A genuine lesson about Eminescu

Eminescu, the icon of the Romanian culture and the last romantic poet of Europe, is today celebrated in all corners of the world.

I came across his masterpieces as a child before entering school. My mother helped me memorise one of his famous, delicate and simple poems, “Sleepy Little Songsters” (Somnoroase păsărele). This English version by Sylvia Pankhurst and I. O. Stefanovici was published in 1930, when the two translators gave voice in English to Eminescu’s masterpieces, for the first time. Their volume was prefaced by Nicolae Iorga and George Bernard Shaw, two world’s famous figures.

Mihai Eminescu

Mihai Eminescu

Year by year I discovered many poems as well as a number of prose pieces. Year by year my abilities to understand Eminescu developed, but I could never say that I have discovered him entirely. Each time I re-read some of his works, I discover new meanings and metaphors, which I could not see before. That is Eminescu: a never-ending path to resourcefulness and creativity. His reader must make an elaborated imagination exercise.

As a primary teacher I also taught Eminescu in my earlier years. I tried my best to help my former students understand small pieces of his literary work, but who could pretend to do the job perfectly? To date I have not even managed to read his entire work, which, in manuscript, consists of 46 volumes (about 14,000 pages).

I happened to experience a genuine lesson about Eminescu between 1997 and 1998. I came up with the idea of digitalising some of Eminescu’s work and place it on the Web to enable people around the world to discover it.

It was an ambitious project, but with the support of iEARN, we managed to do a good work. The website is still alive and it features Eminescu’s work in 14 languages. The project as such required a lot of work and my former students made their best to meet the challenges. I organised the students in small teams and assigned them specific tasks: content identification, content comparison, content management to name a few.

We decided to pay special attention to the youngest translator of Eminescu, Corneliu M. Popescu (1958 – 1977). A special section dedicated to him is available on the website. In his foreword, Popescu explains what motivated him to making Eminescu understood to the English speakers. He also points out that he preserves some of original words in Romanian, untranslatable or difficult to translate:

“The words ‘doina’, ‘toaca’, ‘cobza’ and ‘candela’, are given as they appear in the original. I have considered the English substitutes would rob them of all significance and colour”.

While carrying out the project, the pilot website (the initial project website) triggered a debate around the translation of “Luceafărul”, Eminescu’s most representative masterpiece. Some argued that the meanings and the full metaphor were misinterpreted by some translators, while others tended to favour some of the previous English versions. We managed to gather three versions of the famous poem “Luceafărul”:

Lucifer, by Corneliu M. Popescu

Evening Star, by Petre Grimm

Lucifer, by Dimitrie Cuclin

Here is what Corneliu M. Popescu says to defend his own version:

“With regard to the use of Lucifer in place of Luceafărul, it could be objected that Lucifer denotes the devil and not, like Luceafărul, a personification of the prince of light, symbolized by a star. This is incorrect. In English mythology, Lucifer holds a place almost identical to that which Luceafărul holds in the Romanian one, namely that of the prince of light, visibly symbolized by a star. To translate Luceafărul by the simple designation of evening-star would be to deprive it of all personality”.

I am very fond of Eminescu’s work and it is hard to say which pieces would be my favourite. Apart from many, many others, the “Gloss” touches me differently every time I read it, perhaps because it goes and goes in circle with a mirror effect and symmetric style:

“Days go past and days come still
All is old and all is new,
What is well and what is ill,
You imagine and construe;
Do not hope and do not fear,
Waves that leap like waves must fall;
Should they praise or should they jeer,
Look but coldly on it all”.


“Look but coldly on it all,
Should they praise or should they jeer;
Waves that leap like waves must fall,
Do not hope and do not fear.
You imagine and construe
What is well and what is ill;
All is old and all is new,
Days go past and days come still”.

(English version by Corneliu M. Popescu)

Discovering Eminescu, an iEARN project carried out between 1997 and 1998 (Archived)

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6 Responses to A genuine lesson about Eminescu

  1. Really! tank you Eminescu! Tank you, Petru!

  2. Ion BOBIA says:

    Incantat sa urmaresc aceasta lectie originala despre EMINESCU.
    Cu atat mai mult cu cat lectura vine dupa ce astazi (coincidenta!?) am citit si iar am citit Glossa si alte cateva poezii eminesciene.
    Vreodata voi fi tentat poate sa cred ca efortul, aproape personal, de a mentine in functiune serverul EST COMPUTER neincetat, timp de peste 15 ani, nu s-a justificat.
    Imi voi aminti atunci ca poate, pe calea aceasta, cativa oameni din lumea larga s-au bucurat, cunoscand pe Eminescu.

    Felicitari, domnule Dumitru!

    “Days go past and days come still
    Multumim pentru lectie, domnule invatator!

  3. petrudumitru says:

    Mulțumesc, Dle Bobia pentru comentariu cât și pentru găzduirea paginii proiectului “Discovering Eminescu” pe serverul de la Estcomputer. Sănătate și bucurii în 2014!

  4. Pingback: Un bulgăre de humă (1989) (Ion Creangă și Mihai Eminescu) | euzicasa

  5. Really! tank you Eminescu! Tank you,

  6. petrudumitru says:

    Reblogged this on In search of Right Words and commented:

    O Mother… by Mihai Eminescu

    O mother, darling mother, lost in time’s formless haze
    Amidst the leaves’ sweet rustle you call my name always;
    Amidst their fluttering murmur above your sacred grave
    I hear you softly whisper whene’er the branches wave;
    While o’er your tomb the willows their autumn raiment heap…
    For ever wave the branches, and you for ever sleep.

    When l shall die, beloved, do not beside me mourn,
    But break a branch of blossom that does the lime adorn,
    And take it very softly, and plant it at my head;
    I’ll feel its shadow growing as on the soil it’s shed;
    And watered by the tears that you for sorrow weep…
    For ever grow that shadow, and l for ever sleep.

    And should it be together that we shall die one day,
    They shall not in some cemet’ry our separate bodies lay,
    But let them dig a grave near where the river flows
    And in a single coffin them both together close;
    That l to time eternal my love beside me keep…
    For ever wail the water, and we for ever sleep.

    English version by Corneliu M. Popescu

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