Mihai Eminescu Essay - Critical Essays

Eminescu, Mihai

Introduction

Mihai Eminescu 1850-1889

(Also Mihail Eminescu; born Mihail Imin or Emin; surname changed to Iminovici or Eminovici) Romanian poet, dramatist, short story writer, essayist, and journalist.

The following entry provides criticism on Eminescu's works from 1972 through 1998. For additional information on Eminescu's life and career, see NCLC, Volume 33.

Eminescu is one of the most important figures in Romanian poetry. Considered a quintessential Romantic poet, his experiments with language and literary genre have resulted in his being credited with anticipating some of the most important and defining aspects of modern poetry.

Biographical Information

The seventh child of Gheorghe Eminovici, a well-off tax collector and farmer, and his wife Raluca, Eminescu was born January 15, 1850, in Botoşani but lived part of his childhood in Ipoteşti in northern Moldavia. He entered the Ober Gymnasyum in Cernãuti after three years of attending the local primary school. At seventeen, he was hired as an actor and prompter with a theater group. Two years later, he began formal studies in philosophy, history, law, political economy, and philology at the University of Philosophy in Vienna. He later pursued further studies in Berlin, this time partly funded by a literary society, Junimea, which published his early poetry in its journal Convorbiri literare. In Berlin, Eminescu encountered German Romantic literature and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, two significant influences on his later work. After leaving Berlin (and a paid position there at the Romanian consulate), he became the director of the Central Library in Iasi, Romania, and two years later, in 1876, worked as a proofreader and editor of the newspaper Curierul de Iasi. The following year, in a move that sealed his abiding reputation not only as poet but as journalist, he took a position as editor at the distinguished journal Timpul. For the next six years, Eminescu was exceptionally productive, writing frequently for Timpul and seeing his poetry published in some of Romania's most highly acclaimed journals. At the end of this period, however, he suffered the first of four hospitalizations, a consequence of mental and physical illness associated with inherited syphilis. After 1883 he produced little and died in an asylum in Bucharest in 1889.

Major Works

Junimea's journal Convorbiri literare published many of Eminescu's love poems from the early 1870s, introducing him to the Romanian reading public. Among his more famous poems are some of his earliest, including “Inger si demon” (“Angel and Demon”) and “Imparat si poletar” (“Emperor and Proletarian”), works that reflect his interest in Romanian national identity and sympathy for the victims of oppression who typified that identity for Eminescu. Later poems, such as the much extolled “Cãlin,” reflect his increasing disillusionment over the capacity of the socially and politically oppressed to overcome their condition, along with a consequent idealization of the peasantry. In Eminescu's poetry nature is offered as an idyllic refuge, and the peasant as a paradigm of virtue. Poetry from Eminescu's final and most productive period—including “Rugãciumea unui Dac” (“A Dacian's Prayer”), the “Scrisoarea” (“Epistle”) poems, and, most notably, “Luceafãrul” (“The Evening Star”)—delves increasingly into philosophical concerns, the difficulties inherent in the human condition, and the nature of genius.

Critical Reception

Eminescu's enduring interest in his country's identity, along with the fact that he wrote in the Romanian language, made his work relatively inaccessible outside of his homeland and may have denied him some of the celebrity of his contemporaries among European poets. However, the twentieth century has seen his work translated into other languages with marked frequency. Roy MacGregor-Hastie notes that Eminescu has been translated into English, German, Italian, French, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish, Albanian, and Arabic and is now recognized as one of the world's geniuses of lyric poetry. For Constantin Ciopraga, Eminescu was “the conscience of the nation” of Romania, and Ilie Badescu observes in Eminescu's journalism an early articulation of sociological studies in that country. Mircea Scarlat concludes that in Eminescu's journalism the reader can find “qualities in full consonance with the poet's genius,” while Amita Bhose considers him “the last of the European Romantics of universal standing,” comparable in importance to such earlier Romantic poets and John Keats and William Wordsworth. Considered by many Romanians as their national poet to this day, Eminescu occupies a place in the history of Romanian culture that in some ways parallels Shakespeare's importance to the cultural history of England. For some critics, Eminescu not only aspired to attain a Shakespearean level of genius, but in fact achieved it.

Principal Works

Poesii (poetry) 1884

Opere Complecte [Complete Works]. 13 vols. (poetry, short stories, drama, criticism, essays, journalism, and letters) 1964-93

Poems (poetry) 1980

Poems and Prose of Mihail Eminescu (poetry and prose) 2000

Criticism

Grigore Tănăsescu (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: Tănăsescu, Grigore. “Ovid and Mihai Eminescu—Two Points of Confluence of Two Poetics.” Romanian Review 26, no. 2 (1972): 50-4.

[In the following essay, Tănăsescu establishes Ovid as a source of erotic themes in Eminescu's poetry.]

Mihai Eminescu's first acquaintance with Ovid might have been occasioned by G. Reinbeck's book Mythologie für Nichtstudierende, which he thoroughly studied in his school days at Cernăuţi. Such mythological names as Atlas, Hercules, Nessus, Venus and Adonis, Diana, Aurora, Narcissus, Echo, Phaëthon, a.s.o. found in Ovid's work and quite frequently referred to by the author of the above-mentioned mythology penetrated into Eminescu's symbolism as early as his first poems. Later on, the mythological temptation was to develop, reaching fabulous proportions in the representations of the Romanian poet. For Eminescu, Ovid meant not only the creator of The Metamorphoses, of mythological fabulation, but also the poet of love, with which these very Metamorphoses are imbued. In a manuscript note dating from the period when he was elaborating the poem “The Love of a Marble” (1868) the Romanian poet—“one of the great martyrs of Eros” (Perpessicius)—mentioned the Latin bard among those “mad out of love: Şincai—Horia—Ovid” and then in the posthumous poem “The Icon in its Frame” he characterized himself, after Ovid's fashion, “What am I? A weak soul joined to a weak mind.” (See Ovid Molle Cupidineis nec inexpugnabile telis / Cot mihi … fuit. The Tristia, IV, 10, v. 65-66.)

Eminescu's interest in the work and personality of the poet relegated at Tomi can also be seen in another note in which, concerned—since the epoch before his student years, therefore before Vasile Alescandri—with introducing the classical tragedy into Romanian culture, in the spirit of Corneille and Racine, the Romanian poet postulated: “The so-called classical tragedy could be introduced by such plays as Ovid (in Dacia), character and ideas in his works (G. Călinescu, Mihai Eminescu's Work, Literature Publishing House, Bucharest, 1969, p. 70, see p. 329). This note referring to Ovid's ideas as well as to his character shows that Eminescu had read the latter's work (at least partially).

In Eminescu's artistic evolution the myths he might have come across in Ovid's poetry go beyond the usual significance, marking a transition to symbolic meanings. The echo—present both with Ovid and Virgil—assumes artistic shape with our poet as a “light” murmur, “thirsty of love” (“Undine”). In the poem “The Ghosts” Arald is embodied as a romantic Orpheus in search of his lost beloved. Orpheus' mythic image, is alongside Apollo's, one of Eminescu's most meaningful symbols of mythological type. We come across the same image as a sublimated image of the “song,” of poetry, in the Greek episode of “Memento Mori” as well as in “The Morning Star”: “And will you have me sing that song / Whose tuneful melody / Will move the wooded mountains and / The islands of the sea?”

Orpheus' image overlapping that of Apollo—whence Hyperion's representation derives—symbolizes, both with Eminescu very much as with the ancients, the royalty of poetry, the bard being invested with the attributes of poeta vates, urged on by the choir of the muses, the “sweet sisters” who give “wings to his thoughts” and fill his inspired song with “pride.” Both the “fair” Phoebus Apollo (flavus Apollo with Ovid) embodying the sun's brightness—that is the “serenity” of poetic inspiration—and his godlike sister, Diana, with her selenic attribute, her “silvery” shade (Ovid also calls her Phoebe—that is the feminine “pale,” selenic reflection of the solar principle of Phoebus; she also appears as the infernal Hecate) are to be found quite often in the verses of the classicizing romanticist Eminescu.

In the poems “First Epistle,” “The Dacian's Prayer” and in the posthumous poem “The Twins,” the cosmogonic vision, made up especially of elements of Indian philosophy, also renders something of the texture of the exordium of the Latin poet's Metamorphoses—in its ample rhythm as well as in some of its moments.

Because of the Alexandrine nature of his creation, Ovid used and abused of the term ars in its multiple meanings. Eminescu grasped the Ovidian meaning of “craftsmanship,” using it in the verses of the “Gloss”: “If they cry and if they quarrel / You, alone, keep by yourself / And can gather from their moral / What is wrong and what is right /,” or in the dramatic fresco “Mureşanu”: “And should your hand be holding the book of history / Arts...

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Constantin Ciopraga (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Ciopraga, Constantin. “History and Myth.” Romanian Review 33, no. 12 (1979): 121-31.

[In the following essay, Ciopraga presents Eminescu as the voice of the Romanian conscience.]

In a broad sense it is History that spoke through Eminescu. Not a history in abstracto, but a pathetically human one, animated by questions about destiny, a history—to be more precise—seen as a succession of existential realities, within the frame of which the whole governs the parts. Moment and eternity become terms with polar functions marking the state of existence, underlining transition in particular, “the eternal flight” under the sign of repetition. The idea...

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Amita Bhose (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Bhose, Amita. “A Fundamental Motif in Eminescu's Poetry.” Romanian Review 33, no. 12 (1979): 131-40.

[In the following essay, Bhose examines death as a motif in Eminescu's poetry.]

The literary début of Mihai Eminescu was occasioned by the death of Aron Pumnul, his professor at Cernăuţi High School. There was a strong affectionate bondage between the two, and the death of the teacher deeply affected the young student. Thanks to T. V. Ştefanelli, a classmate of the future poet, description of that important day in Eminescu's life has remained a memorable page in the history of Romanian literature.

It was for the first time that...

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Elizabeth Close (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Close, Elizabeth. “Eminescu's ‘Călin’: From Folktale to Poem of Love.” Southeastern Europe/L'Europe du Sud-Est 7, no. 1 (1980): 32-49.

[In the following essay, Close describes Eminescu's rendering of a Romanian folktale in his poem “Călin”.]

Between about 1871 and 1875, Eminescu composed verse forms of three Romanian folktales: “Călin Nebunul” (“Călin the Madcap”), “Fata în grădina de aur” (“The Girl in the Golden Garden”) and “Miron şi frumoasa fără corp” (“Miron and the Beautiful Girl without a Body”). The original versions of the latter two tales are known only through the German translations of Richard...

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Alexandru Opera (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Opera, Alexandru. “The Journalist's Physiognomy.” Romanian Review 40, no. 1 (1986): 10-23.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1980, Opera pronounces Eminescu the exemplar of a Romanian journalist.]

By the brilliance of its example, Eminescu's journalism has definitively justified the concept of the committed writer as a sensitive seismograph and spokesman of his nation's sorrows and aspirations.

True, at the time when the great poet had become “managing editor” of Curierul de Iaşi, Romanian journalism—a redoubtable weapon of great topicality—had already been launched on its specific path. Versatile authors,...

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Elizabeth Close (essay date May 1985)

SOURCE: Close, Elizabeth. “From the Familiar to the Unfamiliar: A Rumanian Contribution to European Fantasy: ‘Sŭrmanul Dionis’ by Mihai Eminescu.” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 63 (May 1985): 43-52.

[In the following essay, Close argues for the inclusion of Eminescu's “Poor Dionis” among Europe's most successful fantastic tales.]

There appears to be no generally-agreed definition of fantasy, but one of the essential criteria to which a would-be fantastic tale must conform is surely that of having its starting-point in the familiar world, so that the reader is led gently into an unfamiliar world, without...

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Ilie Badescu (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Badescu, Ilie. “Sociological Horizon.” Romanian Review 40, no. 1 (1986): 23-31.

[In the following essay, Badescu asserts that Eminescu qualifies both as Romania's greatest poet and the founder of that country's “positive sociology.”]

Reading the recently published volumes of journalism in the standard edition of Mihai Eminescu's Works one comes to the conclusion that the greatest Romanian poet is also the founder of “positive sociology” (as contrasted with the speculative sociological theories on society) in Romanian culture. The epistemological programme of the new science belongs in the great family of European scientific spirit. “We are...

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Mircea Scarlat (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Scarlat, Mircea. “Aesthetic Interest.” Romanian Review 40, no. 1 (1986): 31-6.

[In the following essay, Scarlat investigates Eminescu's significance as a journalist.]

One of the great Romanian publishing events of late has, undoubtedly been the publication of bulky volumes comprising Mihail Eminescu's journalism. The interest awaken by these volumes (9th-12th of the monumental edition launched by Perspessicius and continued now by a research team at the Museum of Romanian Literature) exceeds by far the specialists' circle, and motivates our attempt at finding it an explanation. Since the writer is first known as a poet (among the greatest 19th c. European...

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Valentin F. Mihaescu (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Mihaescu, Valentin F. “The Sap of Ideas.” Romanian Review 40, no. 1 (1986): 36-41.

[In the following essay, Mihaescu studies the relationship between Eminescu's poetry and his journalism.]

After the death of Mihai Eminescu, about whom Titu Maiorescu, with all his reticence in using superlatives, wrote in 1886 that “he had brought Romanian poetry to a peak of perfection,” his work became a real object of worship for the younger generations. A wave of epigones, among whom noteworthy are Alexandru Vlahuţă (1858-1919) and Panait Cerna (1881-1913), imitated his style punctiliously, and Eminescu's poetry, especially the anthumous poems, steadily penetrated...

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Valentin F. Mihaescu (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Mihaescu, Valentin F. “Aspects of the Love Discourse.” Romanian Review 41, no. 1 (1987): 62-7.

[In the following essay, Mihaescu discusses love and eroticism in Eminescu's poetry.]

In Mihai Eminescu's poetry, very much as in the work of all the great poets of the world, the erotic theme holds an essential place both by its frequency and especially by the profoundness of its treatment. His typically romantic temperamental structure presupposing tremendous interior combustions, and certain biographical conjunctures that seemed to foster the poet's restless and perpetually dissatisfied spirit imparted to the erotic relationship in his poetry a dramatic...

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Roxana Sorescu (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Sorescu, Roxana. “Eminescu and Poe.” Romanian Review 41, no. 11 (1987): 62-8.

[In the following essay, Sorescu inspects motifs common to Eminescu and Edgar Allan Poe.]

Let us start a literary discussion by assuming the condition of any discussion about literature: that of perpetrating an impiety. Let us put side by side two summaries, the reduced, skeletonized, rationalized models of two masterpieces, Mihail Eminescu's poem “Melancholy” and Edgar Allan Poe's tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Not without recalling the challenge issued—with that mixture of frankness, lucidity, insolence and desire to startle that characterize his theoretical...

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Corina Popescu (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Popescu, Corina. “Eminescu and Leopardi: The Revelation of the Infinite.” Romanian Review 42, no. 11 (1988): 85-94.

[In the following essay, Popescu suggests how and why Eminescu affected Romania's reception of the work of Giacomo Leopardi.]

The reception of Giacomo Leopardi's work in Romania is directly linked to the way the poetry of Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) broadened the readers' horizon.

The kinship between the lyrical formulas employed by the two poets was for the first time pointed out by the high critical authority of professor Titu Maiorescu (1840-1917). In his study devoted to European echoes of translations from Romanian...

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Eugen Todoran (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Todoran, Eugen. “The Sacred Mountain and the Abysmal Phenomenon.” Cahiers Roumains d'Etudes Litteraires, no. 2 (1989): 12-25.

[In the following essay, Todoran compares Eminescu to two later Romanian poets, Tudor Arghezi and Lucien Blaga.]

“To speak about the poet is as if you shouted in a large cave. … Your words cannot reach him without disturbing his silence. The language of strings only could retell his delicate, lonely glory, by lulling it on a harp … You must only whisper respectfully, in an undertone … In a way, Eminescu is the all-immaculate saint of Romanian verse … His dimensions are by far greater than even our surrendering piety...

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Domnica Radulescu (essay date spring 1991)

SOURCE: Radulescu, Domnica. “Eminescu and the Romantic Interpretation of Don Quijote.Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 11, no. 1 (spring 1991): 125-33.

[In the following essay, Radulescu probes Eminescu's interpretation of Don Quijote de la Mancha.]

The first translation of Don Quijote de la Mancha in Romanian appeared in 1840 from the French version of Jean Pierre Florian. Ten years later, in a small village in the valleys of northern Romania, one of the last Romantics of the world was born: Mihai Eminescu. In one of his lesser known poems, he recreated the story and character of the last knight-errant in the light of the...

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Ioan Saizu (essay date spring 1993)

SOURCE: Saizu, Ioan. “The Idea of Economic Progress in the Writings of Eminescu.” Romanian Civilization 2, no. 1 (spring 1993): 75-93.

[In the following essay, Saizu pursues Eminescu's “idea of economic progress” as it unfolds in his journalism.]

“The progress of mankind doesn't often lie in the numbers of its geniuses—nations with many and bright geniuses are often unhappy, but in those mute personages of history who are working tirelessly without any other reward than the consciousness that progress lies in all, not in one or in some.”

When Eminescu began his brilliant activity as a...

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Alexandru Husar (essay date spring 1998)

SOURCE: Husar, Alexandru. “The Meaning of Civilization in Eminescu's Thinking.” Romanian Civilization 7, no. 1 (spring 1998): 77-92.

[In the following essay, Husar elucidates Eminescu's concept of civilization.]

Regarded as “a lucid man, an intellectual with an acute understanding of political life, a thinker concerned with outlining a social-political system, with clear opinions on foreign policy, a man active in the sphere of public life,”1 Eminescu compels recognition through his practical way of thinking—quite an original one for a journalist in the political climate between 1876 and 1883.

Eminescu's entrance into journalism...

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