Marin Sorescu (1936 - 1996)




APRIL 23, 2019


Poem of the Week: ‘Elegy’

A poem by Marin Sorescu; introduced by Andrew McCulloch


‘The earth dissolves. / Does it go beyond, too, mother?’ – by Marin Sorescu

The poet, novelist and playwright Marin Sorescu (1936–1996) was so popular during the years that Nicolae Ceaușescu, the authoritarian leader of Romania, was in power that his readings had to be held in football stadiums. The need to be subtly subversive drove him, like many other east European poets, towards fairy tale, fable, allegory and parable, and – according to Peter Forbes in the Listener – an “almost complete absence of traditional poetic music”. Although, for George Szirtes in the TLS, with Sorescu “the poem within the poem is constantly pressing outward”. He had the impressive ability to respond to the pressures of history without sacrificing artistic integrity –what Seamus Heaney called the power of “surviving in the realm of ‘the times’ and the realm of moral and artistic self-respect”.

In “Elegy”, first published in this translation in the TLS in 1990 and subsequently in Hands Behind My Back (1991), a failure to believe in the ultimate liberation of death is code, perhaps, for a politically conditioned inability to conceive of being free from totalitarian control: “Is it harder there, than it used to be here? / Do they die there, too?” The compulsory visibility of the Communist regime is so absolute in its erasure of the border between public and private that escape seems impossible. And yet Sorescu’s unanswerable questions point towards the kind of freedom he appears to dismiss, an order of belief that transcends the grim realities of vanquished lives and futile gestures of resistance. Sorescu’s god, says Szirtes, “is the wry wisdom that sees through everything and yet continues to hope and despair”.





The first snow
Starts falling over you, mother.
Can you hear the wind?
It’s hidden in a single word.


The earth dissolves.
Does it go beyond, too, mother?
I mean the substance
Of this place, marked with a flower?


Is it harder there, than it used to be here?
Do they die there, too?
Who weeps over
Those deaths without annunciation
And caused by no disease?


Translated by Gabriela Dragnea


Mama, intaia zapada

Incepe deasupra-ti sa cada,

Asculti inspicarea de vant,

Ascunsa-ntr-un singur cuvant.


Pamantul intreg se destrama

El trece si dincolo, mama?

Materia unde se duce

Din locul c-o floare de cruce?


Urmeaza mai greu, dupa greu?

Se moare si-acolo mereu?

Si cine mai plange aceste

Noi morti fara boli, fara veste?


Tu toate voiai sa le stii,

Izvor pentru verbul a fi

¬Tu care nascut-ai in chin,

Aceasta ninsoare ti-o-nchin,


Sfintind cu prohod de nameti

Prea multele tale peceti.