Cosmology of Mihai Eminescu
(Cahiers roumains d'etudes litteraires, nr.2/1989, Editions Univers Bucarest, pp.76-86)
All great cultures of the world were concerned with the problem of genesis in one form or the other, and imagination of generations of poets the world over gave rise to numerous cosmogonic myths. In our times, the problem is taken up by astrophysicists and a number of hypotheses came out as a result. Discoveries in the field of subatomic particles have revealed certain mysteries of Nature to the scientists; as the atomic world is a miniature of the cosmos, results obtained in one field are frequently utilised for explaining phenomena in the other. Wise men of the old searched for truth by intuition. As modern physicists have realized the limits of rationality, they are having recourse to presumption and are trying to find clues from ancient myths.
The Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), the last of the European Romantics of universal standing, flourished in a significant period, that of the meeting of great ideas. On the one hand, treasures of Asiatic thought were accessible to European scholars, and on the other scientific discoveries started exploring the secrets of matter and life. With an extraordinary capacity for assimilation, Eminescu gathered information in all spheres of humanistic and scientific studies, and tried to synthesize them with the help of his wide imagination.
Eminescu's preoccupation with the evolution of the world and the history of mankind was the subject of study of many exegets. We have also contributed our mite to this field. Though his cosmogonic vision took a concrete shape in The First Epistl (1881), the problem of the beginning and the end of the world was ever present in his mind. It is found in some of his earlier poems, e.g. Mortua est! (1871), The Story of the Wise Man Travelling in the Stars (1872), Memento Mori (1871-1872) and Emperor and Proletarian (1874).
The source of Eminescu's cosmology has long been traced to Indian texts, more precisely with the Hymn of Creation in Rgveda (Rg. X. 129). There are documentary evidences to show that the poet knew this hymn. In the poem In Search of Sheherazada (1874) Eminescu sent his hero to India in search of wisdom. It is worthwhile to note that Eminescu, who knew all the cosmogonic myths known in Europe in his days, selected the vedic myth, which is the most scientific of all, according to eminent cosmophysicists of our times, Carl Sagan and Fritjof Capra for example.
Rationality and intuition had equal importance in Eminescu's intellect. His creation was balanced between the two; they sprung from information and concretized in imagination. He was well-informed of the latest scientific discoveries, as is seen in the 14th volume (Buc. 1983) of his Works, comprising of scientific translations, most of which were lying in manuscripts. It seems that Eminescu realized the scientific character of Indian cosmogonic myth, which is why he assimilated it in his own poem, The First Epistle. It is possi¬ble that for the same reason he tried to learn Sanskrit, by translating Franz Bopp's A Critical Grammar of Sanskrit Language from German to Romanian and copying the Sanskrit-Latin Glossar of the same author . As Indian philosophical concepts are different from the European ones, European languages are not provided with the appro¬priate vocabulary for translating them.
Secondly, Indian philosophical thought is directly related to the Sanskrit language. These two are so closely connected that it is impossible to understand one without a thorough knowledge of the other. As European translations could not fully convey the message of Indian mytho-philosophy, they could not cater to the needs of Eminescu, always keen on accuracy and intent on penetrating to the core.
In our previous works we have tried to analyse the assimilation of Indian ideas by Eminescu, mostly on the basis of textual evidence. In the present study we shall try to arrive at Eminescu's own cosmology. For this purpose we shall proceed, within the limits of our knowledge, from Indian thought on the one hand and theories of modern physics on the other.
Eminescu's vision of the evolution of the world consists of four stages: pre-creation stage, creation, history of civilizations on the Earth and end of the created world. Of these, the third stage is not aur immediate concern.
Descriptions of the pre-creation stage are met with in three of his poems — The Prayer of a Dacian (1879), The First Epistle (1881) and The Evening Star (1883). In the first, Eminescu conceives the primordial stage as one in which there was no time, no space, no light, no life. Mànava-dharma-sàstra (Laws of Manu) holds that time and division of time were created at the same time with the world (I. 24, 25). Eminescu says that at that time there was no "always" (time), nor today, tomorrow or yesterday (division of time), "nor the seed of life-giving light". The conception of the absence of light appears in Rgveda, where it is held that at the beginning, everything was hidden in darkness; light flashed with the birth of Agni, the fire-spirit.
Eminescu explains the absence of these criteria with the argu¬ment that "Because all was one (una - f. pron.) and one (unul - m. pron.) was all". In other words, all that manifested afterwards were existent in the unmanifested unique one - "You alone", as pot exists in a lump of clay, to quote a simile of Indian logic. Now let us look at the conception expressed in the Laws of Manu. This (idam - neuter pron.) , the unknowable, imperceptible and devoid of distinctive signs, was there in the form of darkness, as if submerged in deep sleep. After that the self-created and unmanifested blissful one (bhagavan - adj. masc.) created all manifested things from his own body (I. 5-8).
In that stage, says Eminescu, "the earth, the firmament, the air and all the world/belonged to the category of those which never existed". This statement follows as a corollary of what has been said before. It is interesting to note that Eminescu makes a clear distinction between the firmament and the air; in Romanian, cer and văzduh are almost synonymous, meaning the sky and the upper air. With reference to the lines quoted above, it is seen that Eminescu goes the Indian way, speaking in the terms of the Vaisesika Philosophy; so far as we know, this system was not largely known, if at all, in Europe in those days. As if he wants to say that the earth, sky etc. belonged to the category of anadi abhava — non-existence without beginning. It is known that the category of negative entered in European semiotics much later.
Eminescu says in continuation that at that time, apart from Him, there was a huge mass of water. Though Manu conceives that He (sah — pron. masc.) created the waters, the Hymn of Creation holds that the primeval waters were co-existent with Him. Till now science has not been able to give us any information on the pre-creation stage. Sir Bernard Lovell observes, "There we reach the great barrier of thought, because we begin to struggle with the concepts of time and space before they existed in terms of our everyday experience. I feel as though I have suddenly driven into a great fog barrier where the familiar world has disappeared"
The First Epistle reproduces the pre-creation state from The Prayer of a Dacian with certain additions. The source of inspiration of these two poems have long been detected in hymns X. 129 and X. 121 respectively of Rgveda, and we have analysed the textual similarities in Eminescu and India (Jassy, 1978). Since they are not of much importance in the present context, we shall pass on to the imagination of the "first day" in The Evening Star.
In The First Epistle the thinker intuitively reaches the primeval stage, but the Evening Star, hero of the poem of the same name flies in a high speed, goes back in time and witnesses, as it were the first day of creation.
In the days of Eminescu this was a mere phantasy. Yet it was known that:
"Up to the star that's just appeared/ The journey's long,and so/ For thousand years its light's careered/ To reach
us here below-/
To the Star, trs. Andrei Bantaş 
In other words, as says Eminescu, it is possible to see the past with the naked eye. In our days, with the help of powerful telesco¬pes one can see what has happened in faraway galaxies millions of years ago. Physicists tell us that if this possibility is valid for long distances, it is valid for high speeds as well. Return in time of sub¬atomic particles has even been accomplished in reactors. Moreover, time "flows" in another way in the cosmic space than ori Earth .
Relativity of time was not discovered by scientists till Emi¬nescu's time: but its intuitive knowledge was present in ancient mythology. Laws of Manu and Bhagavadgità speak of the "day of Brahma", which is equivalent to thousands of earthly years. In a short note appearing on ff. 186-187 of his ms. 2255, Eminescu speaks of the day of Brahma. The relative aspect of time is dealt with in his novel The Poor Dionys as well.
Coming back to The Evening Star, we find that the astral hero crosses the way of thousands of years in as many seconds. He flies "till everything is lost".
"Started Lucifer, his wings grew/ In his passage thro' the sky./ Crossed paths of ten-centuries/ In as many twinkles of eye."
He arrives there "where there are no bounderies" and where "time tries in vain to be born from the void" - that is, in timelessness and spacelessness. There he meets the "Parent" and requests Him to set him free "From the heaviness/difficulty of the dark eternity". (The Romanian adjective greu means both heavy and difficult; here Eminescu uses the substantivized form of the adj. - greul, thinking perhaps of both connotations). On his way he had seen "how the lights were sprinkling out as in the first day", but now he came far back in time, in the primeval darkness.
Imagination of the dark eternity has a parallel in the "black holes" in the celestial space, which represent extinguished stars. When a star contracts to the maximum, not even a single ray escapes its surface. Only a black spot indicates the existence of a bright body of the past. This again corresponds to the idea of the Hindu goddess Kali, the Time. She is black, because She absorbs crea¬tion in Herself. Just like the Parent in The Evening Star, She is the giver of death. In all probability, Eminescu did not come across the concept of Kali. Did his intuition take him to the Indian concept of androgynic god - arddhanarisvara? Did he purposely use two pronouns of different genders - masculine and feminine - in The Prayer of a Dacian ? At any rate, the identity of the Cosmic Parent is not specified by the poet. Exegets have identified Him with Demiurge, perhaps linking him with "the old Demiurge" in Emperor and Proletarian.
In the course of conversation, The Evening Star confesses,
"From chaos I have appeared, My Lord/ And I'd like
to go back in chaos ... / And it's fr-om repose that I am born,/ I am thirsty of repose."
In order to understand the cosmic significance of these verses, it is necessary to know what Eminescu meant by repose and chaos. In the Sanskrit Grammar referred to earlier, Eminescu translates the word santi by repose (Works, vol. XIV, p. 755). In ordinary usage santi means peace, tranquility or silence, but it contains the nuances of eternal rest (Eminescu's favourite phrase), extinguishing of fire, arresting of movement and in rare cases death or extermination. So, in Eminescu's mind, repose is synonymous with "eternal' peace" (The First Epistle) or "eternal silence" (The Fourth Epistle) .
Now let us look at some articles on Physics translated by Eminescu. In The Phenomena of the Seen Universe Eminescu uses the word repose in the sense of equilibrium (Works, vol. XIV p. 956). According to the commentator, equilibrium "is one of the funda¬mental themes in the notes in his manuscripts". (ibidem, p. 1034). It is to be kept in mind that the note-books containing the mss. of To the Star and one version of The Evening Star are full of scienti¬fic notings. So it can be assumed that those information played an important role in the conception of both poems. Thus, in Eminescu's mind repose is the energy equilibrium.
According to the Sankhya Philosophy, primeval nature (mula¬prakrti) is composed of three tendencies - sattva, rajas and tamas; in the pre-creation stage they exist in a stable equilibrium, without reacting with each other. Creation starts from the interaction of purusa (spirit, masculine principle) and Prakrti (matter, Nature, feminine principle); then the three tendencies combine to form all objects, beings and senses. The first state is termed homogeneous equilibrium and the second heterogeneous equilibrium. Eminescu's "repose" can be taken as the homogeneous equilibrium of Sankhya, though it cannot be ascertained that he knew of this concept.
So far as "chaos" is concerned, it appears in a number of other poems of Eminescu, viz. To the Friend F.I. (1869), Mortua est! (1871), Memento Mori (1871-1872) and in different places of The Evening Star, e.g. "And a proud figure is condensed out of the valleys of chaos". So, chaos is the disturbance of equilibrium, the period of creation, from the end of the homogeneous equilibrium to the begin¬ning of the heterogeneous one.
Evening Star was born in the homogeneous equilibrium, but he made himself manifest in the course of its disturbance. He is eternal, "of the first form", and like the creator himself, is not conditioned by criteria of space and time. He will exist, irrespec¬tive of where he sets (as an astral body), because he is beyond space and he surpasses time.
The image of chaos is met with in some verses on f. 117 of ms. 2262, which take us to the phase of creation.
"From her own embryon, the seed of light/ Starts and sprouts the lady of the worlds./ And She garbs in dark¬ness and the eternal repose/ The unborn one, the lady of the waters and the chaos."/
Works, Ed. Perpessicius, vol. II p. 72
Manu says that the self-created (i.e. unborn) One, spurred by the desire of creating, put His seed (virya) in water. The seed evolved into an egg, as bright as a thousand suns; Brahma, the ancestor of the whole world, was born out of it. He stayed a year in the egg, and then by meditation (mental power) split the egg in two, out of which He made the sky, the earth, the atmosphere and the eternal abode of the waters. From his own self He created mind, ego (self-consciousness), conscience, the subtle elements and time. He created the gods and gave them life. He created the rituals, the word as well as the impulse and the act of procreation (kama and rati) . In order to create the living beings, He divided His body into two halves, out of which were born the masculine and the feminine principles, purusa and viraj (I. 8-32).
The golden embryon appears in hymn X. 121 of Rgveda and hymn IV. 2 of Atharvaveda. Hymn X. 90 of the former says that after viraj was born from purusa, he was re-born from her.
We wonder why in the lines quoted above Eminescu insisted on seed (sămînţă f.) and not on embryon (germen m.). The verses reproduce the image of Kali in our minds. They suggest that for Eminescu creation of the world was analogous to the biological process of birth. According to the commentator, these verses were written for The Twins (posthumous publication), a fragment of which was shaped into The Prayer of a Dacian.
The process of creation described in The Prayer. .. is simpler than that in The First Epistle. We would only point out the conception of the creation of light from water, an idea present in Indian mythology. In The First Epistle, Eminescu makes use of the imagination of the process of creation as described in the Hymn of Creation of Rgveda, the most explicit cosmogonic hymn, in the vedic literature. In distichs 4 and 5 the process is described as below: At the beginning kama, the seed of mind, appeared in One. There were receptors of seed. There was greatness or power. Happiness was below, will above.
It may be mentioned that Sanskrit philosophical terms are polysemantic and that it is difficult to translate them in a single word. So every translator selects the word he considers the most appro¬priate to the context. Let us see how Eminescu understood this passage. In ms. 2262, ff. 116 r-v, he translated the hymn literally, perhaps with the help of a german translation. His translation of the relevant passage will read as follows in English.
"At the beginning, love penetrated that one./ A thirst
of the soul for making seeds.../ Seeds were scattered,
strengh was born./ Below there was nature (or world),
will-power raised above."
We did not come across the "thirst of the soul for making seeds" in any order European translation published till that time. Be it from the knowledge of sanskrit, be it from pure intuition, Eminescu, in our opinion, maintains the real spirit of the vedic hymn. He synthesizes the idea from here with that from Rv. X. 90 and with a touch of his own genial imagination arrives at the hypothesis:
"But suddenly a point moves ... the first one and alone./
Look at him/ How he makes a mother out of the chaos,/
and he becomes the father!"
The movement of the point is implicit in the hymn X. 129. The conception of bindu (point, drop, seed) in Tantra philosophy, which considers the creation a result of the union of Siva (male) and Sakti (female), seems to have evolved from this hymn. Following the way of Indian thinkers, Eminescu conceives the simulta¬neous creation of spirit and matter.
Most cosmologs are of the opinion that the universe was crea¬ted in a dramatic event. Its entire mass exploded out of a fire-ball 10 000 millions years ago. Since then it is in a state of constant expan¬sion. The moment of this explosion marks the beginning of the uni¬verse as well as that of space and time . This confirms the absence of space and time in the pre-creation stage, and lends a scientific footing to the Indian conception of the formation of the universe by way of expansion. The word Brahman,, meaning the ultimate, reality, is derived from the radical brh, to grow or dilate ; the idea is appreciated by modern physicists .
The dramatic effect can be felt both in the vedic hymn and in Eminescu's poem. Both of them imply the creation of the world through the interaction of two poles, the masculine and the feminine principles, an idea comparable to that of association of body-antibody. In fact, the symmetry diagrams of subatomic particles closely resemble the Chinese yin-yang (woman-man) diagram based on the symmetry of circular rotation . It is well-known that ancient Chinese Philosophy has much in common with Indian Philosophy.
Eminescu's speculation starts from the idea that procreation at terrestrial level is an image of creation at cosmic level. It appro¬ximately corresponds to some verses in Bhagavadgita, where Krsna states, "My womb is the Mahat Brahma (Prakrti; in that I place the germ; thence [...], is the birth of all beings. Whatever forms are produced, [...] in any wombs whatoever, the great Brahma (Prakrti) is their womb, I the seed-giving father". - Bg. XIV, 3-4 (translation Swami Chidbhavananda) .
It is held in Tantra philosophy that the impulse of desire (kama¬kala) originates from the inherent nature of Prakrti (Nature) and creates a pulsation (spanda) which vibrates as sound (nada). This manifestation is represented by a point (bindu) in the diagram of Sri Yantra. In the first phase of manifestation the point is the nucleus of concentrated energy, seed of sound - sound is identified with Brahman - and the union of the static and dynamic aspects of the two principles - Siva and Sakti . Eminescu's conception is the nearest to this idea. As the Tantric texts were translated in Eu¬rope in the present century, it was not possible for Eminescu to know them. Starting from Rgveda and Laws of Manu, he crossed a path of thousands of years on the wings of imagination and arrived at a much later philosophy.
Another example of his intuition is found in Dialogue (Replici) , a poem written in 1869, when there were no chances of his knowing the vedic texts. The essential idea of the pocm, spiritual interpene¬tration of a couple, takes us very near to a hymn of Grhyasutra, pres¬cribed for recitation by the bride and the bridegroom at the nup¬tial rites. The most significant verses of Eminescu's poem are - "I (the girl) am a temple, you the god/ o my love". Hindu temples are built on the principles of symbolic diagrams of tantric mandala and yantra. The temple and the god symbolise the feminine and the masculine principle respectively. The sanctuary where the image is placed is called garbha-grha, uterus chamber. The moment of creation is ever replayed in the temple, which is a symbol of the dynamic in the static.
The cosmologic part of Eminescu's First Epistle is vibrant with dynamism, the cosmic spanda. Creation starts from movement; movement and force grow rhythmically in the course of the poem.
"Ever since up to the present gallaxies of plantes lost/ Follow up mysterious courses, chaos-bred and chaostossed/ And in endlessness begotten, endless swarms of light are thronging/ Towards life, for ever driven by an infinite of longing".
(translation L. Leviţchi )
The dynamic aspect of the universe as present in this passage is in tune with Indian thought. The word jagat (world) is derived from the radical gam (to go), notion confirmed by modern physics..
The thinker of The First Epistle does not stop at the imagination of the beginning; "in a moment thought takes him thousands of centuries after", and he visualizes the extinction of the world. In Indian mythology, dilatation of the universe is followed by contraction. Manu says: "When he reposes in calm sleep, the corporeal beings whose nature is action, desist from their actions and mind becomes inert. When they are absorbed all at once in that great soul, then he who is the soul of all beings sweetly slumbers, free from all care and occupation". (I. 53-54) . Eminescu in his turn conceives the extinction of the solar system. Loss of heat results in contraction of mass. Both these conceptions - extinction and contraction - have scientific basis. Ectinction of the sun leads to an equilibrium similar to the primordial one, to an inertia of rest by way of transformation of all other forms of energy into potential energy, in other words to "repose".
When we translated The Evening Star in Bengali, we used the words tàndava (dance of Siva) for "chaos" and nivrti (stop or return, which implies exhaustion of internal energy) for "repaos", because that was what we understood from the Romanian text. Years after, while carrying out researches on Eminescu, we were surprised to find that radical vrt with the prefix ni, that is ni-vrt (source of the noun nivrti) is used in the same context in the above-quoted Sanskrit passage. Eminescu spoke to us in the language of Manu.
Now "repose" in The Evening Star coincides with "the night of non-being" in The First Epistle.
At the beginning, there was neither being, nor non-being (mat¬ter and anti-matter), but now, after dissolution, "being" disappea¬red and "non-being" remained. Difference between the two phases is a logical consequence. According to Indian logic (Nyaya), an object which has passed successively through modification and restoration is not the same as the original one though they may be similar in every respect. Thus the night of the non-being is no-time, timelessness. If space and time appeared along with creation, they should disappear at dissolution. It is significant that Eminescu does not conceive a total annihilation, but foresees another equilibrium, another symmetry. If space contracts, time expands. "The dead time extends its body and becomes eternity", (The verse appears in Memento mori also). Thus Eminescu's "time" is analogous to Einstein's fourth dimension.
Now "everything falls, everything is silent". All vibration (spanda) is arrested, all sound (nada) is stopped. And "the eternal tranquility re-starts". A kalpa -cycle of world-ages - comes to an end.
Reviewing Eminescu's cosmologic vision we arrive at the following conclusions. He conceives of an organic unity of the world, beginning of creation from movement and love and the end of the created world as a natural consequence as if according to the cosmic law (rta) .
In Sanskrit, dissolution of the world is called pralaya, signifying absorption in the pre-existent source. The word is derived from the radical li - to disappear, to fuse. The words laya - tempo in music or dance - and lila - play - are derived from the same root. The making and unmaking of the world is a play of the creator, by way of unfolding his maya, the apparent manifestation of the unmanifested. "The chimeric universe is but a dream of the non-being" (The First Epistle).
"If Blaga felt maya as a veil, Eminescu felt it as a rhythm", says Sergiu Al-George in Archaic and Universal . Creation and dissolution are supplementary to each other, together they constitute a circular motion. They alternate in the cosmic rhythm, in the rhythm of tàndava, the dance of Siva Nataràja, King of Dance.
The rhythm of the cosmic dance throbs in The First Epistle.The verses that describe creation are open, majority of them rhyme in vowels; those which describe extinction are close, most of them rhyme in consonants. The former ones abound in vowels, the latter in hard consonants, and consonant conjuncts. The alternation conveys the idea of expansion and contraction. Recitation of the second part creates in fact a sensation of collapse similar to that produced by a bombardment or an earthquake. The effect is even more pronounced if these verses are read according to the rules of Sanskrit phonetics, namely by pronouncing certain vowels long and accentuating the conjuncts. The last two verses of the second fragment bring, on the other hand, a suggestion of somnolency, lulling with the alliteration of nasal sounds "m" and "n". These two rhyme in "e" (pronounced in Romanian as in "pet"), a vowel standing midway between "a" (as in "mass") the openest and "u" (as in "put") the closest. They maintain the symmetry, as if like a refrain in the cosmic music, with the verses that precede the description of creation, also rhyming in "e".
Though the phonetic system of Romanian does not have the rhythmic advantage of Sanskrit, Eminescu has exploited the possibilities of his mother-tongue to the fullest extent and succeeded in creating a cadence similar to that of Sanskrit poetry. In our opinion, The First Epistle stands as a milestone both in Eminescu's philosophical vision and handling of the language, vaksiddhi (scr. perfect success in oral expression). To our knowledge the phonetic performance achieved by Eminescu in this poem is still unbeaten in Romanian poetry.
If The First Epistle presents the three phases of creation in an Indian way, The Evening Star corresponds to the essence of Indian thought expressed in the well-known formula gayatri - aum bhûrbhuvah svah tat saviturvarenyam bhargodevasya dhimahi... (Rv. III. 62, 10) - which defies all attempts of translation. Events of the poem take place in the three physical worlds, earth (bhù), atmosphere (bhuva) and sky (sva). The Sanskrit terms imply the philo¬sophical nuances of being, surpassing of being and eternity, all of which are found in this poem. The Romanian poet invokes bhargodeva, the eternally bright one who determines the appearance, action and disappearance of all objects and all beings. Vedic poets meditated on him by the sacred syllable aum, symbol of creation, equilibrium and dissolution and thus attained the supreme bliss - Paramananda.
Did not the wings of poetry take Eminescu to that anadaloka, world of bliss, where sorrow and happiness, life and death, creation and dissolution are harmonized in the eternal dance of Nataraja? It is this bliss that lent such a sweet melancholic charm to his entire creation. For, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, "One whom the creator endows with the burden of inextinguishable bliss carries boundless agony in his breast".
1. These manuscripts have been edited by us and are included in Vol. XIV of Eminescu's Works.
2. Indian Philosophy conceives the creator both as impersonal and persoilal, and refers to him in terms of neuter or masculine gender as the case may be.
3. Bernard Lovell, The Individual and the universe, apud. Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, London, 1974, p. 183.
4. Mihai Eminescu, Poeme/Poems, Bucharest, 1970, p. 487.
5. F. Capra, op.cit. ,Ch. 12
6.F. Capra, op. cit. , p. 183.
7.F. Capra, op. cit., p. 176.
8. Ibidem, p. 239.
9. The Bhagavadgita, Tirupparaitturai, 1982, pp. 722, 723.
10. Ajit Mookerjee and Madhu Khanna, The Tantric Way, London, 1977, p.57.
11. Poeme/Poems, op.cit., pp, 267, 269.
12. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXV, Oxford, 1886, p.17.
13. Sergiu Al. George, Archaic and Universal, Bucharest, 1981, p. 280.
14. Rabindranath Takur, Bhasa o chanda (Limbă şi ritm) in Rabindraracanavali (Opere ale lui Rabindra), vol. V, Calcutta, 1963, ed. Visva-Bharati, p.94.