By Daniel Deleanu
In her hitherto most sombre of books, Variațiuni pe o temă dată (Variations on a Given Theme, Bucharest: Humanitas Publishing House, 2021), Ana Blandiana displays a great creative intensity, an existential consummation maintained without interlude athwart the entire volume. Inked down on paper as a therapeutic incursion into her selfhood rather than the typical poetic exploration of the extraneous realms of her persona, this collection of verse was assembled originally in 2018, shortly after the passing of her much-beloved husband of more than fifty years, the writer Romulus Rusan. Thereby, the Romanian poetess treats the affects here in a disconcerted way, that is, as if they no longer belonged to herself, but to an alienated entity walking along the borderline between the real and the unreal, evincing in this manner the flimsy line separating being and nonbeing.
The distance between the ontological and the meontological qualia that characterize these poems is gargantuan, and so is their chthonic dimension. For virtually all of them tackle the same supra-theme, namely that of loss and bereavement, and the poetess’ subsequent search for her beloved one in the shadowy netherworlds of, say, Orpheus or Osiris. But unlike Eurydice or Isis, Blandiana alchemically transmutes longing into verse, and her Philosopher’s Stone is the flame of love that still burns in her heart, for feelings are kindled perpetually by her uncontainable relationship to memory, or, better said, her memories of the person who is the object of her poetically sublimated ache. Longing’s relationship to memory therefore plays a major role in these poems, since they are all lyrical reminiscences – i.e. existential traces – of a place, or situation, or state of affairs that have a common denominator: the gap left by the a beloved figure who is no longer – physically, at least – there. Yet, Blandiana’s longing is not restorative, but creative, for the authoress presents us with some of the most beautiful poems she has penned so far.
Sometimes, these poems display a jarring corporeality. Their unpretentious appearance is emulated by their severity, both thematic and structural. Their clipped bluntness leave the impression of an epigraph which embraces a self-chastising unresponsiveness: “As all unwritten thoughts/leave in the memory/but a vague trace/in the shape of a footstep/in the sand that has just sheltered it,/so our passing thru the letters/can only be imprinted/in the substance/of those that will soon be no more” (As All Unwritten Thoughts). In an atypical instance of self-perception, the poems are characterized by a heartache triggered by grief. In a gesture of self-recognition, the poetess seems to be watching herself bleed, her sorrow existing only in her own awareness. She detachedly acknowledges her anguish with only an eye for its extraneous perception. The recollection of the man whom she still loves unfolds in a succession of anamnestic pictures. These reminiscences merge into a katabatic space whose depiction is vibrant and sensory: “I remember that you asked me once/Whether we had guardian angels,/Because, once we were always together,/It would have been such a waste./One would have sufficed./It had never occurred to me/That we could one day be separated/So that the angel would have to make a choice/Or perhaps one of us would be forced to give up./Tell me honestly,/Don’t you feel sorry that you left him/To me alone?” (I Remember that You Asked Me Once).
At other times, the Platonic anamnesis that typifies the frankness of these poems is intimately attuned to the nuanced antiphons of others to her sorrow. Any response that bears in it even a slight trace of light is quickly dimmed by the poetess’ awareness of her loss. This causes the flashbacks to meet up with the present, and when that occurs, Blandiana’s writing grows dissociated, especially when the voice of the one she has lost becomes increasingly distanced: “You can only die in the present/You don’t die in the past,/You don’t die in the future,/You get out of time accidentally/As if through a wall which turned transparent/And which you didn’t even notice/And then you no longer know/How to return./Or perhaps you don’t even care” (You Can Only Die in the Present). Yet, despite her grief, the poetess never exhibits a nihilistic sensibility: “It all starts for real with death./Only that we don’t know what it is./And we prefer to confuse a secret for nothingness./Only when someone dear,/Perhaps a part of you,/Steps over the borderline,/Everything brightens/For the duration of a lightning bolt/And thus you can see how long the way is,/The way which starts right there./It’s so long that/You can’t see where it takes you,/But it doesn’t matter after all,/Except that it starts all over again” (It All Starts for Real with Death).
The poems in Variațiuni pe o temă dată (Variations on a Given Theme) often embody an aura of self-protective obliteration. As she recounts her life next to the man she has been in love with, Blandiana speaks with the acquiescence of an observer who appears to have been removed from her own mundanity, and the oneiric space becomes a fantastical meeting place and fanciful nuptial: “What if we decided to dream/Each other at the same time/as if we were having a rendezvous in a dream?/How come I’ve never thought before/of this compromising solution?//We don’t even have to set/a date and place of meeting,/it can be anytime, anywhere, anyhow,/we’ll be the bride and groom, for sure” (What If We Decided to Dream Each Other?). The connubial relationship thereby lingers on in the whimsical space of the poem, which reveals the vulnerability of both protagonists in front of death: “Is it easy to be dead?/Is it harder to be alive?/Time, how can I stand,/When in oblivion you dive?” (Is It Easy to Be Dead?). The connubiality mentioned above seems to be genuine and (com)passionate, even if it transcends the boundaries of material existence.
Beyond the bare-bone facts that belong to the domain of the biographical, the Thanatic theme is minutely explored by Ana Blandiana. The result is a peculiar degree of assonance that reverberates between the vaguely withdrawn impersonation of the poetic ego and the defencelessness that is subtly suggested by the authoress, but rarely truly shown, especially when the Thanatic coordinate is present, as one can infer from a poem such as “I’m Afraid of the Darkness,” which is emblematic for the ars poetica of the whole volume: “I’m afraid of the darkness/Within the heart of the flame/Because I don’t know if it’s this darkness/That which begets the light/Or the light begets the dark:/What an incestuous relationship/There is between goodness and evil,/It cuts carnivorous flowers of dimness/Out of brilliance./I’m scared.” Such poems evince an honest vision, as well as a grave emotional distress. The scarce moments of “normalcy” originate in the fated demand for reminiscences that do not entirely deny the peril of vulnerability. The feelings detracted from the sensitive gaps surrounding the bereavement are paralleled by the ways in which the above-mentioned emotional distress seems, in the poetic reality thus created, to exist in a void. Nevertheless, the poetess does not lack the ability to feel pain, only that this pain is sublimated into high art. And when this occurs, her pain is not just her own, but also the reader’s. The poetess’ corporeality becomes in this way oxymoronically acousmatic, that is, disembodied, but with a voice of its own: “Why doesn’t she let me sleep?/What connection can there be between her countenance/Rolling expressionlessly in the sky/Like a coin on the sidewalk/and my stubbornness, as that of a miner/Descended amongst the gods/Who have vanished into the other realm?//What’s the secret of her alien might/Which forces me to linger wide-awake on the shore/whilst the river of sleep/Flows merrily unto you?” (Why Doesn’t She Let Me Sleep?).
In Variațiuni pe o temă dată (Variations on a Given Theme), Ana Blandiana is not a poetess disengaged from existence, experiencing her life as if she were a bystander, as some critics have suggested. In this remarkable collection of poems, the poetess is a protagonist whose distance renders her not neutral, but entirely believable. To put it in a nutshell, in these beautiful poems Ana Blandiana displays a persona who is neither healed, nor overwhelmed by her fate and purpose. After all, her suffering is our suffering, and by that I imply an ineluctable human condition.
About the author:
Daniel Deleanu is a Romanian-Canadian writer and academic who sways between Toronto and his native town of Sibiu.
He has published articles, reviews and critical studies in cultural journals and academic journals from Romania and abroad (USA, Canada and Great Britain).
He has also published more than 1,300 academic books (critical studies of universal and comparative literature, studies of philosophy of literature, theory of literature, etc.) in English language, most of them in Canada.