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Poetry in Translation (LXXIV): Marin Sorescu (b. 1950) – “Exile”

March 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment · PEOPLE, Poetry, Translations

Famine, Sculpture, Duiblin, photo by P.Pix

Famine Emigrant Family, Sculpture detail, Custom House Quay, Dublin, Ireland, (copyright photo by Phil Pix 9with permission)

Famine in  19th century Ireland and in 1980s Romania: The emigrant sculptures are in memory of the native Irish who were forced into emigration during the Great Famine years due to ‘the potato blight’ which caused the rural population either to face starvation, or emigrate. Between 1845 and 1852  many people died and over a million left Ireland to escape starvation. The departure point with their few possessions was the nearby Dublin Docks, from where departed the steam boats to Liverpool . From there, many traveled on to New York to seek a new beginning in the United States. During the Irish potato famine the Romanian foreign minister Vasile Alecsandri (1821-1890), who met PM Gladstone offered to donate  a cargo of corn maize to  alleviate the  Irish famine: although corn flower was a main staple diet in rural Romania, this was completely unknown in Ireland (…): It is not recorded  if the offer was accepted and if it was what the Irish  made of it.

It is ironic that only four generations on from the Irish famine, during the 1980’s Romania which only a century earlier,  under the Ottomans, was considered the ‘granary of Europe’ fell under a ruthless dictatorship of the cobbler President Nicolae Ceausescu and as a direct consequence of it Romania’s population  was brought to near starvation by the communist  leader’s drive to pay off immediately the country’s foreign debts, This was incurred due  to an unsustainable forced  industrialization which was carried out by importing foreign technology and know-how resulting in a huge national debt. To repay it the bulk of Romanian home-produced foodstuff went to export, whilst the native population went hungry, reduced to eating chicken claws and knuckles, after queuing for long hours at state-owned shops, hoping to get something to eat: milk, eggs, meat were unobtainable and oil, butter, bread were rationed. To make things worse Ceausescu embarked on a nation-wide scale redevelopment which involved demolishing historic city centres to have them replaced by high-rise blocks of flats (of sardine-can size) to cram in the dislodged population.

The Poem “Exile” and the “Metaphysical Cat” respectively, by Marin Sorescu, are inspired by the grim reality lived by starving Romanians in general and the the inhabitants of Bucharest in particular, who were given only 72 hours notice before the bulldozers moved in to flatten their homes, to make room for Ceausescu’s megalomaniac Palace (the second largest in the world, built in 1980s -see photo blow). Out of a population of 22 millions several hundred thousand of ethnic  Germans emigrated to West Germany, during the 1970s and 1980s leaving empty once thriving historic towns and villages. Likewise the nearly one-million strong Romanian Jewish population  migrated to Israel during Ceausescu’s passport-for-dollars policy which brought much-needed hard currency but deprived the country of skilled professionals. Yet this was nothing compared to the bulk emigration of ethnic Romanians which was yet to follow:  millions of Romanians  fled the country before and especially after the dictator’s death, in 1989, to seek their fortune abroad. The fall of communism enhanced rather than put a stop to emigration, particularly of the young and the able-bodied skilled labourer and professionals, as the old mentality and bureaucratic control  perpetuated in the shape of a privatised Communism.

Romania has a declining demography with an increasing aged population.


Au inflorit cartofii in Marmatia

si voi tocmai acum plecati spre sud

cind ceru-i aiurit si descusut

cind se confunda bocetul cu natia ?

Veti inventa durerea ca o tara

poate veti da peste-un mormant mai cald…

Scobim scobim cartofii de smarald,

saracii mei cartofi de piatra rara.

Ce zeu pastrat in saramuri celeste

ar fi dispus din nou sa ne adune ?

La noi la voi e plans de-ngropaciune

la voi la noi e-un capat de poveste




As the potato flowers are in bloom
You take the road which ever us do part?
Now that the sky is gray and overcast
And tears confound the country and the doom?

The grief will be for you the new abode
Perhaps a warmer grave and newer ethos
We shall unearth those emerald potatoes
Those precious stones dug out from where we hoed.

What kind of God preserved in secret heavens
May still be glad to gather our bones
With you, with us we cry on our tombs
With you with us a story ends in ruins.


Translated from Romanian by Constantin ROMAN (London SW1, 25 June 2006)


Ceausescu's Folly built in the 1980s for which 40% of downtown historical Bucharest had been demolished

Ceausescu's Folly built in the 1980s for which 40% of downtown historical Bucharest had been demolished

These are the ruins of the historical and residential centre of Bucharest, capital of Romania, during the 1980s. On the horizon, looming large is the largest building site in Europe making room for the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon).
This was to become a monument to the glory of Nicolae Ceausescu, crowning thirty years of absolute power over a nation of over 20 millions.
People were given 72 hours to move out of their houses only to be crammed into concrete brutalist buildings on the outskirts of the city. In the process they abandoned in the street furniture and excess chattels as well as their pets: this accounts for the huge canine population of Bucharest which plagues the city well into the 21st century.
In a society which went through this trauma and now is subjected to a pre-programmed amnesia it may not be surprising that such memories are relegated to oblivion. There is even evidence of self-denial – making it all look that the ‘epoch’ (sic) of Nicolae Ceausescu was a “happy one” and that the brutalist building we see here being erected at a tremendous human sacrifice (like the pyramids) should become a ‘symbol’ of Romania (like Dracula!) and be considered to be a “monument of architecture”…

What we see before our eyes it is an act of deliberate and wanton cultural genocide – the razing of memory and of Romania’s past.
Historic churches (including the Vacaresti Monastery) were demolished and others were partially destroyed (Antim Monastery the Mihai Voda monastery) or “moved” to a new location (the Mihai Voda monastery church and scores of other churches moved and hidden from view behind brutalist concrete buildings).

Here was the historic downtown made of leafy neighbourhoods with ‘fin de siecle’ architecture of a charm which deserved the name of “Petit Paris” – alas no more – what was once “Little Paris” can be surmised only in the pages of impressions by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Satcheverell Sitwell, Olivia Manning, Marthe Bibesco, Matyla Ghyka or Paul Morand…
A Swiss 21st c visitor calls Bucharest a “Cannibal city” disfigured by billboards and crowded with ugly uninspired glass and steel architecture completely out of character with the city.


Poet’s NOTE:

Once upon a time, when we kept our sharp claws hidden in a velvet paw, an anonymous cat taught the Romanians a splendid lesson of Dignity: during a working visit on the Cathedral Hill in Bucharest, the “Most Beloved Son of the People”, accompanied by Raven, his favoured Labrador dog (Corbul – a present from the British Liberal party leader the Right Honourable the Lord David Steel of Aikwood, n.t.), descended from his official limo in order to admire the bulldozers inflicting a Hiroshima-like destruction to a historical residential neighborhood in downtown Bucharest. In the meantime a lone cat, which just lost its masters, was sitting on a pile of rubble, surveying like an omen the ruined housing estate, apparently defiant of the official visitor who just arrived.
At this point, Colonel Raven – because in those days all dogs belonging to the Comrade had grades, made a run for the ancient goddess, being encouraged to the task by its master. As it happened, just when action was meant to reach its climax, a lightning of claws emerged from the fur ball resulting in a fountain of blood and squeals. Uncle Nick flabbergasted by the shame inflicted on his gun dog, ordered his praetorian guard: “You catch that cat!”
In disdain, the culprit which was guilty of the punishable offense of undermining the national security, made itself scarce under a fallen fence and the lads sweated it out until late at night chasing up the illusory ghost of the cat, through the ossuary of a neighborhood, which only fourtyeight hours earlier was full of life and smelling the scent of lilac trees in bloom.
A few years later as a homage to this feline dissident master I wrote the following poem:



(Pisica metafizica)

You catch that cat, shouted the Regent,
For it the Law can’t be so linient,
The foreign cat which does not give a dime
The Balkan cat, illegal and supine
Politically incorrect feline –
The hungry Balkan cat!
The metaphysics cat in search of trysts
Congenitally anti-communist
Consumerist who never tried alone
To strip a salmon fillet off the bone
Who never listened to the BBC
Who never went to Harrods for a spree.
How come that we inherited such cat?
Maybe from sermons of Adam Bhayat?
Or was it from some petty bourgeois gal
As surely not from the Neanderthal?
For Goodness’ sake do something with that cat!
Do kill it with a stroke of cricket bat
The Government will surely not complain
So long as it will not affect its gain
The bad-luck, idle cat and poor achiever
Which purrs and purrs whilst you all slog like beaver
Its languid manner shows its true disdain…
You Celtic ancestors, in overalls,
Do come and rescue us, heed our calls!

(Translated from Romanian by Constantin ROMAN, London SW1, June 2006)



de Mircea DINESCU

(Gandul, II, nr.329, Bucharest, 30 Mai 2006)

Pe vremea cand noi înca aveam ghearele îmbracate în catifea, o pisica anonima a oferit o frumoasa lectie de demnitate poporului român.

Aflat într-o vizita de lucru pe Dealul Mitropoliei, cel mai iubit fiu al poporului, însotit de cîinele favorit pe nume Corbu, s-a dat jos din limuzina sa admire joaca buldozeristilor „de-a bomba de la Hiroshima” din cartierul Uranus.

Pe o gramada de moloz, o pisica ramasa fara stapan veghea ca un duh al caselor demolate, ignorand parca voit alaiul oficial. Colonelul Corbu – caci ai cainii din preajma tovarasului aveau grade – s-a repezit spre zeitatea antica, încurajat de stapan, numai ca, în clipa fatala, un fulger de gheare izbucnit din ghemul îmblanit a transformat botul fiarei într-o fantana arteziana de sange si schelalaituri.

Atunci nea Nicu, îngrozit ca odorul sau a patit o asemenea rusine, a strigat catre garda pretoriana: „Prindeti pisica!”

Infractoarea ce adusese atingere sigurantei nationale s-a furisat însa dispretuitoare pe sub un gard prabusit, iar baietii au transpirat zadarnic, pîna pe înserat, fugarind stafia pisicii prin osuarul unui cartier care cu cateva zile înainte era înca viu si mirosea a liliac înflorit.

Profesoarei de disidenta felina i-am dedicat eu, cativa ani mai tarziu, acest poem omagial:


de Mircea DINESCU

Prindeti pisica!, a strigat regentul,
Pisica ce sfideaza Parlamentul
Pisica hamesita din Balcani,
Ca-i apolitica si ilegala
si fara buletin de Capitala,
Pisica hamesita din Balcani.
Pisica metafizica si trista
Prin nastere cam anticomunista?,
Cu gena dintr-o lume de consum,
N-a dezbracat în viata ei vreun peste
N-a cumparat jurnal în frantuzeste
Si nici gumari din magazinul Gum.
De unde dracu’ am mostenit pisica?
Din neorealismul lui De Sica?
Din mediul mic-burghez?
Din Neanderthal?
Faceti ceva! Dati-i în cap cu steagul
Caci nu va protesta areopagul
Din gaurile lui de cascaval.
Ea cîntareste lumea doar cu ochii
Ea poarta ghinionul precum popii
Ea toarce-n vreme ce voi toti munciti,
Lingoarea ei s-a cam mutat în lucruri,
Extrageti sabia din strung si pluguri
Voi, traci în salopete, si voi, sciti!

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