during the German Occupation, the Greek Civil War, and, most recently, dictatorial junta rule. His poetry reflects an immense sensitivity to the spiritual and emotional atmosphere in which the working class of Greece lives, and many of the shorter poems are no more than extremely precise and perspicuous descriptions of moments in the life of a soldier, a dock-worker, an unidentified man of the streets. But this collection culls from 40 years of Ritsos' writing; it includes long poems, like ""The Blackened Pot,"" written in prison to rally political and human faith: ""Before the cripple beside you goes to bed he removes his leg;/ he leaves it in the corner--a hollow wooden leg--/ you must fill it the way you fill a flowerpot with earth to plant flowers,/ the way the darkness fills with stars,/ the way poverty fills little by little with thought and love."" It also includes a great many short lyrical reflections, twelve odes to Constantine Cavafy, and three astonishingly moving dramatic monologues, one of which won Ritsos the National Poetry Prize of Greece.