The Oak

January 13th, 2022 by Diana Coman

From far away, through clear air, I hear from deep within a tower's chest
the rhythmic strikings of its heart-like bell
and mellowed out by distant sounds
it seems to me
that stillness courses through my veins, not blood.

Oak standing at the forest's edge,
why am I overcome
by such smooth, downy stillness
when lying in your shadow,
under your soothing playfulness of leaves?

Oh, who knows? - Perhaps
it's out of your trunk they'll carve
one day not long away from now, my very coffin
and it's the stillness
that I'll taste between its planks
making itself apparent as of now:
your leaves instill it in my soul -
and silently
I listen how within your trunk the coffin grows,
the coffin that's my very own
and swells with every second that elapses,
Oak standing at the forest's edge.

The above is my translation of the poem "Gorunul" published in 1919 by Lucian Blaga1. Here's the original, in Romanian:

In limpezi departari aud din pieptul unui turn
cum bate ca o inima un clopot
si-n zvonuri dulci
imi pare
ca stropi de liniste imi curg prin vene, nu de sange.

Gorunule din margine de codru,
de ce ma-nvinge
cu aripi moi atata pace
cand zac in umbra ta
si ma dezmierzi cu frunza-ti jucausa?

O, cine stie? - Poate ca
din trunchiul tau imi vor ciopli
nu peste mult sicriul
si linistea
ce voi gusta-o intre scandurile lui
o simt pesemne de acum:
o simt cum frunza ta mi-o picura in suflet -
si mut
ascult cum creste-n trupul tau sicriul,
sicriul meu,
cu fiecare clipa care trece,
gorunule din margine de codru.

  1. This poem has always been one of my favorites, despite the fact that it's not one of Blaga's most popular or even more commonly known poems. The poem considered "the best" of Blaga's is indeed the one that Hannah translated recently, triggering my recollection and translation of this old favorite of mine. 

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2 Responses to “The Oak”

  1. hanbot says:

    Phew, now there's a momento mori.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    I wonder though how well and to what extent the full situation described makes it through (to a different language, to a different background, to a different time even) because to me at least it's more of a recognisable description of a lived situation than a poetical image to take or to leave. There are, of course, the meaningfully chosen details and even their usual/mythological significance (Blaga studied classical philosophy but also theology and he had more than a passing interest in anthropology, metaphysics and mythology) but to me at least, there is the first-hand knowledge of precisely that sort of stillness ever-present in the village life, even if more as an undercurrent noticeable with such force only from precisely this sort of break at a distance: close enough to still hear the muffled sounds of active life but far enough to perceive being outside of it all, too, essentially at the edge, indeed.

    Quite a memento mori, though, as you say, in any case.

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