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The Life and Legacy of Romanian Poet Mihai Eminescu

Updated on September 7, 2019
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An Arts, Literature and History Buff, Humanities Major, Published Indie Writer, Avid Photographer, and World Foodie & Travel Enthusiast

Exceptional is the word that is no secret when speaking of their Mihai Eminescu. To the people of Romania, as a native son Eminescu is a cultural icon, a poet, novelist, and journalist revered for his prolific literary legacy.

Mihail Eminovici Eminescu was born on January 15th, 1850, but more commonly known as Mihai, spent his childhood years, growing up in Botoșani and Ipotești, Moldavia. By the 4th grade, he attended Cernăuţi (gymnasium) in Romanian meaning ‘high school’ and graduated in 1866.

After graduating from gymnasium, Mihai published his very first poem in the Familia literary magazine: “If I were to have,” the first of many in which gave rise to his nom de plume Mihai Eminescu, in an attempt to rid himself of his Slavic origin in preference to a Romanian facade.

As an active member of the Romanian literary society known as Junimea, he also worked as an editor and journalist for the Time newspaper, a director of Central University Library of Iași, a substitute teacher, and school inspector. In that time, he juggled these positions along with his writing career until he fell seriously ill in 1883.

 Mihai Eminescu: Portrait by Jan Tomas circa 1869
Mihai Eminescu: Portrait by Jan Tomas circa 1869 | Source

Romanticism

A late 18th-century movement, which expressed intellectualism through means of literature, music, and the visual arts. Associated with liberalism and radicalism, many engrossed in the movement were considered noble for their free expression and elevation of society.

Famed Literary Achievements

Romanian historian, Nicolae Lorga considered Mihai Eminescu as one of the most significant literary figures in Romanian history, dubbing him ‘the Godfather of the Romanian language,’ given this one can easily see the revered homage fits considering his long list of literary feats in Romanticism.

Much of Eminescu’s work is available in the Romanian language. However, there are collections of his best works translated into English such as Cristian Butnariu’s Eternal Moments.

Poems

  • Mai am un singur dor (I Have Yet One Desire) 1883
  • Odă (în metru antic) (Ode (in Ancient Meter) 1883
  • Și dacă (And if…) 1883
  • Doina (Romanian song) 1884
  • Dorința (Desire) 1884
  • Epigonii (Epigones) 1884
  • Floare albastră (Blue Flower)
  • rămii (Oh, Linger On) 1884
  • Sara pe deal (Evening on the Hill) 1885
  • Lacul (The Lake) 1876
  • La Steaua (At Star) 1886
  • Scrisori (Letters or “Epistles-Satires”)

Prose

  • Cezara (Caesara)
  • Făt-Frumos din lacrimă (The Teardrop Prince)
  • Geniu pustiu (Empty Genius)
  • Sărmanul Dionis (Wretched Dionis)

Later Years in Life

In his later years, Mihai suffered from a mental ailment. When considering the words of literary critic Titu Maiorescu, the description of erratic mood swings seems to confirm a medical diagnosis of a bipolar disorder, not uncommon among famous artists, musicians, poets and writers throughout history. Though his chaos crippled his personal life, as with any inspired artist, his emotional senses seem to have helped his writing career.

Romanian writer Ion Luca Caragiale described these mood swings as a string of cycles that lasted for hours, days, weeks, and even months, and often triggered anxiety due to political affiliation, or his obsession with fellow poet, Veronic Micle who remained trapped in an oppressed marriage.

Poetess Veronica Micle
Poetess Veronica Micle | Source

A Love/Hate Relationship

"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."

~ Mihai Eminescu

As Fate Would Have It

Aside from his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the poet also suffered from an ever-prevalent disease of the day, namely syphilis. The disease overtook him in 1883 and interned at a hospital. Syphilis slowly took its toll, and sadly, six years later, Eminescu died in a sanitorium.

Doctors who inspected his body suggested the famed poet died from the long-term use of mercury, and not at all uncommon for those who tried to cure themselves of the effects of syphilis in that time.

Upon the death of Mihai Eminescu in 1889, two months later, Veronica Micle took her own life by consuming a lethal dose of arsenic poisoning. The tragedy would forever mark the two artist lovers as tortured souls.

Belu Cemetery, Bucharest, Romania
Belu Cemetery, Bucharest, Romania | Source

A Writer’s Reflection

After reading a few of Eminescu’s translated poems, I found his verse amazingly poetic, rich with words of melancholy. Given his mental condition, perhaps at times his unbalance made him feel more of any given emotion in that moment of conception. Though flawed with human delicacy, it does not surprise me in the least that the Romanian people haled Eminescu as a genius in his day. His effort to embrace the Romantic movement without repentance made him immortal in their eyes, and to this day he remains a relevant piece of Romanian history.

Cited Sources & Works

  • Kurt W. Treptow “Poems & Prose of Mihai Eminescu” Center for Romanian Studies (May 1, 2000)
  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (Jul 20, 1998) Mihail Eminescu Romanian Poet
  • The Team of Students and Teachers from Secondary School No. 1 Luduş, Romania. (2009) Nicolae Lorga
  • Emelia Stere: Central Europe Review (09 October, 2000)

© 2019 ziyena

Comments

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  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    12 months ago from UK

    This is an interesting and well-written biography. Sad that his life was quite short.

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