Mihai Eminescu Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.