Sunday, July 29, 2012

Portrait of the Artist

by Marin Sorescu

Translated  from the Romanian by Michael Hamburger 

Portrait of the Artist

I left my shoes
to the road.
As for my trousers, I slipped them over
the trees, right up to the leaves.
My jacket I wrapped
round the wind's shoulders.
I put my old hat
on the first cloud
that came my way.
Then I stepped back
into death
to observe myself.
My self-portrait
was a faithful one.
The resemblance was so close
that quite spontaneously people --
I had forgotten to sign it --
inscribed my name
on a stone.

Marin Sorescu (1936-96), the son of farmworkers, was born in Oltenia and studied philosophy at the university of Isai. His professional life was spent as the editor for newspapers and magazines, interspersed with teaching stints abroad. 

He was a cheerfully comic genius, and one of the most original voices in Romanian literature. His comedy has affinities with the absurdism and black comedy of the mid 20th century, but differs somewhat from those in that his attitude is most often more whimsical and playful and somewhat less darkly grim than one finds in works associated with those approaches. He  was so popular during the Ceausescu years that his readings had to be held in football stadiums and his books sold thousands of copies. While his witty, ironic parables were not directly critical of the Communist regime, Romanians could read other meanings  in his playful mockery of the human condition.

Sorescu preferred to take ordinary experiences and make metaphysical  parables out of them. Sometimes his wit is mere whimsy, but his laconic, intelligent voice often rises to the sort of comedy that can encompass both satire and pathos.

Creation and death: in one sense, these may be said to sum up an individual's life. But by its very nature that life is important and worthy of being recognized. To contribute to the world is in fact the ultimate engagement and is the goal for the individual, each of whom is in his or her own right an "artist". I liked the progressive upward images in this one from road to cloud.

From: Marin Sorescu Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1983, translated by Michael Hamburger (MH). Bloodaxe Books Ltd (December 31, 1983). ISBN-10: 0906427487

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