Costas Varnalis: The Song of the Thrush





Costas Varnalis


The Song of the Thrush


02-TaphHRUSH, they called little Anna at the village. And she lived and died a thrush. She was a tiny little girl. Thin, with long legs, weightless, like a bird. She wasn’t walking – she was hopping around and running.

But what is the village we speak of?

         One of those mountainous ones, perched on the mountain slope and they all look alike. Beautiful, but poor and depressing, abandoned by gods and men all the same.

         A glen downhill with its red oleander and a goats’ path, which leads through the pine tree forest to the top of the mountain. It was such an isolated, forsaken village, that it too had forgotten its name.

         It didn’t need one, as if it was a burden.

         But what these villages lack of culture, care and fill, they gain in soul, the soul of the people!

         We are in the last year of the occupation.

         The village we speak of, was on the borders of the two Greeces: the free and the cooperative one. But on the free side.

         A German outpost was trying with their Nazis and “our” evzones to stop freedom from coming down the mountain – to the plain. This was due to the fact that up there at the top mountain the freedom fighters had nested and constituted a “Christmas celebration” for the enemies.

         They had regular contact with the liberation committee of the village. But how? Through the thrush. She was the daughter of a poor widow, whose husband had been killed on the Albanian front. The thrush was eight to ten years old. But full of voice, cleverness and hatred for the enemies. And she was quick and streetsmart – like an adult – and fearless.

         The weather was good at the end of December. Sun and dryness – but biting cold as well.

         The Thrush, along with the other children (the schools were closed for Christmas!) would go out of the village on a clearing and they would start playing there right before the eyes of the Germans and the evzones.

         They would play ball.

         The Thrush, in the heat of the match, would throw the ball as long as she could.

         The ball would roll down to the glen and the Thrush would also roll behind it.

         Not very high up, in the woods, two guerilla soldiers were waiting for her every day at noon. She would hand them the written or oral message of the committee and she would go back panting (so as not to be late) with the ball in hand!

         But this regular walk inside the woods, made the “enemies” suspicious.

         “We must see what’s going on, but we have to do it discreetly – because the little one is very cunning…”.

         But they didn’t need to find a way. The president of the village community, the right hand of the Nazis, offered his last service “to the Country”. He informed them about what was going on.

         When the next day, Christmas Eve it was, the Thrush played her “game” one more time, the Nazis and their Greek companions ran behind the ball, stopped it, and they also stopped the girl and searched her.

         They found a small piece of paper hidden inside her hair.

         “Come here, my little bird,” the president told her. “Who gave you this?”

         “I wrote it myself.”

         “And what do you know of these things?”

         “We all know.”

         “And what other ‘game’ do you know?”

         “All of them. To run. To jump. To sing. To climb up trees, to collect fruit and catch birds in their nests.”

         “Why don’t you climb that olive tree to see what you can do?”

         It took Thrush a minute to do it.

         “You said you know how to sing. Why don’t you sing us a tune? Whatever you like.”

         And Thrush with her clear childish voice started singing.

         “Black is the night in the mountains…” (This song was most common then among the occupied Greeks.)

         Bam! Bam! Bam!

         The Nazis and the evzones aimed at her and killed her like a bird. And the bird was sprawled there, a tiny body with a huge soul. The soul of all Greece.

         Just after midnight, the time when the church bells announced the birth of the Saviour, the guerillas attacked the village – and the Nazis, “our” people and the president paid their cowardly crime with their life.

         And then?

         A year later, “freedom” had already been chased away from earth and sea from the whole of Greece. But every Christmas, just after midnight, the happy bell tolls cannot drown the sad song of the Thrush and the cry of the Fatherland…




Source: Gia tin Xiliakrivi ti Lefteria, Short Stories of the Resistance, Cultural and literary editions, Athens, 1961.


Costas Varnalis (Pirgos, Bulgaria, 1884-Athens, 1974). Poetry, prose, theatre, essay, critical essay, translation. He studied Philology in Athens. An avid supporter and idealist of the left wing, he was persecuted for his ideas and works. His first book was the poetry collection Kirithres (1905). In 1975, one year after his death, his poetry collection Orgi Laou was published. It was written during the 7 year dictatorship in Greece.


Translated from the Greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He holds a Ph.D. in Con­tem­porary American Poetry. He currently teaches at the Hellenic American University in Athens.


.. .