THE CRYPTIC LYRICISM OF MONA SAVVIDOU-THEODOULOU

by Andreas Petrides

As published in Volume 10, NO 4, December 2013

Mature from the start

The main characteristic in the poetry of Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou is the almost epigrammatic simplicity and a novelistic symbolism which is sometimes in danger of being misconstrued as mental creation. Reading carefully the pauses or the gaps behind the words, however, one can trace pathways which lead to the spaces of a cryptic, guardedly revealed sensibility. She is a poet of linguistic and expressive restraint, who is not easily carried away by an overflow of emotion and rhetorical grandiloquence. Thus she exerts creative control over her inspiration, dispensing with skill the verbal material and its various ways of expression. It is, finally, writing which is of quality and demanding, addressed to informed and sufficiently receptive readers.

All the above qualities which I have noted are already to be found seminally in her first published work, proof of an innate and shaped temperament. The following verses belong to her first – youthful as yet and uneven in quality – collection of poems (Tis Entefxomenis, 1978):

Catch the charioteer
He has knocked someone down by mistake
And he looks so much like him...
.........
I want to weep 
For the voice of the desert.
I am afraid
That my tears
Will become Alexandrites.

I will refer in particular, however, to her second book of poetry, entitled Enestiasi (1979), a polyphonic composition with high aspirations and, naturally, with the analogous risk. It is a composition of diverse personae. It has a lyrical-dramatic tone and prescribes early her development into an indefatigable poet of the diachronic suffering of the race. In her confrontation with admittedly difficult unsettled subject matter, the poet certainly wins the bet. Sometimes flying lightly with grace and lyricism, sometimes dramatising evocatively and giving in essence a redemptive perspective, she succeeds in orchestrating and illumining on many sides the most recent calamity of our country. She draws strength from the illustrious past, giving blood to the sickly present, and dreaming of the future Spring. Heroes of her poetic drama are the figures of the Kypria (Cypriot Woman), the Poet, o Enkleistos (the hermit), the Teacher and  I Xorkistra (the exorcist). Now at a level of poetic fulfilment, Mona Savvidou succeeds in Enestiasi in giving almost uninterruptedly tens of aesthetically worthy lines or sets of lines in a compact composition, constructed and developed on many levels. The wise, dense and consolatory discourse is heard on every page.

Kypria
   And I lift up the earth
   to exhume the cocoons
   to bewitch the vipers
....
   Sole companion
   your self-sufficiency
   and the silkworm.
Teacher
   The walls you built
   don’t carry them on your shoulder.
  And whatever is a votary of tradition
   weaves the souls.
 Xorkistra
   The shepherds of Amathus
   rhapsodised tunes
  and the cyclamens shivered
  at the dark entrances
  of the bare tombs.

The quotes, of course, from Enestiasi are from an artistic aspect an arbitrary act, since they break away from the rest of the poetic body, losing to an extent the aesthetic dynamic they possess as an integral part of the Whole.

I do not know how much attention the poetry received when it was published about thirty years ago. I personally confess that its early synthetic maturity and the inspired multi-level illumination of the basic thematic core surprised me. As did the good balance of the genuinely lyrical with the firm Doric quality of the dramatic and/or the epic element. And though the poet went on to publish a number of poetry collections and tens of notable poems – which established her as a serious and important voice – I return every so often to the venerable iconostasis of Enestiasi to delight my mind and spirit. To hear again, as Easter chanters of the Resurrection, the Teacher, the Enkleistos, the Poet and the Xorkistra, in an expiatory and redeeming discourse.

Poet, Enkleistos, Teacher
   Say
   that you were baptised again
   and are now
   a Maenad ready
   to tear apart the Orpheuses
   who mould
   and enchant
   Eurydices.
Enkleistos
   The pine needles caress the sky
   when the earth turns
   unsuspecting and divided
   And the wooden bolts 
   will bang
   reviving the ascent
   from Hades.
 Poet
  I chase the sun
  I escape the dark
  even if I melt and am engulfed
  even if I become Eridanos. Memory of the sea.

Moved, I slowly and carefully turn over the last page, as if the holy poetic figures might become creased, those figures who will begin again to recite the verses redemptively at the next opening of the book.

After word

By-passing for the moment the subsequent uninterrupted and rich poetic work of Mona Savvidou (from Enas Argonaftis anamesa stis Symplegades, 1986 , up to the latest – the eighth in the series – with the title To dendro sto spiti, 2007), I will give – and comment on – an example of her most recent unpublished work. It is quite interesting for someone to follow certain new trends or new elements which she introduces into her poetry. I perceive, to be precise, with aesthetic satisfaction, a discreetly more transcendental climate in the substratum of her verses, something which lends them a particular depth. And because nothing grows in a vacuum, one can well-foundedly attribute it to the shattering experience of the loss of her beloved husband. Here, the background of the suffering of the race and of the historical calamity – dominant in her work – takes second place, to be confronted as man with existential dilemmas and a more “personal” questioning. While, naturally, the verses are galvanised by pure and aesthetic inspiration, they stray imperceptibly from the narrow dominion of individual experience, conveying a more universal feeling. I quote the poem entitled “The Bridge”:

The Bridge
  To cross the wooden bridge
  over the emerald waters
  you must become a spectator
  of the dance of death – 
  of a blazing depiction 
  reborn from its ashes,
  there where the river ends
  and the lake begins.
  If you go as far as the way out
  you will continue to play
  with life.

The structure of the poem is compact and harmoniously complete. The first four lines contain a suggestively strange and irrational symbolism. They emit a metaphysical mist, which pervades the reader with a shiver of bliss, since the consciousness of the common primordial fate unites phylogenetically and inwardly comforts us. The “emerald waters” emit just a feeling of transcendental texture, inseparable from the dialectical syzygy of life and death. Nor do they easily admit of rational explanation, which would scatter the poetic essence to the winds without more ado. The closing triplet contains a movement of a deep sigh of relief… as if someone crosses the tight-rope over the abyss with baited breath and successfully reaches the opposite side. What mental, but above all what aesthetic, euphoria!

Translated by Christine Georghiades 

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