Mihail Eminescu

The Romanian poet Mihail Eminescu (1850-1889) inaugurated modern sensitiveness and expression in Romanian poetry through his achievements in content and craftsmanship.

Mihail Eminescu was born at Ipotesti in northern Moldavia on Jan. 15, 1850, into a family of country gentry. He spent his first years like a peasant child in the midst of nature and under the influence of folklore. His adolescence was agitated by conflicts with his family. He interrupted his studies several times, going on tours with theatrical companies. He made his literary debut at 16 in the Romanian review Familia (The Family), published in Budapest.

Eminescu studied philosophy in Vienna from 1869 to 1872 and in Berlin from 1872 to 1874. Returning to Romania in 1874, he held several minor jobs in laşi (custodian of the university library, inspector of schools, subeditor of an obscure newspaper). There, and after leaving laşi, he found himself under the influence of the political and esthetic literary circle Junimea ("Youth"). In 1877 Eminescu went to Bucharest to work on the staff of the newspaper Timpul (Time). Eminescu's steady journalistic activity filled the years from 1877 to 1883. Struck by insanity in 1883, he lived until 1889 in a dramatic alternation between lucidity and madness.

Eminescu concentrated in his work the entire evolution of Romanian national poetry. The most illustrative poems of his early years (1866-1873) are "The Dissolute Youth," "The Epigones," "Mortua Est," "Angel and Demon," and "Emperor and Proletarian." The overwhelming influences on his poetry of this period were from Shakespeare and Lord Byron.

The ever deeper influence of Romanian folklore, his close contact with German philosophy and romanticism in the years 1872 to 1874 when he was preparing for a doctor's degree in philosophy in Berlin, and the evolution of his own creative powers carried Eminescu toward a new vision of the world. His poetical universe shifted to the spheres of magical transparencies offered by folklore as ideal and possible grounds for a love that was both a dream and a transfiguration. His poetical expression became increasingly inward, simplified, and sweetened. His poetry began to show rare strength and beauty, involving a universe in which a demiurgical eye and hand seemed to have conferred a new order upon the elements and to have infused them with infinite freshness and power.

In "The Blue Flower" Eminescu offered a new interpretation of the aspiration in the fulfillment of love. The most important poem written during this period was "Câlin" ("Leaves from a Fairy Tale"), a synthesis of the epical and the lyrical, with a description of the Romanian landscape.

After 1876 the sphere of Eminescu's inner experience deepened. The poetry of his maturity reached all human dimensions, from the sensitive, emotional ones to the intellectual, spiritual ones. Until 1883 his poetry was an uninterrupted meditation on the human condition in which the artist always stood on the summits of human thinking and feeling. The most important works of his last period are "A Dacian's Prayer," "Ode in the Ancient Meter," and the "Epistles." His masterpiece is "The Evening Star" (1883), a version of the Hyperion myth. Ideas and meaning, expressed in symbols, are manifold, profoundly ambiguous, and discernible in an esthetic achievement of supreme simplicity and expressiveness. In Barren Genius, a posthumously published novel of romantic trend, and especially in "Poor Dyonis," a fantastic, philosophical short story, Eminescu added some demiurgical features to his romantic hero.


Further Reading on Mihail Eminescu

Eminescu's poems were translated by Sylvia Pankhurst and I. O. Stefanovici as Poems of Mihail Eminescu (1930). Eminescu is treated in E. D. Tappe, Rumanian Prose and Verse (1956).