Eminescu and Tagore
(Broadcast 12 June 1992, External service, Bucharest Radio)
Truth is of course stranger than fiction. Otherwise how could a poem in a childrens's book change the course of my life? It was just by chance that I came across that piece, and immediately it captured my imagination. A world of poetic phantasy revealed before my mind's eye. It was a popular forest of late autumn, a forest bereft of leaves and deserted by birds. A forest which stood at the pivot of bareness between the colourful summer and the snow winter, with its branches swinging vertically. It swung between summer and winter, autumn and spring, empty and full, life and death, creation and annihilation.
The poem called to my mind the image of Siva Nataraja, the lord of cosmic dance, who creates the universe with one step and brings its end with another. Like the Indian god, whose image was so artistically revived by Tagore, Eminescu's forest was apparent1y withered, but under the garb of emptiness it preserved a great potentiality, an inconceivable force of regenaration.
The seniment expressed in the well-known poem of Mihai Eminescu - Why do you swing, o Forest ? - was too close to my heart to be considered foreign. But the language which built its body stood as a barrier. Instinctively I took a pencil and started transplanting the soul of the poem in the soil of my mother tongue, Bengali. That was the star¬ting point of my carrier as a translator from Romanian into Bengali and the other way round and later on as a researcher in the field of Eminescology and comparatistics.
It took me ten years to arrive at a presentable translation of a slender volume of Eminescu's poems. It was published in Calcutta in 1969 under the title Eminescu: kavita. This translation was neither a literary experiment, nor a linguistic exercise for me. It was a spiritual experience of living an inner existence, which I cannot define.
The translation was warmly greeted in Calcutta press. The critics considered it to be a distinct addition to Bengali poetry. The general reaction was that of surprise to find such familiar themes in the works of a foreign poet. Many readers spoke of his siniilarity with Tagore, which Confirmed my impression. The poems being already known to Indian, at least Bengali readers, I would like to illustrate the similarity with a prose piece of Eminescu. In the novelette Cezara, we come across a letter written from a lonely place.
"Este o frumuseţă de zi acum cînd îţi scriu şi sînt atît de plin de dulceaţa cea proaspată a zilei, de mirosul cîmpiilor, de gurile înmiite ale naturii, încît pare că-mi vine să spun şi eu naturii ceea ce gîndesc, ce simt, ce trăieşte în mine. Lumea mea este o vale, înconjurată din toate părţile de stînci nepătrunse cari stau ca un zid dinspre mare, astfel încît suflet de om nu poate şti acest rai pămîntesc unde trăiesc eu. O bucată de cer am numai, dar ce bucată! Un azur întunecos, limpede, transparent, şi numai din cînd în cînd cîte un nourel alb ca şi cînd s-ar fi vărsat lapte pe cer. (...) Îmblu la şcoală. Ştii la cine: la albinele mele. Am părerea cumcă toate ideile ce plutesc pe suprafaţa vieţei oamenilor sînt creţii ce aruncă o manta pe un corp ce se mişcă".
In a number of letters written to his niece Indira Devi and published under the title Chhinnpatra ( Torn Letters) , Tagore spoken of his affinity for Nature, and has emphasized her role in his artistic formation. Let us take but one example.
"Only when you stay here, you can understand the astonishing greatness of the world. In the morning, the Sun appears at the East and slowly opens the page of a huge book. At the end of the day, Evening turns it over in the same rhythm towards the West. Oh, the wonderful writing! The narrow riverbed, the island extending to the horizon, and the picturesque riverbank - a neglected corner of the Earth. What a calm, lonely and great school of life! In the capital city of Calcutta, these words would sound like poetic exaggeration. But not here."
While Eminescu's hero Euthanasius thinks of a school of Sociology with the honey-bees as teachers, Tagore links human thoughts and feelings to cosmic phenomena. Both poets seek knowledge from Nature, each in his own way. To my mind, here lies the basis of similarity between Eminescu and Tagore, or to be more precise, between Romanian and Indian spiritualities in general.