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Journal of Modem Greek Studies, May 1984 The Comparison of Greek and French Women Poets: Myrtiotissa, Maria Polydoure, Anna de Noailles Christopher Robinson The critical attention paid to Greek women poets who wrote prior to the Second World War has been, with the single exception of Athina Tarsuli's Ellinides piitries (1951), slight and superficial. Common sense requires a critic to accept the basic principle enunciated by Elaine Showalter, in her essay "Towards a Feminist Poetics," that women's special experience assumes and determines distinctive forms in art.1 Yet we find Karandonis prepared to consider Myrtiotissa 's "whole poetic being" as deriving from Palamas,2 whilst Polydoure's main biographer, Lili Zographou, characterizes her work as a technically inferior version of the poetry of Karyotakis.3 As though to ease their consciences, such critics, taking their cue from Palamas in his preface to Myrtiotissa's KÃ-trines flóyes* make passing reference to ill-defined special "feminine" perceptions, and compare their subjects, without detailed evidence, to two French women poets, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore and Anna de Noailles.51 wish 'See M. Jacobus, ed., Women Writingand Writing About Women (London, 1979), 22-41. 2See A. Karandonis' introduction to Myrtiótissas Apanda (Athens, 1965), 31. See Lili Zographou's introductory essay in Marias Polydoure Apanda (Athens, 1961), passim. 4Preface to the first edition (1925), quoted by Karandonis, Myrtiótissas Apanda, 31. 5Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859): principal works are Poésies (1830), Les Pleurs (1833), Pauvres fleurs (1839), Bouquets et prières (1843). Anna de Noailles (1876-1933): principal works are Le Coeur innombrable (1901), L'Ombre des jours (1902), Les Eblouissements (1907), Les Vivants et les morts (1913), Les Forces éternelles (1921), Le Poème de l'amour (1924), L'Honneur de souffrir (1927). For a typical comparison of this type in addition to those in the essays of Karandonis and Zographou cited above, see Y. Hondroyanni, I Maria Polydoure meta ton Karyotaki (Athens, 1975), 9. It is interesting to note that Noailles herself is compared with Desbordes-Valmore, on the same principle. See L. Perche, Anna de Noailles (Paris, 1964), 79-80. 23 24 Christopher Robinson to make a tentative exploration of this critical cliché, confining myself for reasons of space to Myrtiotissa, Polydoure6 and Noailles, in order to see how far a comparative study of these women poets offers a new basis on which to assess their work. The thematic range of Myrtiotissa, Polydoure and Noailles is commonly defined as love, death and nature, their manner as lyrical and subjective. It is easy, therefore, to dismiss them as traditional writers who took up themes typical of European lyric poetry from earliest times and treated them in stock Romantic or neo-Romantic manner. Such a classification precisely excludes the possibility that a given theme is potentially modified by the fact that the writer is a woman. Clearly, if we suppose that a poem written by a woman will, in fact, be either a reflection of what is particular to a woman's experience of the world, or a reflection of a woman's response to the extant , male-formulated, literary tradition of how to present the world, or a blend of both, the notion of "traditionalism" of style or theme cannot apply to our three poets. No tradition oÃ- women's poetry about love, death and nature was readily available in French or Greek in the first decades of the twentieth century. Though a thematic comparison of the three women is essential, I have thought it preferable to sacrifice some of the detailed argument in this area in order to give space to stylistic comparison. Although Noailles' poetry is superficially about love, death and nature, it is in practice artificial to separate poems under such headings, because the common psychological links in their language and images, notably the eroticizing of nature and the "naturalizing" of human figures, are more significant than their superficial thematic differences . The poems are generally expressions of the desire for total submission to an outside force, be it man or nature, a force which is beyond the woman's reach or in some way impervious to her, yet without which she feels meaningless. "Lever du...


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