Meet his eminence, Eminescu

by Bernard O'Shea

Mihai Eminescu  (1850-1889) is regarded by many as the greatest Romanian poet, and when you read this short extract – which has been superbly translated into English and French –  you will see why. Not only is the poetry excellent, the structure of the poem is fascinating. It comes from a book Mihai Eminescu Poezii/Poésies, (© Editura Paralela 45, 2012) which I picked up purely by chance while scouting around in a bookstore in Brasov and cost the bargain price of 10 leu, or about three Australian dollars. No wonder poets are often penniless!

A souvenir from Braga

The poem is called Glossă (Glose in French and Gloss in English). The French translation throughout the book is by Jean-Louis Courriol, a lecturer in Romanian and translation at universities in Lyon in France and Pitesti, Romania. The English translation is one I found on the internet. The little book (right) is handy enough for me to carry on public transport and refresh my Romanian and French.

In my opinion, it is more pleasing if poetry rhymes, but what is more important is that the rhythm and pace must give some sense of the beauty and capacity of the language, and what mood the words are intended to evoke. Lines of poetry must have their own musical sway – poetry dances, prose walks.

Try reading aloud the opening stanza in all three languages … starting with the Romanian, then the French, then the English. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation is bad, just feel the beat…..

Glossă

Vreme trece, vreme vine,
Toate-s vechi şi nouă toate,
Ce e rău şi ce e bine
Tu te-n treabă şi socoate;
Nu spera şi nu ai teamă,
Ce e val ca valul trece;
De te-ndeamnă, de te chemă,
Tu rămâi la toate rece.

Le temps s’en va, le temps s’en vient,
Tout est nouveau, tout est ancien.
Ce qu’est le mal, ce qu’est le bien,
À toi de le savoir enfin;
N’ai plus d’espoir et n’aie plus peur,
Ce qui est vague vauge meurt;
À tout appel, à tout appât,
Reste insensible, reste froid.

Days go past, and days come still,
All is old and all is new,
What is well and what is ill,
You imagine and construe
Do not hope and do not fear,
Waves that leap like waves must fall;
Should they praise or should they jeer,
Look but coldly on it all.

To me, the rhythm and mood are established superbly from the first line of each. They are like waves gently lapping the shore, you can sense the point and counterpoint, the ebb and flow of life … Vreme trece, vreme vine… Le temps s’en va, le temps s’en vient …. Days go past, and days come still

Next up in the complete poem, there are eight verses of eight lines, and the last line of each is one of the above lines. Thus the first verse ends with the first line (Vreme trece, vreme vine), the second verse with the second line, and so on. The ebb and flow of life is being reiterated. The poem is mostly about how to keep your intellectual and moral dignity when all around you are losing theirs (which seems right for these modern times!). Here is a sample verse in English….

Like the sirens’ silver singing
Men spread nets to catch their prey,
Up and down the curtain swinging
Midst a whirlwind of display.
Leave them room without resistance,
Nor their commentaries cheer,
Hearing only from a distance,
Should they praise or should they jeer.

A final stroke of genius

After these eight verses there is one more which – and this is what makes the work so clever – is a repeat of the opening verse except the lines are ordered in reverse, that is, swapped from first to last, with some punctuation changes. Thus the poem ends as it began Vreme trece, vreme vine... 

Read these aloud again to see how they work together in this order.

Tu rămâi la toate rece,
De te-ndeamnă, de te chemă;
Ce e val, ca valul trece,
Nu spera şi nu ai teamă;
Te intreabă şi socoate
Ce e rău şi ce e bine;
Toate-s vechi şi nouătoate;
Vreme trece, vreme vine.

Reste insensible, reste froid,
À tout appel, à tout appât.
Ce qui est vague vauge meurt,
N’ai plus d’espoir et n’aie plus peur.
À toi de le savoir enfin,
Ce qu’est le mal, ce qu’est le bien,
Tout est nouveau, tout est ancien,
Le temps s’en va, le temps s’en vient.

Look but coldly on it all,
Should they praise or should they jeer;
Waves that leap like waves must fall,
Do not hope and do not fear.
You imagine and construe
What is well and what is ill;
All is old and all is new,
Days go past and days come still.

The English translation is by Corneliu M. Popescu (1958-1977), a gifted translator who died aged only 19 in the earthquake that struck Bucharest and other parts of Romania and Eastern Europe in 1977 (an international prize for translation has been named in his honour, details here.  If you would like to see the full poem in English and Romanian side by side, they are on an interesting website, I Call This Home, complied by a Romanian now living in Australia.

Recommended reading

The Romanian Voice website has many poems by Romanian poets in their mother tongue, plus a selection that have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and German.

As well as Eminescu, another poet and writer that is greatly admired is Lucien Blaga (1895-1961). People seem to nominate one or the other as their favourite poet. Younger voters, however, prefer Enimem to Eminescu 🙂

Coincidentally, my summer language course in Romanian was held in the journalism faculty of the Lucien Blaga University in Sibiu, although it was not run by the university. So I have a soft spot for Lucien, and will delve into his works some time.

You may also like

0 comment

Avatar
Doru October 5, 2013 - 1:50 am

Respect!

Reply
Avatar
Bernard O'Shea October 7, 2013 - 12:41 pm

Respect indeed!

Reply

Leave a Comment