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.
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)