A hand for the poet • George Bacovia

Poems: “Lead” (Lead, 1916), “Decor” (Lead, 1916)
Read by Anamaria Marinca
Translated by Andrei Bantaş
Filmed at the Bucharest National Opera in August 2021

George Bacovia

b. 17 September 1881, Bacău – d. 22 May 1957, Bucharest

poet, writer, painter

George Bacovia was the pseudonym of Gheorghe Vasiliu, a native of the city of Bacău. Initially viewed as simplistic, artificial, and devoid of artistry, with the passage of time his poetry came to be re-evaluated as great precisely because of the artificiality of which it was once accused.

George Bacovia transplanted French Symbolism to the muddy streets of provincial, small-town Romania, and sang of sickly loves, dead flowers, and off-key musical instruments. Obsessed with colour symbolism, Bacovia paints verbal pictures whose violence startles and disturbs the reader. The colour-coded poetic sentiment to be found in Bacovia’s poetry is one that is gloomy, funereal, dreary, often sickly, and the oppressive urban backdrop is almost invariably one of cold, rain, slush,

Bacovia’s poetry of neurosis is the antithesis of romanticism in general and the lyricism of Eminescu from just a few decades before in particular. Bacovia’s world is one that is moribund or already dead, and all that remains is grief, the heartrending yearning for a lover who has perished before her time, usually of tuberculosis, or the alcoholic poet’s yearning for his own now disintegrated self.

In “Lead”, from the volume of the same title published in 1916, Bacovia achieves the greatest poetic intensity of his work as a whole, and his mastery resides in the very simplicity of his unmediated language, which conjures up powerful images. There is no rhetoric here, but only poetry in its purest form.

Not even in seemingly optimistic poems such as “Vernal Notes” (Yellow Sparks, 1926) does the poet relinquish his signature colour symbolism. But here the raw green and bright yellow sun exist only in memory, they are “seen” and “heard” from within the grey depression in which the lyrical “I” is reduced to nothing but a “body that aches all over”.

Similarly, even pure white ballerinas stir up diabolical instincts, since in Bacovia’s poetry purity cannot exist except as a perversion or ruin of itself, fit only to be interred in a cold funeral vault.

The all-pervasive neurosis of Bacovia’s poetry gives rise to a style that is uniquely his own. His spleen is not borrowed from the Symbolists, but is an authentic reaction to his own personal situation and environment. Despite the artificial surface of his poetry, Bacovia’s suffering is not an aesthetic construct or a mask, but a starkly authentic experience.