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Dying away the death of a thorny rose.

Known in the history of Romanian literature as a poet of flowers and of olfactory ecstasy, of a refined "dead nature" and of a romantic fairytale-like fantasy, Dimitrie Anghel left a first ranking literary legacy, consisting mainly in an exuberant poetry of symbolistic extraction--Baudelaire's, Mallarme's and Verlaine's school--, but moving in the direction of Alexandru Macedonski, and some exceptional prose (of which now only fragments survive; see for instance "Noah's Ark," "Phantoms," "The enchanted mirror") that revolutionized the art of writing in the Romanian letters, first by promoting in prose a lyrical or poem-like style with symphonic twists (whereby the monologue and long, tortuous, musically-rhythmical sentences are paramount), and, secondly, by abandoning the simple comparative register in favour of a fantastic built by absurd laws that are meant to follow the sovereign aesthetic will of the eye (Calinescu 2001: 261262). Such a universe, where associations are plastic through and through, reminds one perhaps of H.G. Wells's fantastic universe, where reality is more like a magic shop, in which the governing laws observe the elastic logic of human imagination and sheer will rather than the harsh natural necessity. Sheer will can sadly be said, however, to have been in the end fatal for the Romanian poet: desperately falling in love with a woman (Natalia Negru) who, from his perspective, was no less than "absolute," her abandoning him eventually bereft him of his desire to live anymore, when it became quite clear that she was to never be his beloved ever again.

Following my track through hills of flowers

Dimitrie Anghel's paternal grandparents, presumably Macedo-Romanians, left their country of origin and made their home in the city of Iasi, Constantin Anghel being on record in 1832 as a "brandy merchant" (marchand de liqueur) and in 1852 as the owner of several small stores; he had come into money by buying land and renting it for a profit. In 1860 he bought a stately dome in Corne[ti (Miroslava). The poet's grandmother, Ecaterina came from an old Greek family, reputed for their stubborn fight against the Turks--in summer time she never failed to join her husband to the German spa of Marienbad. A gentle, though exotic appearance for her grandson, she died in 1880 and was buried in the family vault at Costesti, beside her husband who had passed away in 1872.

The poet's father, born in 1833, inherited the pub and the estates of Belcesti, Vladeni, Vorniceni and Cornesti, and proved to be a very enterprising businessman, buying more and more land, importing steam ploughs in 1874, then bringing in about sixty families of Italians to work the land and especially to grow rice--he was the first one to do it in Romania. He was also a politically-committed man, a member of the Liberal Party and of various councils and committees. But the agricultural crisis at the end of the 19th century put an end to his initiatives and in 1887 his demise was already in sight--he was obliged, for a start, to sell a house or two, then some land. In 1888 he went bankrupt and in April that same year he went mad. He was taken to Socola madhouse and in July he died following a paralysis.

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The poet's mother, Erifilia (nee Leatris) was born in 1845 at Constantinople and came to Romania with her brothers in 1864--her own mother had died a few months before, and her father had died when she was a three-year-old. She then lived at Cornesti, in the family mansion, in a fairy-tale decor, surrounded by flowers. She did not have a healthy constitution, and she died in 1879, her funeral bas-relief showing her rather pale and thin, maybe she had tuberculosis.

Constantin (1867-1935), the poet's elder brother read law in Paris and then got into politics; Paul (1869-1937) studied medicine in Bucharest and Paris and became a professor of surgery at the Faculty of Medicine in Iasi, in 1901.

Dimitrie Anghel spent his childhood at Cornesti, amidst hilly vineyards and fruit trees, garden fountains, kiosks and greenhouses with lemon trees, with peacocks, bowling alleys and most of all with flowers of every conceivable kind, and scents going all the way from soft to heavy, from sweet to musky. The mansion itself had once been a monastery, with mysterious rounded vaults here and there.

"A homo duplex, equally sensual and sentimental" (Cioculescu 1983: 40), an overtly sensitive person, prone to loneliness and daydreaming and, concurrently so, to spontaneity, aggressiveness and biting irony, "the poet's dual nature was grounded in the antagonistic biological structures of his parents: on the one hand, his father's practical-mindedness and passionate nature, predisposed to phantasms and concealing some serious psychic weakness." This genetic heritage was "further complicated and aggravated by his frail health: the malaria brought from the swamps of Cornesti, the presumable tuberculosis caught from his mother, as well as the other diseases of his premature erotic adolescence. The excessive care bestowed upon him as the youngest of his family and bearer of his father's name deepened and enhanced such features" (Dragomirescu 1988: 62-63). In other words, "the poet's inner structure retained something of the nature of a woman [his mother] living in the exuberant landscape of Bosphor, near the mysterious whirl of the sea and the fabulous horizon of the Orient." (Virgolici 1965: 7)

The secrets of the dying flower are not safe with me

Back again now, the poet did not take too much time going to school. He attended classes at Alexandru cel Bun Secondary School without graduating. He visited Italy in 1892, and then spent some time in Paris, leading the life of a convinced bohemian, habitually going to various public places such as parks, saloons and the cafes of the French symbolist poets, but also being creative (he wrote poetry and he made translations, among which were some from Goethe, Heine and Lenau). Having returned home in 1902, he worked for a while as one of the editors of the review Semanatorul; then, in 1909, with St.O. Iosif Mihail Sadoveanu and I. Chendi, he edited the review Cumpana, being also a contributor for other literary magazines. He acted for a year as vice-president of the Society of Romanian Writers (when this institution was first founded). With St.O. Iosif he published a volume of Translations from Paul Verlaine (1903); the dramatic poems The legend of gossamers (1907) and Carmen saeculare (1909); and the volumes of prose Lucullus's cherry tree and Portraits (1910). The two also published jointly, in two volumes, A. Mirea's Kaleidoscope (1908; 1910).

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Anghel became engaged with Natalia Negru (the former wife of St.O. Iosif, with whom Anghel had collaborated in the literary projects mentioned above) in the summer of 1911, and their marriage took place on 23 November that year, but the couple ran into difficulties from the very beginning. Natalia Negru confessed at a later time:

Our discussions were sheer polemics, on the most various topics... I needed every minute an unsleeping attention and a tense power to be able to control him like a wild horse that was furiously impetuous. I never succeeded in any other way but by harassing his weakness for me, by running chills through him, when I presented to him, in the distance, the danger that he was going to lose me. (Negru 1921: 180)

Further on, in a context in which Natalia Negru was socially and financially better off (she had obtained a tenure as a teacher and received an inheritance from her parents), she gathered courage to tell Anghel that she intended to leave him for good (this intention soon turned the marriage upside down, and into a veritable hell on earth):

I have recovered now. I want to leave you. I cannot stand you. (apud Dianu 1929b: 1, 3)

After this confession to Anghel, Natalia Negru later explained, terror broke loose in their conjugal life: "I was defied, bullied, despised. Anghel had an impetuous nature" (Dianu 1929b: 1, 3). She in fact kept on threatening him with the divorce, and the prospect simply enraged Anghel, who came to experience what Natalia Negru herself described as an "erotic exasperation" in the "delicate poet of flowers" (Dianu 1929a: 3): by no means could he give up the love of his life, actually a a murderous, suicidal affair, so "murderous," in fact, that their entire matrimony became a battlefield of sorts, alternating with rampant orgies playing out as reconciliation episodes (cf. Puscariu1905: 214: "Cruel words and thrashings alternating with orgies, causing the poor Mitif to visibly perish."). If anything of the sort was in the first place possible, that is because the two had very similar casts of mind and soul, both prone to violence and both delighting in egocentrism, both tending to accuse the other of being the real tyrant and the overjealous partner. However, Anghel is known for having jumped in defense of his wife whenever he felt it was necessary, such as when she was publicly attacked by various people (see for instance Tudor Arghezi's polemics against her).

In 1929 Natalia Negru confessed that there were "tragic details, that cannot be written down, about her life with Dimitrie Anghel"--unspeakable episodes ending in slappings and heavy words, all explained by her as "the whims of a poet who was kindled by an ethereal adoration for Miss M.G. [Maria Giuglea], the artist of the National Theatre, back then in the prime of her beauty" (Dianu 1929a: 3). Even if she may have felt betrayed by Anghel with the lady above mentioned, Natalia Negru, an ambitious, yet flippant lady, herself seems to have betrayed Anghel as well, but, ironically, with no other than her former husband, St.O. Iosif, whom she apparently approached sexually possibly out of a drive to liberate herself from the sickly relationship with Anghel: she could now compare the kindheartedness of St.O. Iosif (who reportedly accepted her now out of pity--the latter realizing probably that his former wife was bullied in her matrimony) with the impetuousness and savageness of Anghel. She commented at one time:

[Anghel] was jealous to a degree verging on the absurd. Several days on end he kept me locked up at home, all alone, like in a tower, painfully separated from my little girl... with the windowpanes covered, with lights turned on. I could feel his footsteps, for he came home from time to time and would listen in order to learn what I was doing, I would hear the door shutting after him, his footsteps dying away in the courtyard, I no longer knew whether it was nighttime or daytime, and a terrible desperation would get hold of me. Then I realized my dreadful destiny. (Dianu 1929a: 3)

That St.O. Iosif died in 1913 may have made things even worse for Anghel and Natalia Negru, since Anghel felt remorse for the entire affair of stealing another man's woman, to the point of being haunted in his dreams by Iosif's image: he in fact confessed to Emil Girleanu that he was experiencing "a terrible and worrying neurasthenia," in the context of having dreamt about Iosif on the very day of the latter's death. (cf. Dimiu 1979: 62-64)

The impossibility of his relationship with Natalia Negru might have transpired several times to Anghel's more sober consciousness, in those moments when he was quite close to deciding, or even thought to have actually firmly decided, to ask Natalia Negru for a divorce (in the course of such a quarrel, Anghel is reported to have thrown Natalia's hat into the fire). Each time, however, he proved to be too weak to be able to actually do just that. He confessed at one time the torture his life with Natalia Negru had become and the imminence of a divorce from her, and he was actually encouraged to do so (Lovinescu 1930: 203). This notwithstanding, the two continued the charade, at one point, however, Natalia making the first necessary formal steps towards a divorce, eventually being dissuaded by Anghel's supplications (Negru 1921: 209-210). In the meanwhile, Anghel had decayed from a literary point of view, his publications from 1912 and 1913, the years of his peaking matrimonial ordeal speaking volumes in this direction (he now used a pseudonym, Ola Canta). The poem "The Wall Clock" (published on 5 May 1912) reveals a desolate, murky world, haunted as if by hidden demons of the grave vaguely hovering over the time mechanism that is aged, but still rhythmically and irresistibly grumbling to mark off the passage of time. The artist now takes an artistic glimpse into the vanity of life, his desolate poetic expression anticipating his future suicide, that was to be an act of sheer will, brought about by his desperate realization that his was a no-way-out situation: the only way out was suicide, or so he decided.

Anghel had moments of desperation. Then he could not either eat or sleep any more. He had gotten used to taking bromoval before going to bed. One morning I found him pale in his white bed. I ran to a pharmacy nearby. (Feraru 1922: 1)

Anghel's psychic deterioration can also be traced back in the fact that he, normally an exuberantly creative spirit, in the year preceding the suicide ceased altogether from writing any more (he died on 13 November 1914 in Iasi), hence the idea in Romanian literary criticism that Anghel experienced first a literary death with his lyre that ceased singing, he died as a poet and this utter torture for a creator did nothing else but give him yet another impulse towards taking the final impossible decision to end it all.

The final act in this drama took place in October 1914: on the 26th, the couple left Bucharest by train heading for Buciumeni (a month before this, they had gotten separated; now they were together again, and a whole week had passed without strictures); but now they had an argument during the whole trip and all night after their arrival there, because Anghel had wanted to see an old lady friend of his--Natalia now reiterated her intention to divorce him and go to her parents's house in the same country town of Buciumeni; on the 27th, in the morning when Natalia Negru approached the door he shot her with a gun he had near his bed, and lightly wounded her thigh. He stood up, bandaged her small wound and then, lying in bed, shut himself, hitting the lower part of his lungs. The wound was serious, but it was not fatal. His condition was complicated by the fact that he suffered from a cardiac asthma, accusing violent pains in his heart. The poet is reported to have stated that, if he was to recover from his wound, he would commit suicide again.

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A final element intervened that proved to be fatal in this drama: Natalia's parents made every effort to separate their daughter from Anghel, so much so that all his letters addressed to her, in which he desperately asked Natalia to forgive him, never reached their destination. Her silence, her absence, her failing to answer his letters, the refusal of her parents to allow him to see her even in the condition that he was in (in his permanent bed), all of these led to Anghel's consolidation of his desire to die. In this sense, Natalia Negru stated her belief that the poet might have gotten well, if he had been brought near to her--then they would have surely found a way to reconcile and that would have strengthened his will to recover, and he would have gotten well again. However, since that never happened, Dimitrie Anghel died on 13 November 1914, in Paul Anghel's house located on Lascar Catargi Street, in Iasi--a broken man.

References

Calinescu G (2001) Istoria literaturii romane.. Compendiu. Bucuresti-Chisinau: Litera International.

Cioculescu S (1983) Introducere in opera lui Dimitrie Anghel. Bucuresti: Minerva.

Dianu R (1929a) Helianta. Rampa 14(3309), 3 February.

Dianu R (1929b) Cu d-na Natalia Negru despre Iosif, Anghel si despre altii Rampa 14(3322), 18 February.

Dimiu C (1979) Emil Girleanu. Insemnari de agenda Manuscriptum 10(35): 62-64.

Dragomirescu MI (1988) D. Anghel. Bucuresti: Minerva.

Feraru L (1922) Un manuscris al poetului Dimitrie Anghel Adevarul literar si artistic 3(109), 24 December.

Lovinescu E (1930) Memorii. Bucure$ti: Cugetarea. Negru N (1921) Helianta. Doua viefi stinse. Bucuresti: Viata Romaneasca.

Pacurariu D (1979) Dicfionar de literarura romana: Scriitori, reviste, curente. Bucuresti: Univers.

Puscariu S (1905) D. Anghel. In gradina Luceafarul 4(10), 15 May.

Virgolici T (1965) Dimitrie Anghel. Bucuresti: Editura Tineretului.

Carmen Zamfir

Grigore T. Popa University

Correspondence concerning this article may be addressed to zamfircia@yahoo.com
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Author:Zamfir, Carmen
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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