Mihai Eminescu (15 January 1850 – 15 June 1889 / Botoşani/Moldavia)
Biography of Mihai Eminescu
Mihai Eminescu (Romanian pronunciation: [miˈhaj emiˈnesku]; born Mihail Eminovici; ) was a Romantic poet, novelist and journalist, often regarded as the most famous and influential Romanian poet. Eminescu was an active member of the Junimea literary society and he worked as an editor for the newspaper Timpul ("The Time"), the official newspaper of the Conservative Party (1880–1918). His poetry was first published when he was 16 and he went to Vienna to study when he was 19. The poet's Manuscripts, containing 46 volumes and approximately 14,000 pages, were offered by Titu Maiorescu as a gift to the Romanian Academy during the meeting that was held on January 25, 1902. Notable works include Luceafărul (The Vesper/The Evening Star/The Lucifer/The Daystar), Odă în metru antic (Ode in Ancient Meter), and the five Letters (Epistles/Satires). In his poems he frequently used metaphysical, mythological and historical subjects. In general his work was influenced by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
His father was Gheorghe Eminovici from Călineşti, a Romanian village in Suceava county, Bucovina, which was then part of the Austrian Empire (while his father came from Banat). He crossed the border into Moldavia, settling in Ipoteşti, near the town of Botoşani. He married Raluca Iuraşcu, an heiress of an old aristocratic Moldavian family. In a register of the members of Junimea, Eminescu himself wrote down the date of his birth as December 22, 1849 and in the documents of the Gymnasium from Cernăuţi, where Eminescu studied, the date of December 14, 1849 is written down as his birthday. Nevertheless, Titu Maiorescu, in his work Eminescu and His Poems (1889) quoted N. D. Giurescu's researches and adopted his conclusion regarding the date and place of Mihai Eminescu's birth, as being January 15, 1850, in Botoşani. This date resulted from several sources, amongst which there was a file of notes on christenings from the archives of the Uspenia (Domnească) Church of Botoşani; inside this file, the date of birth was „January 15, 1850” and the date of christening was the 21st, of the same month. The date of his birth was confirmed by the poet's elder sister, Aglae Drogli, who affirmed that the place of birth was the village of Ipoteşti.
Mihail (as he appears in baptismal records) or Mihai (the more common form that he used) was born in Botoşani, Moldavia, Romania. He spent his early childhood in Botoşani and Ipoteşti, in his parents' family home. From 1858 to 1866 he attended school in Cernăuţi. He finished 4th grade as the 5th of 82 students, after which he attended two years of gymnasium.
The first evidence of Eminescu as a writer is in 1866. In January of that year Romanian teacher Aron Pumnul died and his students in Cernăuţi published a pamphlet, Lăcrămioarele învăţăceilor gimnaziaşti (Tears of the Gymnasium Students) in which a poem entitled La mormântul lui Aron Pumnul (At the Grave of Aron Pumnul) appears, signed "M. Eminovici". On February 25 his poem De-aş avea (If I were to have) was published in Iosif Vulcan's literary magazine Familia in Pest. This began a steady series of published poems (and the occasional translation from German). Also, it was Iosif Vulcan, who disliked the Slavic source suffix "-ici" of the young poet's last name, that chose for him the more apparent Romanian "nom de plume" Mihai Eminescu.
In 1867 he joined the troupe of Iorgu Caragiale as clerk and prompter; the next year he transferred to the troupe of Mihai Pascaly. Both of these were among the leading Romanian theatrical troupes of their day, the latter including Matei Millo and Fanny Tardini-Vlădicescu. He soon settled in Bucharest, where at the end of November he became a clerk and copyist for the National Theater. Through this period, he continued to write and publish poems. He also paid his rent by translating hundreds of pages of a book by Heinrich Theodor Rotscher, although this never resulted in a completed work. Also at this time he began his novel Geniu pustiu (Wasted Genius), published posthumously in 1904 in an unfinished form.
On April 1, 1869 he was a co-founder of the "Orient" literary circle, whose interests included the gathering of Romanian folklore, and documents relating to Romanian literary history. On June 29, various members of the "Orient" group were commissioned to go to different provinces. Eminescu was assigned Moldavia. That summer, he quite by chance ran into his brother Iorgu, a military officer, in Cişmigiu Gardens, but firmly rebuffed Iorgu's attempt to get him to renew ties to his family.
Still in summer 1869, he left Pascaly's troupe and traveled to Cernăuţi and Iaşi. He renewed ties to his family; his father promised him a regular allowance to pursue studies in Vienna in the fall. As always, he continued to write and publish poetry; notably, on the occasion of the death of the former ruler of Wallachia, Barbu Dimitrie Ştirbei, he published a leaflet, La moartea principelui Ştirbei.
From October 1869 to 1872 he studied in Vienna. He was counted as an "extraordinary auditor" at the Faculty of Philosophy and Law. He was active in student life, befriended Ioan Slavici, and came to know Vienna through Veronica Micle; he became a contributor to Convorbiri literare (Literary Conversations), edited by Junimea (The Youth). The leaders of this cultural organisation, Petre P. Carp, Vasile Pogor, Theodor Rosetti, Iacob Negruzzi and Titu Maiorescu, exercised their political and cultural influence over Eminescu for the rest of his life. Impressed by one of Eminescu's poems, Venere şi Madonă (Venus and Madonna), Iacob Negruzzi, the editor of Convorbiri literare, traveled to Vienna to meet him. Negruzzi would later write how he could pick Eminescu out of a crowd of young people in a Viennese café by his "romantic" appearance: long hair and gaze lost in thoughts.
In 1870 Eminescu wrote three articles under the pseudonym "Varro" in Federaţiunea in Pest, on the situation of Romanians and other minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He then became a journalist for the newspaper Albina (The Bee) in Pest. From 1872 to 1874 he continued as a student in Berlin, thanks to a stipend offered by Junimea.
From 1874 to 1877 he worked as director of the Central Library in Iaşi, substitute teacher, school inspector for the counties of Iaşi and Vaslui, and editor of the newspaper Curierul de Iaşi (The Courier of Iaşi), all thanks to his friendship with Titu Maiorescu, the leader of Junimea and rector of the University of Iaşi. He continued to publish in Convorbiri literare. He became a good friend of Ion Creangă, whom he convinced to become a writer and introduced to the Junimea literary club.
In 1877 he moved to Bucharest, where until 1883 he was first journalist, then (1880) editor-in-chief of the newspaper Timpul (The Time). During this time he wrote Scrisorile, Luceafărul, Odă în metru antic etc. Most of his notable editorial pieces belong to this period, when Romania was fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and throughout the diplomatic race that eventually brought about the international recognition of Romanian independence, but under the condition of bestowing Romanian citizenship to all subjects of Jewish faith. Eminescu opposed this and another clause of the Treaty of Berlin: Romania's having to give southern Bessarabia to Russia in exchange for Northern Dobrudja, a former Ottoman province on the Black Sea.
In June 1883, the poet fell seriously ill, and was interned in the hospital of Dr. Şuţu. In December 1883, his volume Poesii appeared, with selection of poems and with a preface by Titu Maiorescu.
In his last years, Mihai Eminescu has been diagnosed at the time as suffering from manic-depressive psychosis.
Eminescu was only 20 when Titu Maiorescu, the top literary critic in 1870 Romania dubbed him "a real poet", in an essay where only a handful of the Romanian poets of the time were spared Maiorescu's harsh criticism. In the following decade, Eminescu's notability as a poet grew continually thanks to (1) the way he managed to enrich the literary language with words and phrases from all Romanian regions, from old texts, and with new words that he coined from his wide philosophical readings; (2) the use of bold metaphors, much too rare in earlier Romanian poetry; (3) last but not least, he was arguably the first Romanian writer who published in all Romanian provinces and was constantly interested in the problems of Romanians everywhere. He defined himself as a Romantic, in a poem addressed To My Critics (Criticilor mei), and this designation, his untimely death as well as his bohemian lifestyle (he never pursued a degree, a position, a wife or fortune) had him associated with the Romantic figure of the genius. As early as the late 1880s, Eminescu had a group of faithful followers. His 1883 poem Luceafărul was so notable that a new literary review took its name after it.
The most realistic psychological analysis of Eminescu was written by I.L. Caragiale, who, after the poet's death published three short care articles on this subject: In Nirvana, Irony and Two notes. Caragiale stated that Eminescu's characteristic feature was the fact that „he had an excessively unique nature”. Eminescu's life was a continuous oscillation between introvert and extrovert attitudes.
That's how I knew him back then, and that is how he remained until his last moments of well-being: cheerful and sad; sociable and crabbed; gentle and abrupt; he was thankful for everything and unhappy about some things; here he was as abstemious as a hermit, there he was ambitious to the pleasures of life; sometimes he ran away from people and then he looked for them; he was carefree as a Stoic and choleric as an edgy girl. Strange medley! – happy for an artist, unhappy for a man!
The portrait that Titu Maiorescu made in the study Eminescu and poems emphasizes Eminescu's introvert dominant traits. Titu Maiorescu promoted the image of a dreamer who was far away from reality, who did not suffer because of the material conditions that he lived in, regardless of all the ironies and eulogies of his neighbour, his main characteristic was „abstract serenity”.
In reality, just as one can discover from his poems and letters and just as Caragiale remembered, Eminescu was seldom under the influence of boisterous subconscious motivations. Eminescu's life was but an overlap of different-sized cycles, made up of sudden bursts that were nurtured by dreams and crises due to the impact with reality. The cycles could last from a few hours or days to weeks or months, depending on the importance of events, or could even last longer, when they were linked to the events that significantly marked his life, as such was his relation with Veronica, his political activity during his years as a student, or the fact that he attended the gatherings at the Junimea society or the articles he published in the newspaper Timpul. He used to have a unique manner of describing his own crisis of jealousy.
You must know, Veronica, that as much as I love you, I sometimes hate you; I hate you without a reason, without a word, only because I imagine you laughing with someone else, and your laughter doesn't mean to him what it means to me and I feel I grow mad at the thought of somebody else touching you, when your body is exclusively and without impartasion to anyone. I sometimes hate you because I know you own all these allures that you charmed me with, I hate you when I suspect you might give away my fortune, my only fortune. I could only be happy beside you if we were far away from all the other people, somewhere, so that I didn't have to show you to anybody and I could be relaxed only if I could keep you locked up in a bird house in which only I could enter.
He was soon proclaimed Romania's national poet, not because he wrote in an age of national revival, but rather because he was received as an author of paramount significance by Romanians in all provinces. Even today, he is considered the national poet of Romania, Moldova, and of the Romanians who live in the Ukrainian part of Bucovina.
Eminescu is omnipresent in present-day Romania. His statues are everywhere; his face was on the 1000-lei banknote issued in 1998 and is on the new 500-lei banknote issued in 2005 as the highest-denominated Romanian banknote (see Romanian leu); many schools and other institutions are named after him. The anniversaries of his birth and death are celebrated each year in many Romanian cities, and they became national celebrations in 1989 (the centennial of his death) and 2000 (150 years after his birth, proclaimed Eminescu's Year in Romania).
Several young Romanian writers provoked a huge scandal when they wrote about their demystified idea of Eminescu and went so far as to reject the "official" interpretation of his work.
A monument jointly dedicated to Eminescu and Allama Iqbal was erected in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 15th, 2004, commemorating strong Pakistani-Romanian ties, as well as the Dialogue Between Civilizations which is possible through the cross-cultural appreciation of their poetic legacies. In 2004, the Mihai Eminescu Statue was erected in Montreal, Canada.
Due to his conservative nationalistic views, Eminescu was easily adopted as an icon by the Romanian right. A major obstacle to their fully embracing him was the fact he never identified himself as a Christian and his poetry rather indiscriminately uses Buddhist, Christian, agnostic, and atheist themes.
After a decade when Eminescu's works were criticized as "mystic" and "bourgeois", Romanian Communists ended up adopting Eminescu as the major Romanian poet. What opened the door for this thaw was the poem Împărat şi proletar (Emperor and proletarian) that Eminescu wrote under the influence of the 1870-1871 events in France, and which ended in a Schopenhauerian critique of human life. An expurgated version only showed the stanzas that could present Eminescu as a poet interested in the fate of proletarians.
Mihai Eminescu's Works:
Nicolae Iorga, the Romanian historian, considers Eminescu the godfather of the modern Romanian language. He is unanimously celebrated as the greatest and most representative Romanian poet. So far his poetic work does not have a complete translation in English published; there are many editions, but they are bilingual collections of his poems. A complete poetical work, translated in English by M.-M. Khesapeake, is achieved and it is in preparation to be published as a single volume.
Poems and Prose of Mihai Eminescu (editor: Kurt W. Treptow, publisher: The Center for Romanian Studies, Iaşi, Oxford, and Portland, 2000, ISBN 973-9432-10-7) contains a selection of English-language renditions of Eminescu's poems and prose.
His poems span a large range of themes, from nature and love to hate and social commentary. His childhood years were evoked in his later poetry with deep nostalgia.
Eminescu was influenced by the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, and some have suggested that his most notable poem, "Luceafărul", includes elements of Vedic cosmogony. Eminescu's poems have been translated in over 60 languages. His life, work and poetry strongly influenced the Romanian culture and his poems are widely studied in Romanian public schools.
His most notable poems are:
Doina (the name is a traditional type of Romanian song), 1884
Lacul (The Lake), 1876
Luceafărul (The Vesper), 1883
Floare albastră (Blue Flower), 1884
Dorinţa (Desire), 1884
Sara pe deal (Evening on the Hill), 1885
O, rămii (Oh, Linger On), 1884
Epigonii (Epigones), 1884
Scrisori (Letters or "Epistles-Satires")
Şi dacă (And if...), 1883
Odă (în metru antic) (Ode (in Ancient Meter), 1883
Mai am un singur dor (I Have Yet One Desire),1883
La Steaua (At Star),1886
Făt-Frumos din lacrimă (The Tear Drop Prince)
Geniu pustiu (Empty Genius)
Sărmanul Dionis (Wretched Dionis)
To The Star
So far it is athwart the blue
To where yon star appears,
That for its light to reach our view
Has needed thousand years.
Maybe that ages gone it shed
Its glow, then languished in the skies,
Yet only now its rays have sped
Their journey to our eyes.