This book is second in a series sponsored by the Committees for the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning and published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. This new series was established by the University as a means of expressing its appreciation to the Committees of the Nationality Rooms for the faithful support and encouragement they have given the University for more than fifteen years.
For many years the Committees for the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning have contributed to the cultural backgrounds of students of the University of Pittsburgh and of the people of Pittsburgh. To broaden and augment this international tradition and to promote a better understanding of the nations of the world through a study of their literatures, the University cooperated with the Committees in presenting in 1949, 1951, and 1953 a series of lectures on the literatures of sixteen countries: Arabic, Chinese, Czechoslovak, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Scottish, Swedish, and Yugoslav. Prominent men and women, authorities in their fields, were invited as guest speakers. Their lectures are printed in this book.
The artistic as well as the scientific accomplishments of man transcend any national or cultural barriers and the need to know and to understand what other artists and scientists have accomplished is essential to our own individual and national growth. World Literatures is a valuable contribution to the literary field because it is a review of the literature of sixteen different countries.
“Whatever applies to literature applies to world literature. . . .The ultimate object is pleasure. . . .To disregard world literature makes about as much sense as to expel the sun, rain, or storm from nature.
“World literature reveals the common denominator of human similarities and differences. It gives meaning to the vision of universality; it is the legacy of man’s sorrow and joy. With the concreteness of an image or powerful characterization it gives to man, who lives in a despondent and fearful world, opportunity to experience the universe, though vicariously, yet sincerely. . . . World literature safeguards man against mere existence.” Joseph Remenyi, professor of comparative literature, Western Reserve University.
OUTLINE OF ROMANIAN LITERATURE
AFTER such a wonderful introduction, I feel very shy about standing up and speaking to you, especially since I know that in this hall have stood so many professors and doctors who were masters of the subjects they talked about. Because I am moved by your wish to know more about my country, I am happy to tell you, as best I can, about how thought developed in my land, and how it came to be written down, and how those songs of my country live deep within me. I will try to pass onto you something of their echo, something of the pictures they evoke in me.
To understand our literature I think we have to know, first of all, something about Romania’s history, and who the Romanians are.
Have you noticed that our name is Romania? Why do we call ourselves Romanians? Well, I will tell you a little short story about this which will explain much better than any history book possibly can. One day, I went out on an excursion with my father and my mother into the mountains, into the northwest Carpathians. My father was showing us the boundaries of three of our provinces, which, until his reign, had never been joined together; and we were standing there, when a shepherd walked over the hills and greeted us. My father said to him: “From where are you?” He wanted to know, was he from Transylvania, Moldavia, or Bucovina. The old man said: “I am a Roman from Rome.” Yes, that is what we call ourselves—Romans from Rome. And here was this old man in the mountains with his sheep—I doubt whether he knew how to read or write—but he had no doubt at all as to his worth or where he sprang from. He gave this answer which is our pride: none of us consider ourselves from this or that province; we are just Romanians. And why so? Because in that part of the world, before the Romans came, there lived the Dacians. They were conquered in the year 102 by the Romans, and their land was a Roman colony for over one hundred years. When the Roman Empire broke up, nobody knows exactly what happened to those people except that they must have remained there, because in the 14th century a little country began to develop by the name of Vallachia and its people spoke a Latin language although everybody else around them were Slavs or Magyars. They are supposed to be the descendants of the Roman conquerors and colonists. Fifty-nine years later, Moldavia appeared also with the same language. The third principality, Transylvania, also used this language, although it was part of Hungary for over seven hundred years.
What happened between the breaking up of the Roman Empire and the time when the three principalities appeared, around 1335, nobody knows exactly. Historians have delved deep into the question but nobody has been able to give an absolutely historical answer. But this fact remains: they are today as they were then—Romanians.
It was not until very much later—not until the 17th century actually that a book was published in the Romanian language, and, interestingly enough, this was published in Sibiu in Transylvania in spite of the fact that Transylvania was under the dominion of the Hungarians. The book was the Psalms. This brings us to another point of great importance in the country and its history—and that is, that its people always were Christians. If they were Christians before the Roman occupation, or if they became Christians during the Roman occupation, that again is something which is not known. But Christians they were—long before any of the other peoples around them accepted that faith. They belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Being isolated from the Latin world the church was greatly influenced by Slavonic and Greek culture. The Romanian language has a certain softness about it because of the Slavonic influence. I could say that the skeleton, the construction, of the language is Latin. In fact, of all romance tongues it is the most Latin of living languages. Latin constitutes its framework, and Slavonic adorns and decorates it.
So the first book to be published in Romanian was part of the Bible. Because this was the first thing ever to be published in Romanian and since I have been asked to read a few things to you in Romanian, my own language, I have chosen to read you a few sentences out of the twenty-third Psalm because I think that is the one you all know, and therefore you will not need a translation. I feel, in reading those words “Even though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me,” that it is a prayer still appropriate today for those behind the Iron Curtain who are passing “through the valley of the shadow of death.”
About the same time, or very shortly after the Psalms were printed (1541), the New Testament was published (1561). The next book to come into the Romanian language was Metropolitan Varlam of Transylvania’s answer to the Calvanistic catechism in 1648 which explained the Orthodox point of view. In 1688 Prince Serban Cantacuzino of Vallachia published the complete Bible.
Of great importance was the translation of the Liturgy from Slavonic into Romanian by Metropolitan Dositheus, which, although printed in 1679, came into use generally only in the 18th century.
With the start of the 18th century, the Slavonic influence under which the church and the country, in general, had been, began to die out, and Romania passed under a strong Greek influence. From the beginning of the 16th century until 1877, Vallachia and Moldavia had been under Turkish suzerainty, which often delegated the ruling powers to persons of Greek origin from Constantinople, known as Fanariots. At the same time, however, in both principalities the leading minds began to be interested in their own history; they became much more conscious of themselves as a Romanian entity.
Grigore Urechie, Miron Costin, Constantin Cantacuzino, Dimitri Cantemir, and loan Neculce wrote the first Chronicles and so made a basis to the recorded early Romanian history. The most important of these historians was Urechie (middle of the 16th century), who was the oldest of them, and Cantemir (1675-1723), an extremely cultured man who had travelled much abroad and who, besides compiling national history, brought the Romanians into contact with other outside countries, of which until then they had had but little knowledge.
The 18th century was a time of awakening in Romania. We came to a fuller knowledge of our Latin origin and discovered that we had Latin sisters in Italy and France. These two countries also began to take interest in the distant little country which had the same origin as they. Our poets who travelled extensively abroad at this time made many contacts, both in France and in Italy, and were greatly influenced by the romantics of those days, especially by Gaerstner, LaMartine, and Byron. I believe that Byron’s influence was especially great because of his love of liberty. It is natural that the style they brought back was romantic. It was unrealistic and foreign, yet it awoke dreams, new ideas, nationalistic ideals of independence and justice. Perhaps it was a little bit of Utopia, but it gave the needed impetus to the new nationalistic thinking through the works of Grigore Asaki, who lived from 1788 to 1869. Then came loan Vacarescu (1792-1863), Ion Elaide Radulescu (1802-1872), George Alexandrescu, and Vasile Carlova. All these men had studied the European classics, which they also began to translate and which greatly influenced their style. They opened the door to “Young Romania.”
After the revolution of 1848, which was a great moment of national awakening all over Europe, the Romanians, too, began standing up for their national independence, and as a consequence many of their leaders were exiled by the Turks and the Hungarians. I came, lately, across a very interesting little book published in England in 1853. It is a collection of Romanian legends translated into English. Not so much do the legends interest me as does the date of the publication, and also what the author says in his preface. He defends the refugee—the Romanian refugee especially—and shows how unfair it is that he cannot find work anywhere in the free world; that people who are patriots are condemned because they believe in national independence to live unproductive lives in foreign countries. The similarity of the situation, then and today, struck me very much.
The best representatives of the years 1848 to 1866 were the Bratanu brothers, and Rosetti and Cogalniceanu. These men were also great politicians. It was natural that this should be so—that the men who could write and use their pens in defense of their country should play important political parts and be great national leaders. These were the men who created modern Romania to which we ourselves belong. In 1866 they founded the Romanian Academy. This happened to coincide with the bringing in of a new dynasty and the turning over of an entirely new page of history.
In 1859, Moldavia and Vallachia, in spite of strong Turkish opposition, were united under Alexander Ioan Cuza. The Romanians realized that there were too many factions among the leading Fanariots and local ex-reigning families to guarantee internal peace. They chose therefore a foreign prince to rule over them who would have no personal axe to grind. Cuza abdicated in favor of Prince Carol of Hohenzollern, who came to the United Principalities of Romania in 1866, and in the battle of Plevna in 1877 gave Romania her independence from the Turks, and became King Carol I of Romania in 1881.
The most important writer and poet of that time was Vasile Alexandri (1821-1890). Upon him we will dwell a little because he was the first of the writers to turn away from the classics and the foreign influence and to search for inspiration in what his own country could give him. He was the first to collect and publish the ballads and songs of Romania—the songs that we call doina. English has no word into which doina may be translated, but for us Romanians it fills a great need, for it means joy and sorrow and beauty all together. In the doina we see the beautiful landscapes. In Romania nobody lives very far from the soil. However poor or wealthy a man may be, his greatest treasure is the Romanian soil. Each one of us loves the soil upon which he was born. And Romania is indeed a very beautiful country. There are high mountains; there are great plains; there are the hills; there is the sea, the turbulent rivers, the great forests; and everywhere, there are masses of flowers and the little whitewashed cottages under heavy roofs. There are the peasant girls with their beautiful costumes. There is the shepherd, who is our special poet and the man who makes songs. There are the gypsies with their violins. All this you will find in the doina, and always, as is so characteristic of the Romanian, he will address himself to nature. He starts his song speaking of the little flower, the green leaf, the blade of grass, the corn. To them he sings of his joys and sorrows, his love and his hope.
Of all these many beautiful ballads which Alexandri collected, perhaps the most characteristic is “Mioritza.” “Mioritza” tells of more than a legend; it has in it the whole tragedy of the country. It tells of a shepherd boy who speaks to his sheep, especially to one little lamb, and he asks it: “Why are you crying?” It starts out something like this: “Lamb, little lamb, it has been three days and your voice has not stopped crying.” When he asks it why it weeps the lamb tells him that it knows that all the other shepherds plan to kill the little shepherd boy, and it begs the boy to run away. The little boy says: “No I will not run away,” and faces his misfortunes, telling the little lamb that it must go and explain to his mother what has happened to him, describing his death as if it had been a wedding. This ballad reflects in quaint verse much of the Romanian feeling for tragedy, for she always has suffered at the hands of her stronger and envious neighbors.
Romanian literature reaches its high point in the writings of Eminescu (1850-1889). This young man was truly inspired. Intelligent, with wide horizons, he travelled abroad, went to France, Germany, and Italy, studied the classics, and returned to study his own country so that we find in his writings an exceptional variation of composition—poems, descriptions, and philosophy. He was a strange being in many ways. Although he studied in many universities he never received a degree. He was interested in what he studied, not in what he achieved. So he was always poor, always in difficulties, and unfortunately his mind eventually gave way under his many troubles. He ended in an asylum at the age of thirty-six, where he died three years later, clubbed on the head by one of the inmates. And so came to an end the life of a man who, had he lived, might have given us even greater writings.
Even so, this man’s works are perfect marvels. For a man so young, he had deep philosophy. He suffered because of social injustice, and revolted against it; he adored his country; he delved into its history; and he described Romania in the same way perhaps that Grigorescu, the great painter, painted its landscapes. He wrote so much that it is hard to choose which of his poems to read to you. It is difficult because the variety of his writings being so great, one can hardly say “this is characteristic of him” of any one piece. So I thought that I would read a description which is at least characteristically Romanian. It comes from a poem called “Calin”—an old legend in which he describes a small Romanian hut:
To the little hut he entered. At the bench-end, faint and clouded,
The author remains for us the greatest of our poets, because he inspired all who came after him. Today they have tried to purge him out of Romanian literature. They have not entirely succeeded. He has been brought back and has been reinstated as a forerunner of communism because of his Socialistic ideas; but those poems dealing with his hatred of foreigners and foreign occupation are now no more printed.
At the same time that Eminescu opened the gates of poetry and fancy we had a great teacher, Maiorescu, who brought law and order into the Romanian literature. He made a norm. He instituted the first literary discussion which was published by the Junimea, a literary organization, under the title Convorbiri Literari (“literary talks”). He organized lectures and discussion groups in the principalities. He was greatly assisted by Alexandru Xenopol, a historian, who published the first consistent and well-founded Romanian history (1847-1920)
Then came the delightful Creanga who, peasant himself, collected from his village and from all around the country all the fairy tales. He was the delight of my childhood and that of many other Romanian children. His stories are full of lost princesses, of faithful princes, of wonderful horses, of dragons, and the wonderful fairies who lend a princess, for instance, a hairbrush which, when she throws it down upon the ground becomes a great forest that comes between her and the wicked dragon who is following her. In all of these tales the good always overcomes the evil. There are lots and lots of such very exciting and enchanting legends—for instance, about the Haiduc, who is our Robin Hood, and who plays a most romantic and exciting part in our storybooks. Many times I remember, as a child, going through our forest and imagining the Haiduc coming on his great black charger to the rescue of some maiden in distress.
Cosbuc (1866-1918) wrote stories about country life. He was a man who adored his little village, and although he came to town and stayed there, he was always full of longing for his own village and wrote the most enchanting descriptions of the life of the Romanian peasant.
I should like to make a little explanation here because I have found that people have not understood my use of the word “peasant.” In Europe, it has not the same meaning as it has for you, and I would like to say this: If that upon which a country is built—if that foundation is the lowest—then the Romanian peasant is the lowest. If that element which has preserved the language, faith, courage, nationality, tradition, all that which is great in the land, is the noblest—then the peasant is the noblest. It is on him that we all count; he is the backbone of our country; he is our pride and joy!
Also we have an aristocracy which has been very patriotic. An important part of our Romanian development was when, after
World War I my father decided, with his government, to divide the land up amongst the people—among those who toiled and worked it. He found no opposition from the great landowners, although it meant that their big estates were to be taken from them. Enthusiastically they went with him into it, and together with him they divided up the land among the peasants. From this came the truest and the most significant title my father ever had, that of: “King of the Peasants.” So when I talk about the peasants, you will understand that I speak of those whom I love most.
I will now come to someone else of whom, of course, you have all heard, and doubtless have all known—surely you have read many of his books—and that is Professor Iorga. Nicolae Iorga was one of the most versatile men, I think, that my country has ever produced; he was chiefly a great historian. He wrote an enormous number of books. Harvard University has over forty volumes of his work. He was interested in politics, especially, I think, from the historical point of view. He was well-versed also in art and architecture, not only those of Romania but of the entire Byzantine world. He will remain one of the greatest authorities on this subject. He had also, one of the most amusing and interesting personalities; he was enchanting to listen to. I have been to many of his lectures; I have gone around the country with him; and I can say that most of what I know, I know from him. I think no one could make a class more enchanting and interesting, amusing and full of life, or bring the past so vividly to our minds as Professor Iorga. I will admit that I find his books heavy and tedious in parts; I think that those of you who have read them will agree with me about that, but his name will forever be one of the greatest in Romanian literature and history.
Quite of a different type is our great playwright, Ion Caraghiale (1852-1912). He was an actor to begin with, and then he began to write his own plays. He was a satirist—the naughty boy of Romanian literature. He made fun of everybody and everything. He laughed at the new society; he ridiculed the small provincial towns; he poked fun at everybody. And yet his plays are to such a degree amusing, they were written with such humor and art that everyone forgave him and he remains our greatest humorist and playwright. Because he poked fun especially at the bourgeois class he is admitted by the Communist regime, but I often think he must be turning in his grave now to see how his words are being misused, and I think that if he were alive today the plays he would write would be equally funny but at the expense of quite a different social class. When I think of the bombastic way in which the new order of things speaks, I wish that Caraghiale was able to put it all into a play. He certainly managed to do so tremendously well with the people and society of his own time, and even to this day his plays have the same amusement which they had then—something which I think will never go out of date.
Quite different was our great historical novelist who wrote in the way of Sir Walter Scott—Delavrancea (1858-1918). His plays and stories were especially concerned with history—the romance of history, romance in which the historical facts perhaps were not always exactly correct but which certainly portray the atmosphere of the times in the most vivid and colorful and pure language.
Then comes Bratescu Voinesti who wrote lovely stories of the peasant folk. His stories are often tragic. Also, he was a great student of nature. One of his loveliest, bizarre stories is called Nicolaitza Minciuna (“Nicholas, the Little Liar”). It is the story of a peasant boy who notices that his cat can make sounds like a bird, so as to catch them. He tells that to everybody about him but nobody believes him. He especially wants to impress the girl he loves, and there is a wonderful scene when he brings her to listen to his cat making these strange sounds. The sun comes out, and the cat stretches out in its warmth and goes to sleep; his girl laughs at him. Finally, the boy hangs himself. It is the atmosphere of the story that has a special charm.
We are now coming into our own century—from the year 1900 on. We have Vlahutza (1858-1919), who was a great missionary poet. He writes of the life of the church, the life of faith. Also, in a different way, one of our greatest missionary poets was Nikifor Crainic, who started in a seminary. He never became a priest, but was a theologian. In his poetry he tried to bring out all the beauty and all the depth of the Orthodox Church. He was a man of peace. He wanted to bring good understanding amongst the people of Romania, of all the different cultures—Hungarian, German, Bulgarian, etc.; he tried to bring to them better understanding of each other’s cultures, thus better to appreciate each other’s positions in the country.
He was not pro-Russian, and therefore immediately after the entry of the Communists he was hunted down and had to hide for a long time. I remember my great astonishment when I went to the place where he was living in hiding. I had known him before, and it was very tragic to see this man in hiding. But finally he could not bear it; he said it was against the principles to live in this way, so he appeared again in the open. He promptly disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to him since he was caught. What was the end of Crainic, in what way he met his Master, we will never know, but we know he went serving Him.
One of our greatest poets of today is Lucian Blaga. He is a poet of cosmic mystery. He, also, was very impressed by our legends, and he had a great love and understanding for the deeper side of our thinking. His poems reflect the positive part of Romanian philosophy. He was a man who tried to make it alive and understandable to every man, to make it a real entity in his life.
There are many of whom I would like to speak, but it is impossible to mention them all. I will talk of a man like Bucutza, for instance, who was one of our best novelists. He died in great misery shortly after the war. Then there is another of our poets, Goga—dear to all Transylvanian hearts. He was the great poet of Transylvania; also he was one of our greatest nationalists who fought for the union of all Romania.
Another who must be mentioned is Theodor Arghesi. He is the poet of contrast of whom it can well be said that from the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step. Sublime or obscene, his work always remains great poetry. We believe him to be in a Communist prison camp, today.
There were movements, for instance, like the one for an ethnological museum at the head of which was Professor Mehedintz, who was also a very good writer. Then we had Professor Sextil Pushcariu, who was compiling a great dictionary and Romanian linguistic atlas. He was still working at it during the war. It was an interesting project and one of very great importance, this listing of all Romanian words, going into their construction and grammar and origin as never had been done before. Because he was a very ardent nationalist, he was immediately considered a danger under the Communist regime. He happened to live in the same village that I did; therefore, I was there and saw his sad end. He had a stroke; the Communists came continually to arrest him, but we managed to save him two or three times because he was so ill. I well remember once being called and told that the police had just come again to arrest him. I rushed in. We knew that he had high blood pressure, so we immediately cut a vein and began to let blood run. I made as much a mess of it as I could to impress the policemen who came. Of course when they saw both of us covered with blood they departed. He finally died in his own home.
You see, Romania had her entire unity—the Greater Romania such as we have it now on a map—only from the end of World War I until 1944. Twenty-five years they had of independence; twenty-five years in which to build everything up, and so much had to be done. We cannot speak of Romanian literature and culture without saying that all education in Romania was free, from the kindergarten right through the universities. There were 30,000 students in our universities; 6,000 graduated yearly; 15,000 had scholarships which consisted of food and lodging, and about 30,000 high school children were treated in the same way. So that in Romania culture was spreading extremely fast. Because of this, and because our people are very poetical and very imaginative, we had a great amount of writers and poets. I cannot enumerate them all; there simply are too many of them. But it seems as if there was an extraordinary amount of writers and poets who developed suddenly from the middle of the 18th century to our day. It isn’t that the potential wasn’t there before—it was there always—but the freedom was not there nor the possibility to expand. They could not develop as western Europe had done, because for such a long time they had been under the oppression of the Turks, Russians, Austro-Hungarians, and Poles. For hundreds of years they were under the influence of the oppression of some country or other. It is a short span of liberty, twenty-five years, in the life of a nation which goes back 2,000 years, but we did our best with the time we had.
Another of our great writers was Sadoveanu, who wrote beautiful novels and enchanting short stories. It is a sad thing for us all to know that this man, of whom we were so proud, today has gone over to the enemy. But he is an exception—so many of the others did not.
Among the more popular novelists—the best seller men of Romania—I must mention Ionel Teodoreanu. One of his first books was called Medeleni, which gave him his first start and was a best seller from the very beginning. It deals with the life of a family on a large estate in Romania, their lives, their hopes and loves, and hatreds, and little flirtations. It is a most enchanting book, giving a vivid picture of country life in Romania in the beginning of the century. In other books he takes his horses into the towns, and there you have the usual conflict between cities and rural communities—the old ideas versus the new. His books had the greatest success until the time of the Communist regime. Here I would like to mention a little personal incident which, I think, gives one an idea of his personality.
Both he and his wife were novelists, and I went to see them one day because his father was very ill and I was able to bring him some medicine. I remember coming into the house of a man who had been a very successful man, and there he sat in a little room with all his family huddled around one fireplace, which had a very small fire in it, all of them dressed in their outdoor winter clothes. They remained very cheerful in spite of all their difficulties, and I know that hunger often was at their door. But they were busily writing away at their books. They gratefully accepted the medicine, and then I left them. When these books were published, in spite of all the difficulties put in their way, each one of them sent me a copy, but instead of writing a dedication on the first page as one would expect, Teodoreanu wrote on the page on which he had been working at the moment at which I had entered their house, and he said: “Here you stopped me, interrupted me, and inspired me anew.” I think that that is one of the nicest things that he could have done. Alas, the book was amongst the things which I was not allowed to bring away with me when the Communists obliged me to leave my home.
I think I should now talk to you a little bit about the writers in exile, for some of them have managed to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. They are in France, in England, and some of them are over here. Perhaps the most important of these is Mircea Elaide. He is a man of very wide culture who has travelled much to India, where he has made a detailed study of Yogi, and to all the other countries of the Far East. He has studied the West as well. His philosophy is all-comprehensive; he is today one of the most active authors. He writes for many newspapers and reviews; he is a great nationalist and his style is excellent.
Another one of our great poets is Aron Cutrus, a man of fine national feeling and also an energetic fighter for the underdog. His writings are occasionally published in Spain.
Then there is Grigore Gafencu, a diplomat who was ambassador to Moscow before the war, so that he has really a firsthand knowledge of the situation and his books are very well documented. They are called, Preliminaries of the War in the East and The Last Days of Europe.
Virgil Gheorgiu is a newcomer in our literary world. His book, The Twenty-Fifth Hour, which in Europe had a very great success, has been translated and is published here where, however, it had less popularity. It is called The Twenty-Fifth Hour because in it everything is always too late. It is the story of many unfortunates in Europe, always switching from one side to another, always on the wrong side no matter what happens, whatever party is in power; always being put back into jail or concentration camp for not having been what they should have been. It is a tragic and interesting document of our times.
Then we have Ventila Horia, a journalist and poet who has made an anthology of Romanian poets in exile. It is a very excellent book. In ruffling through its pages I came across this poignant bit: “D.P. two letters on a scrap of paper. Thousands of lives in a monogram.” These few words so clearly express what so many feel—the despair of belonging nowhere, of being no one. But the other poets collected in this book mostly describe their longings. One man speaks to his mother; another remembers his wife. All the poems are addressed to those who have been left behind.
There are other poets who have remained behind the Iron Curtain. In some way their poems, a few of them, have reached us. What their activity exactly is we do not know, and the examples of their work which have been smuggled out to us do not say. I do not know the names of the authors and even if I did, I certainly would be unable to divulge them today, for it would cost them their lives. Nor do I know how the poems were smuggled out. But the interesting fact is that we have the poems here to study. They are quite extraordinarily beautiful because they express, not the thoughts of the free people, nor the thoughts of those who have escaped; they are the voice of the oppressed people. You will see in these poems all there is of hatred and hope, despair and courage, and at the same time all the faith and resistance of our people.
As I told you the church has always played a great part for the Romanians. If it had not been for the Orthodox Church, perhaps our language would never have been preserved for us the way it was; however, in all churches all over Romania no matter how much separated and isolated by foreign occupation, exactly the same language was read each day at the service. Immeasurable is the gratitude that we should have towards our church for its tremendous faith, for the strength it has given us, and also for maintaining the language unchanged for us, as a people and as a nation. This role of guardian the church continues to play today behind the Iron Curtain.
I am going to read you three of these poems which have been smuggled out. I don’t think that I need to explain much more except to tell you that our literature is being perverted; that one may not publish anything which is not approved by the party. Not only are textbooks forbidden to be lithographed without the permission of the party, but not even maps may be printed which do not, in some way, express the party line. The poems and telegrams which we read in the newspapers and magazines addressed in official admiration to our friends, our liberating brothers, the Russians, and especially to our dear father Stalin who has brought us all wonders, and all beauties, and all freedom, and all good things, display a stupidity of style, an abuse of language and a lack of harmony in phraseology which is really astonishing. One can only say that this is not the language which we learned to speak as children and still love.
Well, now we discover that in spite of all these perversions of our language and style and thought which writers are officially obliged to make use of, the old spirit is still there. The old rhythm is there and the form of the old, old ballads. They still write of pain and joy, hate and faith. These poems, I have, to the best of my ability, translated myself. They are not put in rhyme as they originally were. I have no gift whatsoever for poetry, but I have tried to keep in my translation the rhythm as well as the spirit of the originals.
The first is titled, “Birthday Wishes.” The poet is wondering what he can give Stalin for his birthday. A once beautiful and plentiful country has been reduced to misery and poverty; 75 per cent produce goes to Russia; children are torn from their mothers and sent to the U.S.S.R. In this poem we hear the cry of the desperate people, voicing their woes and misery and revolt and hatred of their oppressors with an intensity which is startling. The Romanians are by nature a gentle, kindly people, long-suffering and patient, a people used to much occupation by foreign armies, accustomed to bend their heads but never to give in. They, who after seven hundred years of Magyar oppression and three hundred years of Turkish sovereignty kept their language, their national dress, costumes, and faith, are faced today as never before in their history with an extermination of all things held dear for centuries.
For your birthday
Muster your curses,
The last two poems, written in a prison cell, present a different picture—that of a sufferer resigned to his fate, to injustice and torture, who seeks no redress in hatred, does not revolt or curse. We have here a poet of great quality and spiritual strength, who, lost in a world of pain, seemingly without redress in his lifetime, still denotes the beautiful tender spirit of the Romanian people. In “Days” is found all the loneliness, the isolation of a man behind bars of iron who has still kept the integrity of his soul— who can tell through what hunger and torture?
Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Monday
“Jesus in the Night” was written by a man who in his agony had a vision, the authenticity of which we dare not doubt. He realizes that his pain was shared once by Another and he knows that he is part of the body of Christ, and the community of saints. Through pain they have become for him, reality. This man does not cling to the faith, but is one with it. Thus, transcending all time, here speaks the soul of a country that for hundreds of years has suffered and yet has resisted, because it has understood the meaning of pain.
JESUS IN THE NIGHT
This night Jesus entered my cell.