Mihai Eminescu – universal poet

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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.
Things you’ll meet of many a kind,
Sights and sounds, and tales no end,
But to keep them all in mind
Who would bother to attend?...
Very little does it matter,
If you can yourself fulfil,
That with idle, empty chatter
Days go past and days come still.
Little heed the lofty ranging
That cold logic does display
To explain the endless changing
Of this pageantry of joy,
And which out of death is growing
But to last an hour or two;
For the mind profoundly knowing
All is old and all is new.
As before some troupe of actors,
you before the world remain;
Act they Gods, or malefactors,
‘Tis but they dressed up again.
And their loving and their slaying,
Sit apart and watch, until
You will behind their playing
What is well and what is ill.
What has been and what to be
Are but of a page each part
Which the world to read is free.
Yet who knows them off by heart?
All that was and is to come
Prospers in the present too,
But its narrow modicum
You imagine and construe.
With the selfsame scales and gauges
This great universe to weigh,
Man has been for thousand ages
Sometimes sad and sometimes gay;
Other masks, the same old story,
Players pass and reappear,
Broken promises of glory;
Do not hope and do not fear.
Do not hope when greed is staring
O’er the bridge that luck has flung.
These are fools for not despairing,
On their brows though stars are hung;
Do not fear if one or other
Does his comrades deep enthrall,
Do not let him call you brother,
Waves that leap like waves must fall.
Lie the sirens’ silver singing
Men spread nest 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.
If they touch you, do not tarry,
Should they curse you, hold your tongue,
All your counsel must miscarry
Knowing who you are among.
Let them muse and let them mingle,
Let them pass both great and small;
Unattached and calm and single,
Look but coldly on it all.
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.


(in antique metre)

I little thought that I would learn to die;
Forever young, enveloped in my cloak,
My dreaming eyes I lifted to the star
                                                  Of solitude.
When of a sudden you stood in my way,
O, anguish you, of nameless suffering sweet…
And to the dregs I drank the draught of death
Miserably I burn alive like Nessus,
Or Hercules wrapped in his poisoned cloak;
At my own pile I am consumed in flame,
Shall I then luminous one day return
                                        As does the Phoenix?
Tormenting eyes but vanish from my way,
Come to my breast again sad unconcern;
That I may die in peace at last, myself
                                              Give back to me.

With life’s tomorrow time you grasp

With life’s tomorrow time you grasp,
Its yesterdays you fling away,
And still, in spite of all remains
Its long eternity, today.
When one thing goes, another comes
In this wide world by heaven borne;
And when the sun is setting here
‘Tis somewhere else just breaking dawn.
It seems somehow that other waves
Are rolling down the same old stream,
And somehow, though the autumns change,
‘Tis but the same leaves fall it seem.
Before our night does ever ride
The queen of morning rosy skies;
While even death is but a guess,
Of life a notion, a surmise.
Of every moment that goes by
One fact each mortal creature knows:
The universe is poised in time
And whirling round for ever goes.
Still, though this year will fly away
And soon but to the bygone add,
Within your soul you ever hold
Each thing of worth you ever had.
With life’s tomorrow time you grasp,
Its yesterdays you fling away,
And still, in spite of all remains
Its long eternity, today.
A radiant and brilliant view,
In many rapid glimpses caught,
Of infinite, unending calm,
Bathed in the rays of timeless thought.
English version by Corneliu M. Popescu (1958-1977)
Excerpt - Foreword:

Almost all the words which apply to the primary forms of nature, and which are at the foundation of Eminescu’s poetry, being of ancient origin in English – for the most part of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Old Germanic stock – they are monosyllables. In Romanian, on the other hand, the reverse is almost as invariable. A few examples will make this clear. Among the words which are found more often in Eminescu’s poems, the following regarding nature certainly come first: tree, branch, twig, leaf, bird, spring, brook, stone, rock, cliff, ground, soil, sun, moon, star, earth, sea, sky, day, night, light, dark, etc. These (and the list could, of course, be continued almost indefinitely) are all monosyllables in English, while their equivalents in Romanian, without exception, are polysyllables. With the exception of body itself, the names of the parts of the human body show the same divergence: foot, leg, knee, calf, thigh, waist, arm, hand, skin, face, eye, ear, mouth, lip, cheek, chin, etc. Of the emotions and so on: love, hate, faith, hope, fear, grief, joy, pain etc. Had Eminescu therefore pedantically adhered to some rigid poetic form, for instance a rhyme upon the penultimate, all these primary words of our language would, quite obviously, have been eliminated from the English interpretation, and the result would have been an entire loss of precisely that natural simplicity for which Eminescu is most remarkable.

This marked difference in word length between the two languages has resulted in a greater number of words for the same number of syllables in English than in the original; a difference which seems to be of little, if any, detriment to the work in hand. By consistently avoiding these fundamental words are preferring those of later origin in the English language, apprehension to fear, aspiration to hope, and so on, this difference in the precise number of words to the line could easily have been overcome to some extent, but the result would have been a loss of all resemblance to the original, and of every atom of poetic value as well. Rather has the above difference in the relative word length in the two languages been welcome, for it has allowed the English language a mobility and amplitude without which it would have been impossible to retain to any appreciable extent the peculiar fragrance and natural beauty of this great Romanian poet, of this great universal poet.

Mihai Eminescu – Poems – English Version by Corneliu M. Popescu


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