Born in 1933, Romanian poet and essay writer Nichita Stanescu grew up under the influence of World War II and the subsequent rise of communism across the Easter Block. Probably more famous in his own country than the rest of the world, never the less Stanescu remains one of the more important figures of literature in the 20th Century.
Stanescu spent most of his time living under conditions of abject poverty because of the communist regime. When he wrote his famous 11 Elegies in 1965 the poems were dictated in a flat in Bucharest where the floor was simply frozen ground. Despite living in a time that did not welcome freedom of thought, he continued to produce poetry that spoke to the core of human existence.
Stanescu went to high school in Bucharest and studied literature at the University of Bucharest, graduating in 1957. He was married three times, none of which were successful, the first being in 1952 to Magdalena Petrescu. His first verses were published in the literary magazine Tribuna and he had written three collections, including A Vision of Feelings in 1964, before he completed his ground breaking work 11 Elegies in 1965.
Stanescu believed there were two types of poet, the ones who wrote about ideas and those who only saw the world as a group of sentiments. Stanescu wanted to be a writer of ideas and 11 Elegies was the first work that explored issues such as our role in the universe, and the notion of consciousness and wilfulness in respect of creativity.
Publication of the Elegies marked a period of high productivity and between 1965 and 1971 he published a collection each year including Wheel With a Single Spoke and Other Poems. Despite living in a time when Ceauşescu’s hold on the country was all encompassing, Stanescu was more of a metaphysical poet than a political one, which you may be why he didn’t attract the government’s attention in the way that other artists did.
A conversational tone that was used to approach deep questions about human existence mark him as one of the greatest poets to come out of Romania in the last 100 years and his works have now been translated into many languages. He sees people as just one of the many elements of the universe and refers often to the Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy who believed the entirety of existence revolved around our small planet.
Stanescu won a number of awards over his lifetime, including the prestigious Herder Award in 1975 and, after his death, he was elected to the Romanian Academy. His later works turn to the conundrum of death and poems like his Self-Portrait present the idea of our mortality as the building block that makes up the present.
In 1982 he wrote Crying Bones and Knots and Marks but by 1983 he had contracted hepatitis and died, at the age of 50, in his home city of Bucharest.