ROMANIAN ASTROHUMANISM (X)
METEOR LIGHT AND GREAT POETS
An essay by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe and Alastair McBeath
(U.K., Vice-President of the International Meteor Organization)
first published as
Meteor Beliefs Project:
Meteoric Verse from Three Romanian Poets
(the Journal of the International Meteor Organization),
33 : 4, 2005
Design: Gabriel Ivanescu
A selection of short verses relating to meteors from three
of the greatest Romanian poets,
Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu and Lucian Blaga,
is presented, additional to material on each given previously.
Although we have published meteorically-relevant material from
the three great Romanian poets
Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu and Lucian Blaga before,
this is the first time they have featured under the Meteor Beliefs Project banner.
Here, we have given some additional short verses from each,
further to the material discussed earlier.
We shall briefly recap those earlier references before proceeding
to the fresh texts.
Works by Vasile Alecsandri (1819-1890),
laureate of the Latinity Prize for 1881 in France,
were discussed at the IMCs in 1997 (Gheorghe & McBeath, 1998),
1998 (Gheorghe, 1999) and 2000 (Gheorghe & Scurtu, 2001).
The Romanian national poet
Mihai Eminescu's (1850-1889) poem Luceafarul
we discussed in detail in (WGN) (McBeath & Gheorghe, 1999b),
while much of his other meteoric verse was covered by (Gheorghe, 1999).
Lucian Blaga (1895-1961) was a poet, philosopher and playwright,
probably the greatest personality in Romanian poetry
during the 20th century,
being shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956.
He loved the cosmos, and his meteor poem 'Celestial Touch' was featured
in (Gheorghe, 1999).
In presenting the texts here, we have employed a free translation
which does not preserve the rhyme or rhythm of the original,
in order to give as clear an impression as possible.
In doing so, we believe that this is the first time much of this material
has been translated from the Romanian into English.
Parts of four meteoric poems are noted here,
composed by Alecsandri in his early years, all taken from (Alecsandri, 1970).
The first is from 'Doina', originally published in 1844.
A doina is a traditional Romanian sorrowful poem, with rhythm and rhyme,
and sometimes set to music.
Alecsandri described it as “the most living expression of the Romanian soul,
including feelings of pain and love”.
In essence, Alecsandri's poem 'Doina' is an appeal to fight
for Romanian independence from the Ottoman Empire.
The poet would like to have magic powers and strong allies,
as in the following verse:
Brave like me
And riding dragons!
Obviously, this is a suggestion of a supernatural flight,
but with celestially powerful overtones, since dragons are often
closely associated with, or are physically believed to be,
meteors in Romanian thought and folklore.
The second of Alecsandri's poems chosen this time was also
inspired by Romanian folklore, and is entitled 'Lacramioare',
literally 'Little Tears', though this is actually a common name for
the plant Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis).
The poem was first published in 1847 in the magazine Bucovina.
In Alecsandri's vision, the lacramioara/Lily of the Valley plant
symbolizes a terrestrial continuation of angels' tears shed in the heavens,
and it became intermediary between the images of meteors
and of his beloved woman.
With such sweet perfume, or sweet name
As you, small lacramioare!
You are tears of angels
Fallen from heaven on earth,
When their pure souls
Fly among the swinging stars
Weeping loving laments.
You are white and frail
Like the sweetheart of my life!
The tiny white, bell-shaped flowers of the low-growing Lily of the Valley
do look a little like both meteors and tears, when in bloom in May and June,
and they give off a wonderful fragrance too, as Alecsandri noted.
One of their common English names is 'Our Lady's Tears',
from the Christian Virgin Mary, which fits to this vision of angelic tears as well.
Another British tale involves Saint Leonard, often associated with
medieval leper hospitals, but unusually here said to have fought
a mighty dragon, a fire-drake, for three days in St Leonard's Forest, Sussex.
Although ultimately victorious, he was badly wounded in the encounter,
and it was said afterwards that where his blood had been shed,
there patches of Lily of the Valley grew (Dyer, 1994, p-14).
Simpson (2001, pp.-54-55) has additional details on this local legend
(including, on pp.-124-125, news that St Leonard
may not have been entirely successful, as a pamphlet published in 1614
described a 3m dragon, apparently sprouting wings,
that had been seen in the Forest).
As discussed in the Meteor Beliefs Project before - see WGN 31:6 (2003) -
dragons and fire-drakes have long been linked to meteors in British
and other European traditions.
The third Alecsandri item is from 'Steluta', 'Little Star', first published in 1853.
It is a poetic remembrance of his sweetheart Elena Negri,
who had died shortly before.
Alecsandri compared this tragedy with the passing of meteors:
Pleasures of love, charming pleasures!
Feelings! Great dreams of a wonderful future!
You disappeared suddenly just like the travelling stars
Which leave a deeper darkness after them.
Our final selection is from 'Bosphor',
composed by Alecsandri after a trip to Istanbul.
It was first published in 1853.
The straits of the Bosphorus, seen by the poet as the frontier between
the shores of proud Europe and Asia,
inspired him to describe the scene including meteors:
We could see above the moist field
Only sparks and lightnings of silver flame
Which, winding through the water, floated and rejected each other...
Or uncounted dolphins which, jumping from the sea
And moving their backs in luminous froth,
Sank one after the other in waves, following the stars.
In an earlier article elsewhere (McBeath & Gheorghe, 1999a),
we commented on some aspects of dragonlore in Eminescu's poem,
'The Girl in the Golden Garden'.
Of relevance here, we included the following translated quotation
regarding a zmeu, a, sometimes meteoric, dragon-man in Romanian tradition,
who became a fireball in order to meet a beautiful princess
he had fallen in love with:
Born from the sun, from the air, from the snow,
Because of this love he became a star
Falling from heaven to her great vestibule
And changed into a luminous young man.
Another meteoric section which was not included in our earlier article runs:
Collects on his way
Flying like snow...
The end of this poem also seems to represent a meteor shower,
as the zmeu weeps:
...tears fell towards the sea, furrowing immensity
Like great beautiful pearls.
The whiteness implied by the 'pearls' simile seems to reflect back to
Alecsandri's Lily of the Valley meteoric tears too.
Moving on to other texts we have not examined before,
we found three poems from Eminescu in a compilation concerning visions
of the cosmos in Romanian poetry (Dima, 1982).
The first is 'The Story of the Magician Travelling Among the Stars',
where the hero of the tale passes among moving stars,
which seem rather like meteors:
The stars brightened reverently, moving aside for him to pass.
Next, we have 'Life's Star', in which our quote is derived from the tradition
that every human has a star in the sky, that falls when the person dies,
though here on a more suicidal note:
O, beloved star among the stars,
Sacred golden eye trembling among the clouds,
Be merciful and extinguish my days,
Come down, oh, come down.
The third quotation is from 'When the Sea',
which indicates a folkloric connection between meteors and meteorites,
that also includes the pearly lustre again:
On the bottom of the furious sea
A star changed into a stone shines like a pearl,
It is the lover of a pale star,
It is the lover fallen from the stars...
Our final piece is from (Eminescu, 1969),
in a poem with no name discovered only after Eminescu's death.
In this, a young girl calls on celestial bodies to witness that she is still a virgin:
Swear, travelling stars,
For I am a clean maiden.
'Travelling stars' might refer to the naked-eye planets,
after the Greek for 'wandering stars', but this term in Romanian often seems
to refer to meteors instead, as more clearly indicated in our third piece
from Vasile Alecsandri in Section-2 above.
Lucian Blaga's 'Together with the Great Blind', first published in 1921
(Blaga, 1921), is the last poem discussed here as containing meteoric verse.
The poem describes a fabulous walk with the supreme prophet and god
of the ancient Dacians, the people who inhabited modern Romania's territory
before and during the days of the Roman Empire.
This figure, who may have been based on a living original, later deified,
was named Zamolxis (there are other variant spellings found in the literature),
who became blind towards the end of his terrestrial existence.
From this belief, the name 'the Great Blind' is derived.
It is rather a quiet trip: the Great Blind
keeps silent, because he is afraid of words.
He keeps silent, because every word of his becomes a deed.
Suddenly, a meteoric apparition enlivens the atmosphere:
Father Blind, there is nothing around us.
Only up there, a star has left the sky
With a golden tear.
Certainly, this is one of the most beautiful images of a meteor
in Romanian literature.
With all the references to tears in these quotations, and from the general tenor
of several of the poems more generally, there is a distinctive melancholy
which pervades much of the Romanian poetry we have examined over the years
in relation to meteors.
That does not detract from its power, or the beauty of its imagery,
but seems appropriate, considering the ephemeral nature of meteors,
so often used as a simile for the brevity of human life itself.
-Alecsandri V., Vasile Alecsandri - Poems, Eminescu Publishing House,
1970 (in Romanian)
-Blaga L., The Prophet's Steps, Bucharest, 1921 (in Romanian)
-Dima A., Cosmic Vision in Romanian Poetry, Junimea, 1982 (in Romanian)
-Dyer T. F. T., The Folk-Lore of Plants, Llanerch Publishers,
1994 (facsimile of the 1889 edition)
-Eminescu M, Eminescu - Poems, Publishing House for Literature,
Bucharest, 1969 (in Romanian)
-Gheorghe A. D., An Experiment for Popularizing Meteor Astronomy
Using Romanian Meteor Poetry. In: R. Arlt, A. Knofel (eds.),
Proceedings IMC 1998, Stara Lesna, Slovakia; IMO, Potsdam,
1999, pp. 110-113
-Gheorghe A. D., McBeath A., Romanian Meteor Mythology.
In: A. Knofel, A. McBeath (eds.), Proceedings IMC 1997,
Petnica, Yugoslavia; IMO, Potsdam, 1998, pp. 82-88
-Gheorghe A. D., Scurtu V., The Geminid Meteor Shower in
Romanian Traditions. In: R. Arlt, M. Triglav, C. Trayner (eds.),
Proceedings IMC 2000, Pucioasa, Romania; IMO, Potsdam, 2001, p. 43
-McBeath A., Gheorghe A. D., Romanian Dragons in Mihai Eminescu's
Poems, The Dragon Chronicle 16 (1999a, pp. 13-14)
-McBeath A., Gheorghe A. D., Luceafarul: A Romanian Meteor-Inspired
Poem, WGN 27:5 (1999b, pp. 255-258)
-Simpson J., British Dragons (Second edition), Wordsworth Editions
& The Folklore Society, 2001
(Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)