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Sex Roles in Modern Greek Poetry Katerina Anghehki-Rooke There is a paradox in poetry: the poem is both the instrument and the result of self-knowledge. Without having plunged into yourself you cannot come up with a poem, but at the same time the poem is the way which leads the poet nearer to the center of the self. For women poets this exploration has still another objective: To find and define their feminine identity in terms of their own consciousness and their existence in a man's world. "To be born a woman has been to be born within an allotted and confined space into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. . . . And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. . . . One might simplify this by saying: men act, women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at."1 This passage is very illuminating , especially in relation to women poets, because, apart from a deeply rooted social behavior, we have here the additional difficulty of a woman who is an object for the outside world and a subject for herself since she must act, i.e., create, and be what she acts when she writes a poem. The Greek woman poet has always desperately tried to combine her creativity with the ideal of the "real woman" as established by men. The "real woman" is concerned with only one thing, love, and has only one mission in this world: to attract and keep her man and have children by him. It is no wonder that love becomes the first vehicle for poetry or that women poets begin to assert themselves through verses of adoration and submission to man. Maria Polydouri, a romantic poet at the beginning of the century, wrote: "I sing only because you loved me in years gone by. . . . Only because you loved me was I born." Her contemporary, Myrtiotissa, composed one of the 'John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Harmondsworth, 1977). 141 142 Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke most famous love poems in modern Greek, in which she said: "I love you, I can say nothing deeper, simpler, greater." But even these women poets, by the mere act of their writing, were already stepping outside the closed circuit of traditional womanhood and were making an active statement. Paradoxically, in those early years, their poetry served still another purpose: to conceal. So on the one hand women were trying to express themselves and, on the other hand, through this very expression they were trying to hide their real feelings. As Rita Boumi Papa (born 1906) writes: If I hid myself amid the foliage of verses I did so that I might weep unseen. The task of the woman poet was not, as it is now, to exhibit her womanly consciousness, but to show the world that her consciousness was awakened as a man's and that she had the right to be an active witness. Zoe Karelli (born 1901 ), probably the best living Greek woman poet, writes: I shall stand erect in the light to speak. Since I exist I must speak. Since I have heard, I must speak. With Zoe Karelli we can say that a woman's voice begins to be clearly heard. Her quest is essentially a metaphysical one, without a determined faith, but with intense questioning and doubting, proceeding from what is known and tending toward the unknown: O Cyprian .. . help me to surpass the thickness of matter which has locked itself about me evident obstacle to the heaven's light. Kimon Friar writes about Zoe Karelli: "The tone of her poetry in consequence has neither the resilience of femininity nor the inflexibility of masculinity but is rather hermaphroditic, combining the passionate turmoil of feminine sensibility with the tough abstraction of masculine thought...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 141-155
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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