Nichita Stănescu’s critical reception always oscillated between two extremes, and there was a chasm between opposing opinions the same as had been the case with the work of Mihai Eminescu.
Guided by his own redoubtable intuition, achieving then refining lexical liberty and a fluid form of language, Nichita Stănescu arrived at a concept of poetry that was wholly new to Romanian literature: the poetry of poetry. Although Nichita Stănescu’s first collection, The Sense of Love (1960) was unable wholly to shed the socialist-realist manner and substance of its time, it nonetheless looked forward to the purity of language he later attained. Similar themes also occur in A Vision of the Sentiments (1964), but here too can be found the first poems that may be regarded as typical of Nichita Stănescu’s mature work: meta-poems, sometimes constructed using poetic characters, and employing powerful, suggestive images, such as the savage leaping from word to word.
In 11 Elegies (1966), Nichita Stănescu offers readers perhaps his most original poem. In “The Tenth Elegy”, the poet is wracked with pain, suffering from untaste and unsmell, from the cruel pangs of devil and verb, in a text that makes reference to the earlier work of Tudor Arghezi. Nichita Stănescu’s subsequent collections, The Egg and the Sphere (1967) and The Unwords (1969), further build on such motifs. What Nichita Stănescu succeeds in doing in his collections from the late 1960s and early 1970s is to lend his poetry a delicate naïveté, a lucidity that unites the realms of the childlike and the lofty in the sense in which it is found in the work of Eminescu.
In “The Death of the Birds”, a poem included in In the Sweet Classical Style (1970), Nichita Stănescu combines Hitchcock’s The Birds with an angel constantly raising his hand to his throat, who pours down from the sky into the gutter amid a rain of egg yolks. The poem is little cited, but nonetheless creates a powerful impression.
It was not until 1982, however, with the publication of Nodes and Signs, that Nichita Stănescu’s poetry became radically new, and this is visible in the hesitancy of the first poems in the collection, which may be likened to a child’s first tentative steps. Although not entirely successful, with some poems even appearing to be unfinished, the volume marked a new phase in Nichita Stănescu’s work, which was unfortunately to be the last. Uneven as a whole, Nichita Stănescu remains a memorable poet, perhaps one of the most original to have emerged from Romania’s communist period.