Daria Florea reviews Ana Blandiana’s poetry
Ana Blandiana was born Otilia-Valeria Coman on 25th March 1942 in Timiºoara, Romania and adopted her pen name at seventeen with the publication of her first poem. After marrying editor Romulus Rusan in 1960 she attended the faculty of philology in Cluj-Napoca.
I first heard of the poet Ana Blandiana as a child in Romania when the popular starlet Margareta Pâslaru sang her famous poem Lasã-mi toamnã frunze verzi, (Leave me green leaves Autumn.) Later, in the 1980s, when I was dissatisfied with life in my country of birth, Blandiana appeared again in my consciousness with poems that young people could relate to. However, I did not realise the full extent of her involvement in arts, and especially politics, until two decades later. By then I had fled communist Romania, made a new life in Australia and begun my research into Eastern European poets.
Translation is generally considered detrimental to the original work because of the loss of the original rhyme, rhythm and expression. However, I would argue that Ana Blandiana’s poetry is translated into English to advantage. Romanian is a romantic language and the word choice, its inflection, sound and particular connotation can outstrip the content in importance. Ana Blandiana’s original poems have an enthralling rhyme and rhythm. The translations allow the reader to focus on what the author is saying rather than the way in which they say it. When reading Blandiana’s poetry, understanding content is crucial in order to appreciate the poem’s beauty and profundity.
The political context in Romania at the time had a significant influence on Ana Blandiana’s work. Her poetry expressed the concerns of an oppressed nation that would otherwise face severe repercussions. She is best known for her use of the extended metaphor with which she masked her criticism. “Hibernare” (Hibernation) comments on the nation’s ignorance and unwillingness to act by depicting them at the border of sleep: “Don’t listen to my brothers, they sleep. / Not understanding their own shouted words, / While they scream like some approving wild beasts.”
In 1985 she became known, nationally and internationally, for her most controversial anti-communist poetry. At the insistence of the student editors of the Bucharest magazine Amfiteatru, Blandiana submitted a group of four anti-communist poems. One of them was Eu Cred (I Believe), in which she reinvents her nature theme:
I believe that we are a botanic nation
Otherwise, where do we get this calmness
In which we await the shedding of our leaves?
She was sufficiently popular to demand the world’s attention in case of political persecution since, in the words of Romanian editor Musat, “Popular poets had a special status; an aura [of] which they took advantage” (Musat). Blandiana was banned from publishing nationally after Ceauºescu became aware of the poems’ seditious content. In 1985 she sent Totul (All,) a reflection on everyday Romanian life, abroad to be published in samizdat, in different western newspapers and later broadcasted on Radio Free Europe. The Independent in Britain devoted their first page to a translation of the poem and provided an interpretation of its surrealist prose. As a result, the communist authorities placed a ban on books containing her name and poetry, which lasted from 1985 to 1988.
In an interview with Naomi Frandzen, Blandiana reveals that, like many public personalities at the time, she was tempted to flee Romania (Frandzen) but her poem “Cetina” (The Fir Tree) discloses her fear that, once departed, she could not return:
They cannot leave, not even as ghosts.
Around them water and sky migrate
The wind asks constantly: “Don’t you go?”
The fir tree sobs: “I’m home.”
The political context created a personal dilemma as she strove to balance her poetic integrity with political demands. Among the many early poems that showcased her romantic style she wrote “Torquato Tasso,” as a result of her study of the Italian poet and in response to her early experience with the censorship which was run by Directia Presei (The Press Department). In an interview published by the National Journal Online in 2005 she revealed that “[with censure] we had to always negotiate, to renounce. About my first book I cannot even say with all my heart that it is mine, that much the censor intervened” (Viata Mea E Un Roman: Amintirile Anei Blandiana.) In “Torquato Tasso” she reflects on the absence of truth in poetry and society and her role as a poet to uphold it:
Through the night he came towards me, he,
The poet failed by fear.
He was very handsome.
You could see the poetry in his body, like an x-ray film.
Poetry unwritten out of fear.
Even without political implications her poetry was contentious, delving in philosophy, religion and morality. Although she tried to incorporate the truth as she saw it, her willingness to succeed in a literary career and her new status as a poet did not allow for complete freedom of expression. “Each Move” reveals her dilemma:
Each of my moves
Simultaneously in many mirrors,
Each look I take
Meets with itself
I forget which is
The true one,
In a society where communal harmony was claimed to be upheld, she questions the role of poetry, revealing its controversial and untameable nature, which lends it a sense of notoriety:
I hear how someone steps behind me in eternity
And plants words in the wake of my soles,
A wise step – quotation marks,
A wrong step – poetry.
After the December uprising in 1989 and the execution of Ceauºescu, Blandiana’s ban was officially lifted and she continued publishing. She also reopened the Romanian branch of the worldwide association of writers, PEN, in 1990, and over the years founded numerous projects and organisations aimed at preserving freedom of speech and opposing the persecution of writers.
Her early work and the poetry written after the 1989 revolution are characterised by nature and emotion as pure expressions of life. It resembles the youthful preoccupation with love, self discovery and romanticism in cultural desert produced by oppression and lack of freedom of speech. “Rain Chant” celebrates youth as it compares sexuality with nature: “
I am the most beautiful woman because it’s raining
And I look good with rain’s locks in my hair.
I am the most beautiful woman because it’s windy,
And the dress desperately struggles to cover my knees
As well as displaying an intense awareness of life, her poetry has several dominant thematic elements including morality, religion and spirituality. The dominant religion in Romania is Romanian Orthodox Christianity; “Pieta,” published in 1969, reflects on faith through the confusion of Jesus Christ’s mother at his death:
Clear pain, death returned me,
To your breast subdued, almost a child.
You do not know if you should thank
For this happiness,
Her latest volume, Refluxul sensurilor (The Senses’ Reflux) was published in 2004 and marks four decades of literary work. The poetry brings her work full circle as it deals with themes from her early poetry. Birth-death, beginning-end and youth-old age persist underneath mundane life and under the tone of calm elegy. Having retired from political life, she embodies personal moralities in images of night, sea and church bells, symbols that recur throughout her poetry. “Thistles and Gods” reflects upon time and mortality:
All time is only a day…
There is no past, no future,
An eternal today, stunning,
With the sun above unmoving
During her career Ana Blandiana won a number of literary awards, including the Poetry Award from the Romanian Writers Union (1969), the Writers Union Award for Children’s Literature (1980), the Gottfried Von Herder Award (1982) and the Mihai Eminescu National Award for Poetry (1997) (e.Informativ.ro). These awards, together with a significant body of inspirational work, assure her an honoured place in world literature.
Alianþa Civicã Romana. General Information. c2006. Civic Alliance. Available:
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Available: http://www.einformativ.ro/c-25-142– 86.html.15thDec.2007.aliantacivica.ro/. 17 Jan. 2008.
Blandiana, Ana. Viata Mea E Un Roman: Amintirile Anei Blandiana. 2005. Jurnalul National Online. Available: http://www.jurnalul.ro/articole/46964/amintirile-anei-blandiana. 22 Jan. 2008.
Frandzen, Naomi. "Interview with Ana Blandiana." Lingua Romana: a Journal of French, Italian and Romanian Culture. 1.1 (2003): 1-10.
Musat, Carmen. Few Words about Contemporary Romanian Literature. Monday,11 Jun. 2007. Available: http://romanianbodies.blogspot.com/2007/06/few-words-about-contemporaryromanian.html. n/a n/a. 22 Jan 2008.