Satire I – Eminescu – English version by Corneliu M.Popescu


I was 13 when I first read this poem. Of course, it wasn’t the one I was supposed to read as homework. We were studying Eminescu’s poetry for some years, each year one or two poems, usually the ones that were either about nature or considered “patriotic” by the communist regime at that time. But Eminescu sincerely loved the Romanian spirit and these lands, being far more than a patriot.

After reading this long poem, “The First Letter” as I would have translated its title, I felt I had found my answers. All my questions about this world I had plunged into so unprepared were being answered. His vision was my vision. He spoke the truth. Even at that young age, but I knew and felt the majesty of truth.

Eminescu lived between 1850 and 1889 while the author of this version of his poem in English – Corneliu M.Popescu –  was born on 1958 and died in 1977. What this adolescent succeeded with Eminescu’s philosophical poems is quite extraordinary.

I hope you will find the time to read the poem till the end. If you are truly interested in poetry, of course.

Satire I

When my eyes are weighed with sleep I quench the evening candle’s glow

And leave the ticking clock alone along the path of time to go;

When from my square of window-pane I draw the curtain to one side

The climbing moon pours in and floods the room with her voluptuous light;

Then from the night of memory in answer to her summons steal

An endless host of sorrows pale that we have lived but now scarce feel.

Moon, fair ruler of the sea, over the sky’s round vault you glide,

The sight of you recalls the griefs that locked within man’s bosom bide;

Beneath thy virgin glow are there a thousand deserts glittering,

And thousand forest shades conceal the wells from which their waters spring!

Over how many million waves extends thy timeless empery

When on your way you sail above the lonely wonder of the sea!

How many flower besprinkled fields, how many a walled a peopled place

Have known your proud despotic charm when they but looked upon your face!

Into how many thousand rooms you peered as now in mine you peer,

How many thousand brows has lit the flooded glory of thy sphere!

I see a king sit down to plot earth’s destiny for endless days

While here the trembling beggar-man plans for the morrow scarcely lays…

Different the lots these twain have drawn out of the secret urn of fate,

Alike they fall beneath thy sway, alike inherit death’s state;

Whate’er they be they come alike under human passions’ rule,

So as the weak man is the strong, so as the genius is the fool.

One searches on the mirror’s face a novel way to curl his hair,

Piling endless loads of lore from ancient learnings’ yellow page

And noting down the thoughts and names that sped across some bygone age.

Another from his counting house controls a nation’s destinies

And figures gold his ships have brought across a score of troubled seas.

And here the old philosopher, his coat is torn, his elbow thin;

He works his brains without a pause, and does a web o logic spin.

Shivering with cold he buttons up his torn and ragged gown,

Turns up the collar round his neck, presses his cotton ear-plugs down;

Dried up and twisted as he is, o no importance does he stand

And yet he holds the universe within the ambit of his hand;

Within the confine of his brain the future and the past unite

And with his science he lays bare the secrets of eternal night.

As Atlas was of old declared to bear the sky upon his back,

So does our old philosopher the world within a cypher pack.

The moon looks in and sheds its beams a pile of ancient books upon,

He sets his mind the roving back across a thousand ages gone

Into the time ere things began, when being and not being still

Did not exist to plague man’s mind, and there was neither life nor will,

When there was nothing that was hid, yet all things darkly hidden were,

When self-contained was uncontained and all was slumber everywhere,

Was there a heavenly abyss? Or yet unfathomable sea?

There was a no mind to contemplate an uncreated mystery.

Then was the darkness all so black as seas that roll deep in the earth,

As black as blinded mortal eye, and no man yet had come to birth.

The shadow of the still unmade did not its silver threads unfold,

And over an unending peace unbroken empty silence rolled!…

Then something small in chaos stirred… the very first and primal cause.

And God the Father married space and placed upon confusion laws.

That moving something, small and light, less than a bubble of sea spray,

Established through the universe eternal and unquestioned sway…

And from that hour the timeless mists draw back their dark and hanging folds

And law in earth and sun and moon essential form and order moulds.

After that day in endless swarms countless flying worlds have come

Out of the soundless depts. of space, each drawn towards its unknown home.

Have come in shinning colonies rising from out infinity,

Attracted to the universe by strange and restless urge to be.

While we, inheritors of space, the children of this world of awe,

Are raising witless heaps of sand upon our little earthy floor;

Microscopic nations rise with warrior and king and seer,

Throughout the years our fortunes wax, until we have forgotten fear.

We, flies, that for a single day buzz in a measured world and small,

Suspended in the midst of time, careless and forgetting all

That this frail world in which we trust is only flung momentarily

Between the darkness that is past and all the darkness yet to be.

Just as the motes of dust enjoy their kingdom in the lamplight’s ray,

Thousand specks that are no more when once that beam has passed away.

So, in the midst of endless night, we have our little time to spend.

Our moment snatched from chaos, which did not yet come to an end.

But when our beam at last goes out, our world will suddenly disperse

Amidst the dark that ever hangs around the whirling universe.

Yet not within the present day stays the philosopher’s quick thought;

One cast of that far-ranging brain a hundred eons of time has caught.

He sees grow small and red and cold the sun that now burns high and proud.

And at last he sees it die closing like a wound stabbed in a cloud.

He sees the rebel planets freeze and headlong plunge about in space

Freed from the ordering of the sun who deep in night has veiled his face.

While o’er earth’s altar like a veil eternity its darkness weaves

And one by one pale, faded stars are falling like the autumn leaves.

The body of the universe is stiffened to eternal death

And through the emptiness of space is neither movement, life nor breath.

All falls into not being’s night and an unbroken silence reigns

As once again, the universe its primal peace and void regains…


Commencing with the multitude that swarms uncounted on the ground

And rising to the palace where the Emperor sits with glory crowned,

All are as one, and each is by the riddle of his life pursued.

And none can say which man of them is most with misery endued,

For unto all comes each man’s lot, to all the fate of each applies.

Little it aids if one of them above his class succeeds to rise

While all the others stay below and gaze on him with humble hearts,

For he and they are all unknown, playing the same ephemeral parts.

What reckons fate of their desires, what they would have or do, or be?

Fate rides as blindly o’er their lives as does the wind across the sea.

Now writers out of every land and all the world high plaudits raise…

What cares the old philosopher? And what to him is all men’s praise?

Immortality, people will say! True, all his hard lived days were spent

In clinging to a single thought, as ivy round a tree is bent.

“After I die,” he tells himself, “my name will live to endless time.

From age to age, from mouth to mouth, and carried to the farthest clime,

Unto the farthest realms of earth, and to the world’s remotest mind.

Behind the rampart of my works may not may not my name a refuge find?”

Poor soul! Do you yourself retain everything that passed your head?

All the dreams that you have dreamed, all the words that you have said?

Little enough; but here and there some thread of images, some bit

of tattered thought, some phrase, some scrap of yellow paper closely writ.

If you forget the life you had, the things that you have done and seen,

Will other men spend fruitless days discovering how it must have been?

Perhaps somewhere in days to come, some green-eyed pedant’s gaze will fall

Upon a pile of faded books, himself more faded than them all.

To scan the wonder of your words and weigh them in his niggard scale,

While from their bindings dust will rise and on his glasses spread a veil.

Then will he place your works in rows, upon his shelves and summaries

Upon a ragged paper slip; he’ll write of your philosophies.

Though you create or sink a world, one end there is to all your toil.

For over you and all your works a spade will heap a mound of soil.

An emperor’s head, or one in which a world of sidom has been stored

Finds ample room within a box composed of four short bits of board…

And all will hasten to attend the honored funeral you will get,

Splendind in their irony, with posturings of feigned regret…

And from some carven pulpit tall a nobody will glibly prate;

Not for you honour will he speak, but on his own great gifts dilate

Under the shadow of your name: a windy, pompous, empty speech.

Posterity? What is it but a phantom far beyond your reach!

For who should dream posterity will ever think to talk of you,

Except perhaps some small tome written with grudging words and few,

Compiled by some old soulless scribe to prove that you were common clay,

A man like any one of them. For fully satisfied are they

To prove you even as themselves. Their learned nostrils wide extending,

Dilated with a splendid pride, when at some learned meeting’s ending

Your name pedantically is used, knowing beforehand there will be,

uttered by ironic mouth, some gilded word in praise for thee.

Fallen among these wolfish fools your glory will be torn to shreds.

Then they will probe your private life, dissecting that, discounting this,

And searching out with eager eyes each little thing you’ve done amiss

To make you even as themselves. They will not care for all the light

your labour poured upon the world, but for the sins and every slight

And human failing they can find, and every petty thing that must

Befall the life of hapless days, of every mortal child of dust.

And every little misery that harassed a tormented mind

Will seem more notable to them than all the truths that you did find.


Within a garden’s closing walls, where fruit-tree blossom strews the ground,

And over which the full moon sails with all her shining splendor crowned,

Out of the depth of memory’s night countless hidden longings rise;

Pain is benumbed as in sleep, we see the world with dreamer’s eyes,

For in the clam light of the moon fancy’s gates are opened wide

And all around us phantoms creep after the candle light has died.

Beneath thy virgin glow, o moon, are thousand deserts glittering,

and thousand forest shades conceal the wells from which their waters spring!

Over how many million waves extends thy timeless empery

When on your way you sail above the lonely wonder of the sea!

All who sojourn on this earth, within the iron realm of fate,

Alike are subject to thy sway, alike inherit death’s estate!

Featured Image by Karin Henseler from Pixabay 

3 comments on “Satire I – Eminescu – English version by Corneliu M.Popescu”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.