I sing only because you loved me
in forgone years.
Both in the sun, in the summer’s premonition
and in the rain, in the snow,
I sing only because you loved me.
Only because you embraced me
one night and kissed my mouth,
Only for that I am like a wide-open lily
and I still have a quiver in my soul,
Only because you embraced me.
Only because you watched me admirably as I was passing by
And in your eyes I saw passing
my lissom shadow, as in a dream
Only because you watched me admirably as I was passing by.
Only, only for that it pleased you
only for that my passing remained so pleasant.
As if you were following me wherever I was going
like you were passing somewhere there near me.
Only, only for that it pleased you.
Only because you loved me I was born
for this my life was given.
In the joyless frustrated life
for me the life was fulfilled.
Only because you loved me I was born.
Just for your chosen love
Dawn granted me roses in hands.
To light your way for a moment
the night filled my eyes with stars.
Just for your chosen love.
When this poem was published in 1928 its author, the 26 year-old poet Maria Polidouri, was in hospital, suffering from Tuberculosis; the beloved one to whom this letter-like poem is addressed, the poet Kostas Kariotakis, was already dead. He had committed suicide shortly before, aged 32.
They had met in the beginning of 1922. She was twenty, a student at the Athens University School of Law, working in public service. Among her milieu of friends and work colleagues with whom she would discuss thoughts and ideas about literature, there was Kostas Kariotakis, a 26 year-old poet who had already published two collections of poems.
In April their love blossomed. Kostas was attracted by the young tall and slender woman, with her amazing black eyes cast in a spiritually profound face, and her outstanding character, which had its wide swings but ultimately belonged to a woman who dared to ask to be loved, to connect, to be kissed, to date men – things which were totally unheard of for other women of her generation. Maria was far ahead of her time.
In turn, Maria, apart from her bodily attraction to Kostas, saw in him the face of a poet with a proven mastery of the art. She was yearning to be driven by him in her own poetry, and most of all, she came to see him as “the only one who could ever understand me,” as she wrote in her last days.
One month later in May, Kostas writes: “My dear, why do you ask me if it pains me to think that you love me so much? It only pains me because I love you more than I could have ever imagined to love.” Maria’s May diary reveals: “My desperate poet, I wonder if I want to love you as much as you deserve… And a little later in a letter she begs him to marry her: “Come, Taki, to live together… you will see how sweet, how comforting I will be with you. It is not difficult, honestly not difficult at all. I know all the obstacles, all the consequences. We are both poor, but so what? If we separate now will we not be poor and without any hope of becoming rich? Two rooms are enough”.
Tragically, however, she pleads to the wrong person. Kostas Kariotakis simply did not have the energy to contain and enjoy her love and unusual personality that had attracted him initially. He was a skeptic, perfectionist, pessimistic about life, self-centred, and it seemed that his erotic feelings towards her were short-lived.
In the summer of 1922, Kostas contracted syphilis. On a walk in Faliro, he finally gave Maria a decisive answer. He refused her proposal, explaining that he had no right to marry any woman while suffering from the disease.
Dimitra Galani sings “evening”, a poem of Kariotakis (music and by the piano: Lena Platonos)
Maria did not accept Kostas’ reasoning; to her, it was no more than an excuse, a cop-out. She felt humiliated and underrated. Her heartbreak would only be revealed a few years later, in her poems. Both kept relations by letters, and both did not succeed to handle their lives well thereafter. Kostas hated the bureaucracy that he was part of as a lawyer in public service, and Maria, who had a short stint as an actress, did not manage to keep any job for very long.
Their last meeting took place about six years later, at the Sotiria hospital in Athens, where Maria was hospitalized due to her tuberculosis. He brought her flowers and sweets, but soon the cold cruelty of reality took over… he kissed her and they never saw each other again.
Shortly after, Kostas put an end to his life. The news deteriorated further Maria’s poor health. She would not do as the doctors recommended, and went on secret night excursions away from the hospital. Then, in the face of comming death, and in the presence of Kostas’ souvenirs and the memories of their heart breaking love, she wrote her most moving poems.
In her last days she wrote a “letter to the world”:
“… Now, as I write the last lines, I look back and I realize how lucky I was: I lived free as no other woman of my time; I did things no other did and loved as few loved. And I will not forget, as my eyes close, that in a melancholic April’s dawn, I was not alone anymore. Young people who loved me have come to say goodbye and dear friends at my bedside have given me one last song.
This is my letter to a world that never wrote to me, as a good friend of mine says.
Maria Polidouri passed away on 30 April 1930, aged 28.
There are at least 6 versions of the poem “I Only Sing Because You Loved Me” set to music.
Here is the version that many consider to be the ultimate – Eleftheria Arvanitaki sings magnificently to the music of Dimitris Papadimitriou:
Magda Pensou’s version is touching, with a video clip from a television series on Kariotakis. (music: Vasilis Dimitriou)