mihai eminescuIntroduction

Mihai Eminescu (1850-89) was born in Botosani, the seventh of eleven children. His childhood was happy, and for a while Mihai was a model student. But at 10 he ran away from the military-style gymnasium, and at 14 again left school, joining up with travelling actors before taking a job as a copyist at the Botosani county administration. In Cernauti he restarted his education, and at 16 wrote his first poem on the death of a close teacher. Again he joined up with actors, and again he picked up his education, studying in Vienna, where he fell in love with the beautiful but married Veronica Micle.

His great gifts encouraged the Juminea Society to send him to Berlin, but Eminescu broke off his studies, travelled to Konigsberg and then returned to Vienna, where he was appointed librarian and then inspector of schools. In 1876, his mother died, and Eminescu became a journalist, continuing to write the greatest of Romanian poetry until 1883, when he complained of headaches and became certifiably insane. In great distress and semi-paralyzed, Eminescu spent the remaining five years in asylums and hospitals, writing almost nothing. Nonetheless, though the short working life left large portions of his creations unfinished and unpublished, Eminescu gave Romanian poetry its modern shape. Like much of Europe, Romania looked towards France and Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, and Eminescu drew on Kant and Schopenhauer for his thought, reworking their ideas in historical sagas, an intense nationalism and tender broodings on love. Beneath these expressions lay a mythical cosmology and subjective pantheism, and Eminescu also added an historical perspective that viewed contemporary Romania as a falling away from a crystalline and luxuriant pre-Roman society he called the Dacian.

Romanian poetry in the first half of the nineteenth century assimilated the classicism and romanticism of contemporary Europe: Dimitrie Bolintineanu, Grigore Alexandrescu and Vasile Alecsandri. Poetry after Eminescu divided into two great streams. European influences continued in the work of Alexandru Macedonski and Ion Minulescu who developed the imagery and some of the obsessions of Symbolism. The second movement was more populist, using simple language to express local themes and national interests: George Cosbuc, Octavian Goga, and Stefan Iosif. The unification of Romania after WWI, and a fledgling democracy opened the country to outside influences, encouraging a great flowering in diverse forms: the dreariness of Moldavian towns in George Bacovia, the folk world of the Balkans in Ion Barbu, praise of the cosmic orders in Lucian Blaga, the combined metaphysics and realism of Tudor Arghezi, neoclassicism in Ion Pillat, folk iconography in Adrian Maniu, and messianic nationalism in Aron Cotrus.

Many of the more experimental Romanian poets emigrated to France, where they became leading exponents of of surrealism, dada and committed poetry: Tristan Tzara, Benjamin Fondane, Ilarie Voronca, Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum, Camil Baltazar and Ion Vinea. WWII forced others abroad Vintila Horia, Stefan Baciu and more into silence: Ion Caraion, Geo Dumitrescu, Constantine Tonegaru, Radu Stanca, Ion Negoitescu and Stefan Doinas. Then came political conformity under the 1947 Communist regime. But the more liberal 1960s saw a return to the diversity for which Romanian poetry is famous. Nichita Stanescu wrote a poetry of the everyday that escaped ideology. Ioan Alexandru moved from tragic naturalism to religious harmony. Ion Gheorghe combined primitivism with sophisticated language games. Mircea Ivanescu employed stream of consciousness techniques, and Leonid Dimov dream imagery and verbal music. Marin Sorescu dealt in parody. Sorin Marculescu and Ana Blandiana aimed at lyrical purity, while the occupation of Ileana Malancioiu, Mircea Dinescu, Dorin Tudoran and many others was ethical matters and social protest. The new generation that followed the end of communism includes Mircea Cartarescu, Florin Iaru and Ion Stratan, who are as contemporary as any European.

Suggestion: Romanian Poetry in English Translation Translations by Charles Merritt Carlton, Thomas Amherst Perry, Stefan Stoenescu and Charles Carlton. Center for Romanian Studies. 1997. $18.75.

No details available, but this is a modern edition at an attractive price. Let me know if you find something better.

Learning Romanian

A peculiarity of Romanian poetry is its language, which is a Romance language, close to classical Latin but with some Slavonic words. There are several free Internet sites to help: romanian resources, and easy Romanian.

For commercial courses consider multilingual or worldwidelearn.

A brief history of Romania can be found on rotravel.

Romanian-English-Romanian online dictionaries are at dictionare, language resource and babla.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Romanian Poetry

Anthologies of Romanian poetry are listed at amazon, and eminesca cd.

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) has a good introduction to Romanian poetry, and these critical studies may be useful: V. Ierunca's Litterature Roumaine (1956), C. Ciopraga's La Personnnalité de la Litterature Roumaine (1975) and V. Nemoianu's The Real Romanian Revolution (1991). Older anthologies of Romanian poetry include D. Tappe's Romanian Prose and Verse (1956), R. McGregor-Hastie's Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (1969) and S. Avadenei and D. Eulert's 46 Romanian Poets in English (1973).

Sites on older Romanian writers are as follows: Dimitrie Bolintineanu, Grigore Alexandrescu, Ion Minulescu, George Cosbuc, Stefan Iosif, and Adrian Maniu.

Later figures: Benjamin Fondane, Ilarie Voronca, Gherasim, Luca, Gellu Naum, Camil Baltazar , Vinea, Stefan Baciu, Ion Caraion, Geo Dumitrescu, Ioan Alexandru, Mircea Ivanescu, Sorin Marculescu, Mircea Dinescu, Dorin Tudoran and Mircea Cartarescu.


Information on Eminescu is available at fa-kuan, lassy and ce review.

Translations of Eminescu's work are online at fa-kuan, jeanloup, luceafarul.


C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.