Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ana Blandiana (#poetry)

Dies Illa, Dies Irae

It will come,
It has to come,
That day
Postponed for ages
Will arrive,
It's going to come,
It's getting closer,
You can hear
Its beating pulse
On the horizon,
It will come,
It's in the air,
It can't be put off any longer,
Have no doubt, it will come,
That day,
Like a shining sword,
In the blinding light.

-Ana Blandiana
Ana Blandiana (b. 1942) is a Romanian poet. It was recently announced (a month or so ago) that she won this year's Princess of Asturias Literature Award for her lifetime's work. I'd never heard of her before (I think) but I find the Princess/Prince of Asturias Award to be a good selector. In addition to various people who went on to the Nobel Prize but won this first (Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Lessing, others) they also selected a couple of writers I liked, but didn't win the Nobel, and wouldn't have minded seeing win, such as Álvaro Mutis, Susan Sontag, and Claudio Magris. So, with a list like that, I thought I'd better check her out... 😉 and my library came through.

'Dies Illa, Dies Irae' is, of course, the title of the poem/song/chant on the day of the Last Judgment. ('That day, the day of wrath' is what the Latin says.) This poem was printed on the front page of the newspaper the day after the fall of the Communist government in Romania in 1989 and then collected in her book of 1990, The Architecture of Waves. 
A couple of more examples. Several of her poems from before the fall of Communism use sleep as a metaphor for the state of the Romanian people:

Full Moon

Come, moon, and wake us from our sleep,
Cast your nets into our waters
And bring us out,
Pour us
Into the insomnia of air!
We may not survive,
Our lungs have turned to gills from so much sleep,
In spite of the risk, wake us
And leave us, alone and free, at sea:
So we can slowly move,
With infinite care,
Forward across the waters,
A shifting architecture of waves,
A horizon stretched like a rope
Between two hells,
Staring into your lunatic eye, crazed with hope.

-Ana Blandiana

A number of her poems seem to use ballad meter:

Gara de Nord

Dirty platform, carefully guarded
After papers exploding in the air,
Two fists handcuffed at a back, and
Lots of uniforms, may this rare

Image be the stop-frame emblem
Of hope beneath a colourless sun! To see
Through the spectacles of handcuffs
The future of the verb to be.

-Ana Blandiana

Both those poems were also collected in The Architecture of Waves (1990). Here's one from her book of 2016, Clock Without Hours:

That Year

Small things started to grow that year
And they didn't stop. Nature's laws transcended.
Flourishing growth, perverse, was everywhere.
Birds looked like bulls and their flying ended.

Purslane, nettles, grasshoppers, mites,
Sorrel and burdock, mandrake and sedge
Grew and grew to an amazing height,
Delirious waves beneath the outsized thistles' heads.

Elephants with giant spiders entwined,
Eagles, quite sad, from claws of sparrows hung,
Lions in the desert trembled and whined,
Discordant hymns from puffed-up crickets rang.

Worms in a year to snakes had grown.
A blade of grass became a club;
A speck of dust, a boulder stone.

-Ana Blandiana

I assume that year is 1989 and that's her sense of the outcome, but I'm sure the poem can be read in more than one way. Five Books is (as you might guess...) a collection of five of Ana Blandiana's books from across her career, and was issued by Bloodaxe Books (in the U.K.) in 2021, translated by Paul Scott Derrick & Viorica Patea. All the poems I've quoted come from that volume. The Sun of Hereafter and Ebb of the Senses are two of her books, in one volume, also from Bloodaxe with the same translators; that volume came out in English in 2017. 

I've stuck with political poems just for a theme, but there are also quite a lot of love poems, some happy, some sad: she married Romulus Rusan, also a writer; he died in 2016, at the age of 81. Poems from the later books also frequently deal with mortality, whether her own or that of her husband's.