'Who's that?' asked the child as we walked again, the other week, through the streets of my old hometown.
'A poet, Nichita Stanescu. He was born and grew up quite clearly and indisputably in this town instead of in some embarrassingly named "Hooligans" village on the county border like that unruly Caragiale1. He won an international prize for his poetry and he didn't write anything biting about the town itself, so his bust made it to the central park. His admirers described him as very sensitive and undoubtedly he was quite sensitive indeed. Others described him mostly as perpetually drinking and he died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was thirsty, he said and he drank vodka primarily but since he was a poet, it was considered he meant mostly a thirst for eternity.'
As you can probably tell from the above description, I was never particularly moved by Nichita Stanescu's poetry despite the local and even contemporary connection2, international prizes and all that. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I had never quite taken the time to figure out just why exactly I'm so immune to it. Looking now again through his complete set of poems, it's quite obvious though - it's not that I don't get what others see in his writing, quite on the contrary, if anything I'd say he was definitely very talented indeed. But what starts quite vigorously and full of life in his 1955 volume turns gradually and quite painfully to watch into the willingly ineffectual and dissipated. The appreciation he got precisely for keeping it up in such vein probably didn't help at all, either.
Two of his poems though, from the 1970s3 read to me as if he might have seen around himself at least at times still more clearly than he liked to. So I'd rather regrind these two in preference to all the 'well known' ones:
But us, what's it going to be with us?... They endured the cold, suffered the passion, walked through the snow, trudged through the mud, died and made themselves undying.
I take my duly certified blood out for inspection8. I'm let go. I take the sculpture in my bone out for inspection. It delays me a second but I'm let go.
I take my tolerant spoken tongue out for inspection. The dictionaries are at the ready, so I'm let go.
'Why do you want to pass?' death asks. 'I'm free,' I reply, 'so I don't feel like answering you.' She staggers for a while and then, she lets me go.
I'm wearing all stamps of approval. If you want to know, I, for one, am in order, I'm let go.
Mind that the above is from 1970. It's 2023 now and the bots are quite literal, not all that concerned with figurative meaning and poetry. Has it been decided yet and are you wearing all stamps of approval?
Yes, Caragiale was born in a village called literally Haimanale (Hooligans) and on the border of the county so that he's either born in Prahova or in Dambovita county, depending on who and when you ask. During his lifetime, nobody really cared anyway, of course, and by the end of his life he found both counties and the whole country even quite unappreciative of his work but nevertheless, once safely dead, they each claim him as 'theirs' and they even gave the village his own name since well, he didn't have any further use for it, did he? It's an honour, I know, only there might be some different perspective as to who is the honoured party exactly in this. ↩
He lived from 1933 to 1983 and I actually attended the same highschool as he had attended, so there was plenty about him around me for sure. ↩
None of which are really much known, of course. His best known poems are 'Leoaica tanara iubirea' which made it into the school textbooks and 'Ploaie in luna lui Marte' which made it into pop through Nicu Alifantis who set it to music and sang it first. ↩
Din nou, noi, 1970. The original is 'white verse' in principle but I'm setting it up in plain text already, don't tell me the meaning is somehow lost through losing the 'poetic' indentation now.
Bun, dar cu noi cum ramane? Ei au fost mari, tragici, sfinti... Ei au mancat paine, parintilor nostri le-au fost parinti.
Dar noi, dar cu noi?... Lor le-a fost frig, au patimit, au mers prin zapada, prin noroi, au murit si s-au nemurit.
Noi traim, cu noi cum ramane? S-a hotarat ceva? S-a hotarat? Cand anume si ce anume? Suntem, dar ne este urat!
Wholesome nutrition and nurturing is what he means, perhaps basic and unpretentious but fundamental and reliably sustaining. ↩
central committeedemocratically elected representatives I expect. Do you hear that? Has it already 'been decided' what will be about you? ↩
The original is a reflexive construction without direct equivalent in English. The most direct translation of it would be something quite unyielding such as 'one's own living is ugly to oneself'. Yes, the Romanian language puts it plainly that at least one way of being bored is essentially reflexive ugliness. ↩
Scot sangele stampilat la vedere. Mi se da drumul. Scot osul sculptat la vedere. Intarzii o secunda, dar mi se da drumul.
Scot induratoarea limba vorbita, la vedere. Dictionarele sunt pregatite, asa ca mi se da drumul.
De ce vrei sa treci, m-a intrebat moartea. Sunt liber, i-am raspuns, asa ca nu am chef sa-ti raspund. Ea a stat un timp descumpanita, apoi, mi-a dat drumul.
Am pe mine toate stampilele. Daca vreti sa stiti eu, unul, sunt in ordine, mie mi se da drumul.
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