Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ion Barbu and the Poetry of Riemannian Geometry

Ion Barbu - pen name for Dan Barbilian - (1895 –1961) was one of Romania's intriguing personalities: a superbly gifted mathematician and a poet. 

His contribution to the theory of mathematics, while significant, is probably less known than his poetry.

Ion Barbu's poems, wrapped up in a tight metaphoric cloud continue to escape any attempt of extracting meaning from his verses - his is a poetry often called  'modernist' and 'hermetic'.

In some of Ion Barbu's  poems, such as the one rendered below, mathematical terms appear: "groups", "sum", "inferred", "inverted". The concepts created with these words however, lead us not to equations, but to metaphors.

Some poets wrote of Elysian fields; Ion Barbu's poetry talks of spaces described by the Riemannian geometry.

Here is my translation of one of Ion Barbu's poems: 

[Out of an hour glass, inferred…]

                                            by Ion Barbu

Out of an hour glass, inferred, the depth of this calm highpoint
Seeped through a mirror inside redeemed azure
Cuts out from groups of water, through drowned celestial herds, 
A secondary game, more pure yet.

Latent nadir! The poet raises the sum of
Scattered harps, lost in inverted flights,
And songs subside: secretive, as only seas can be,
Floating off jelly fish beneath green bells.

and the original:

[Din ceas, dedus...]
                                                  de Ion Barbu

Din ceas, dedus adâncul acestei calme creste,
Intrată prin oglindă în mântuit azur,
Tăind pe înecarea cirezilor agreste,
În grupurile apei, un joc secund, mai pur.

Nadir latent! Poetul ridică însumarea
De harfe resfirate ce-n zbor invers le pierzi
Şi cântec istoveşte: ascuns, cum numai marea
Meduzele când plimbă sub clopotele verzi.

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