Ramona L. Ceciu, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
This paper delves into the Romanian and Indian (Bengali) literatures to discover the concept of self in poetic art in relation to nature and divinity, keeping in the spotlight two major literary figures belonging to these different cultures: Mihai Eminescu and Rabindranath Tagore. I roughly argue firstly that the authors and their works embody metachronotopic entities that enable points of convergence and divergence, as well as varied articulations of ‘reality’, and secondly that ‘some self of Eminescu’ and ‘some self of Tagore’ meet into a ‘global cultural unconscious’ from where intriguing revelations emerge. I illustrate these instances of emergence by comparative critical analysis of their works, fragments of their lives and ‘selves’.
[Keywords: Tagore, Eminescu, Indian literature, Romanian poetry, self, nature, divinity]
In all cultures, the concepts of art, nature and divinity take shape in relation to the self – be it the human and ‘empirical’ or the transcendental selves – in different degrees. This study intends to review the concept of self – the authorial/ poetic and ‘empirical’ selves – in the Romanian and Indian (Bengali) cultures, keeping a main focus on the works of two major poets: Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Hopefully it will unravel some literary relations between these two cultures, common aspects of their imagistic worlds and their distinctions, but it will equally emphasize the differences and the uniqueness of the two authors and their poetic selves. Though there are innumerable perspectives that may be extremely revealing if analyzed in comparative fashion, I chose to focus on the self in relation to ‘nature’ and ‘the divine’ because among other aspects, acknowledged or not, they stand for integral dimensions of the human life. Moreover, they effusively populate the oeuvres of both Eminescu and Tagore, and in today’s world these concepts face serious challenges due to the actual ‘modern’ living as well as new discourses that render them more complex. All human beings experience these aspects of life in varied forms irrespective of their nationality or social customs, but each society imposes on people distinct patterns of cognition and manifestation of their experiences and the distinction between these two needs clear emphasis.
I argue, firstly that the authors and their works embody metachronotopic entities that enable points of convergence and divergence, as well as varied articulations of ‘reality’ and cognition and poetic art. Secondly, ‘some self’ of Eminescu and ‘some self’ of Tagore meet into a ‘global cultural unconscious’ from where intriguing revelations emerge. Thus, each “empirical self”[i] of the authors’ oeuvres represents concrete reflections of their ‘actual selves’ and their ‘lived’ experiences. Moreover, even though the two litterateurs under scrutiny belong to different chronotopic and cultural coordinates, ‘some self’ of Eminescu has met somewhere ‘some self’ of Tagore. Life is in itself a Text that cannot be deconstructed easily (a lived and living Text) and these ‘some’ and ‘somewhere’ are by themselves entities (even ‘empirical selves’) that depend highly on hermeneutical practice, as well as on the readers’ comprehension of the authors’ literary and lived Texts. I further the argument by maintaining that in general between the authors, their inspirations and their texts, multiple dialogical interactions generate complex and multifaceted selves that outlast the authorial beings in/ as different ‘alien’ contexts and metachronotopic entities. Elsewhere, I explained that “the ‘chronotope’ [Mikhail Bakhtin] of a given literary/ visual Text artistically expressing the intrinsic time-space matrix at the moment of its creation may be combined with the time-space matrix at the moment of its exhibition and reception, as well as with other works existing independently of, yet (in)directly, referring to it. All these can be seen as interconnected in a ‘real’ (lived) chronotope, which may be defined as a kind of metachronotope. This implies a “dialogic” encounter between the text and its contexts at different points in the course of a given work’s existence. It also suggests ‘an excess of seeing’ [Bakhtin]” on the part of the view-reader’s experience of ‘reading’ the text (Ceciu, “The Architectonics of Corporeal and Textual Selves…” 2013).
Tagore’s Bengali G?t?njal? and other works serve as appealing poetic-spaces for the ‘meeting’ of various concepts – divinity, nature, art, death etc. – and the metachronotopic entities ensued by them. The present paper will delve into Tagore’s poetic art to untangle significant metaphors, to draw comparisons with Eminescu’s writings, and to offer insights into the artistry of the two authors.[ii]
- Insights into the Poetic Selves, Cultures and Art
Mihai Eminescu – though having ‘journeyed’ for a very short time span in this world, for only 39 years – managed to create an oeuvre that would last forever in the cultural treasure of Romania, as a rare essence containing the whole spectrum of aromas specific to the spirit of the people inhabiting the ancient land of Dacia, specifically the space within and around the Carpathian Arch, bordered by the lower Danube and the Black Sea. Born in Moldova County, Eminescu became an icon of the Romanian culture the way Tagore was an icon of the Bengali culture. The tragic death of Eminescu, in a psychiatry ward where he had been admitted with depressive psychosis, in the full bloom of his life, stopped the author from gifting his culture with a vaster treasure of ideas and philosophical views, which may have provided the contemporary critics with clearer cues about his principles and personality. Being hailed as “the star of universal spirituality” and “the unmatched poet” during the communist era, after 1989 the poet came under the scrutiny of the literary and cultural criticism that had since then split into two camps, pros and cons. As he never kept a diary and his existence abounded in controversy and inconsistency, all critics had a partial understanding of his persona, which at times seemingly contradicted the content of his writings. Irrespective of all such controversies, the literary work of Eminescu speaks for itself: it is wonderful in its tonal, intellectual, philosophical, emotional, musical, aesthetic variations and concerns that cannot be easily defined or classified. In this sense, Constantin Noica (1909-1987) declared:
“at this moment, Eminescu is not to be critically judged by us, he is to be somehow assimilated as a cultural consciousness larger than ours – considering that his work ranges from folklore to positive sciences -, this way improving our consciousness or maybe that pang of conscience belonging to every intellectual who can grasp his infiniteness by synthesis itself.” (Junona Tutunea, trans.)[iii]
Bernard Shaw considered that “Eminescu’s music matches the music of Berlioz and the palette of Delacroix”, while the Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi called him “the Beethoven of Romanian language”. K. Gajendra Singh described Eminescu as “Romania’s all-time great poet, novelist and journalist… – a sort of Ghalib and Tagore rolled into one” (2011).
At the end of nineteenth century, Mihai Eminescu published his first Poezii (Poems, 1883) and marked a new era in Romanian literature. Along with Vasile Alecsandri, Eminescu became the most published Romanian author of the fin-de-siècle, drawing his inspiration from the Romanian popular culture, traditions and folklore, philosophy, mythology and his understanding of life itself. At the same time, concepts of cosmogony rooted in other European cultures, Asian philosophies, especially Indian, along with Latin, Greek and Dacian myths among others, can be identified throughout his literary works. His oeuvre incorporates all culturally specific myths and symbols, some included in this investigation. Although the actual lives of Eminescu and Tagore were different and the two poets were not fated to meet in this life, their writings contain the unique vision that only great poets and artists are gifted with, embodied in exceptional panoply of expressions, feelings, experiences and aesthetic sensibilities.
[i] Concept coined by William James to refer to the Self that “may be known” and includes all that a person is and does, one’s work, relations etc.
[ii] I have translated myself from Romanian and Bengali into English all passages and verses quoted in this article, except some cases where I mention the translators.