Nina Cassian Criticism - Essay

Nina Cassian with Geraldine DeLuca and Roni Natov (interview date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Writing Children's Literature in Romania: An Interview with Nina Cassian," in The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 10, 1986, pp. 108-11.

[In the following interview, Cassian discusses her work in children's literature and her work's reception in Romania.]

[DeLuca]: Would you like to talk about the children's books you have written and about why you wrote them?

[Cassian]: I don't have children. If I write for them, I write for the child inside adults too. I am sure the way children react to my books—very warmly indeed—is due, especially, to the fact that I tried, and perhaps succeeded, in keeping intact the feelings of my own childhood and adolescence, the candor, the capacity for continually discovering the world. It is a cruelty anyway to divide our lives, which are so short, into periods. We have approximately seventy to eighty years to live and we insist on cutting them into childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, maturity, senility, and so forth. It's not only cruel, it's not real. I see life as a unique gesture from beginning to end. I think we can live our lives like those chess players playing several games of chess simultaneously, but we are expected to be excellent chess players! I don't give up what I have already lived, and if I am a real artist I live also in times I haven't reached yet. So being still a child, I address myself to myself and, of course, to those who are more entitled to call themselves children than I am.

The first children's book I wrote was not really written by choice but from necessity. It was in 1950, during the dogmatic period in Romania. Socialist realism was, unfortunately, characterized by the restraining of structures and styles and vocabulary. During that period I lost my appetite for writing poetry. I did write some poems in the politically approved manner because I tried to be a "faithful child of the party." I had become a member of the Communist Party in 1940 when I was 15 years old. There was fascism and war in my country and I wanted to sacrifice myself for the happiness of humanity! So when I was asked to write in a rigid and simplified manner, I tried to do my best, but after awhile, I switched to literature for children because it was the only field where metaphors were still allowed, where imagination was tolerated and assonance was permitted. (It sounds crazy: what has assonance to do with the communist catechism?!)

[Natov]: Do you always write in verse?

If I were very proud—and I'm not—I could quote Ovid who said: "Quidquid tentabam dicere versus erat," which means, "Everything I tried to say became verse." No, I wrote two books of short stories but I mainly write and translate poetry. I also think that children are attracted by poetry with its rhyme and rhythm, especially in the early years: it's like playing and it's easy to memorize. That...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)

Fleur Adcock (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Call Yourself Alive?: Love Poems of Nina Cassian, Forest Books, 1988, pp. vii-ix.

[In the following introduction to Call Yourself Alive?, Adcock praises the physicality of Cassian's poems. Adcock also notes that while the translations are very good, they cannot quite convey Cassian's "expertise in the more subtle and flexible rhythms of spoken language" that the original poems display.]

Nina Cassian is a notable phenomenon in Romanian literature: a poet remarkable for the vigour, the sensuality and indeed the savagery of her work, but also an intellectual, a critic, a journalist, and a writer of fiction and of books for children. Side...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Lesley Chamberlain (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Letters After Love," in Times Literary Supplement, February 24, 1989, p. 200.

[In the following excerpt, Chamberlain favorably reviews Call Yourself Alive? and finds the collection a refined and emotive look at human experience.]

The refinement and strength of feeling which distinguish contemporary Romanian poetry have an eminent representative in Nina Cassian, who in this collection of poems from four decades translates her daily joys and disappointments into a glacial, hard-edged, barely real landscape. In "Winter Event" (1947) the snow throws into relief the fire and dazzle of a kiss glimpsed and heard like a passing fox. "The cold" of twenty years...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Marguerite Dorian (essay date 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Call Yourself Alive? : Love Poems of Nina Cassian, in World Literature Today, Winter, 1990, pp. 92-3.

[In the following review, Dorian praises the way in which Cassian's poetry captures the "wonderfully shocking metamorphoses and mutations of words and feelings, of people and objects."]

Nina Cassian is a prolific poet with a large number of verse collections (On the Scale 1/1, Songs for the Republic, The Ages of the Year, The Daily Holidays, Outdoor Show, Parallel Destinies, The Discipline of the Harp, Chronophagia, Ambitus, Lotto-Poems, Counting Backward, et cetera) and with a definite place in the generation of Romanian poets who...

(The entire section is 914 words.)

William Jay Smith (essay date 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An Introduction, in Life Sentence: Selected Poems, W.W. Norton and Company, 1990, pp. xv-xxiv.

[In this introduction to Life Sentence, Smith praises Cassian's intensity, gives an overview of pervading themes in her work, and offers biographical information on the poet.]

Nina Cassian comes to us, even in translation, as a poet of tremendous range and vitality. We are at once aware of her antecedents: a modernist, nurtured on those French poets who, through T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, helped to change the shape of twentieth-century poetry in England and America, she is at the same time very much the product of Romania. Her poetry has something of the clear...

(The entire section is 3178 words.)

Constance Hunting (essay date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Methods of Transport," in Parnassus, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 377-88.

[In this excerpt, Hunting investigates and applauds the energy and techniques in Life Sentence.]

Tietjens, Monroe, Bullis, Bollingen, Loines, Shelley, Crane, Lilly—what a long train of prizes and awards for the engine of poetry to pull! During a distinguished career, Mona Van Duyn has won them all. As well, she is a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Then there are the fellowships and the honorary degrees…. A very long train indeed, traveling a steady track through a reliable landscape. For thirty years we have been...

(The entire section is 2617 words.)

Lawrence Sail (essay date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Life Sentence: Selected Poems, in Stand Magazine, Vol. 16, No. 2, Autumn, 1991, pp. 13-14.

[In this review, Cassian's Life Sentence: Selected Poems is praised as "a remarkable book, full of joyous energy, utterly honest, and without self-pity."]

Nina Cassian's life has been disrupted …, but as the poems in Life Sentence show clearly, nothing has succeeded in vanquishing her zestful brio. Whether recalling childhood, as in the fine poem "Part of a Bird", a free monologue which finally dissolves into humorous non-remembering as if distracted by its own attempt to summon the past, whether describing her own face ('Disjointed...

(The entire section is 326 words.)

Marguerite Dorian (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cheerleader for a Funeral, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 4, Winter, 1994, p. 110.

[In this review, Dorian praises the seductive variety of Cheerleader for a Funeral, in which the author treats the themes of love, loss, and growing older both humorously and seriously.]

Is there life after death-and poetry writing after emigration? With her fourth collection of poems in English translation—following Lady of Miracles (1985), Call Yourself Alive? (1988), and Life Sentence (1990)—Nina Cassian, the Romanian poet and author of over fifty books of verse and prose who in 1985 asked for political asylum in this...

(The entire section is 950 words.)