EUGEN JEBELEANU (1911-1991), one of Romania's most important and challenging 20th century poets, is virtually unknown in the West. He published more than 12 collections of poems, received numerous prestigious European literary awards (including the Italian Taormina Prize, and the Austrian Herder Prize), and in the 1970s was nominated by the Romanian Academy for the Nobel Prize.

These translations from his final collection, Secret Weapon (published in Romania in 1980), are the first widespread appearance of his work outside of Romania. Secret Weapon will be published by Verse Press in April 2001.


Those gone surround us.

Such bracelets
of shining stones
surrounding a great treasure!

But what if the treasure isn't us,
but ones who live without any desire?

People, chickens and foxes, worms, and mysteries,
gold and iron, concrete and lead and silver,
and so many other metals, iron and chains and many
many cosmic riches . . .

Silent today, all immobile.

Do you want a palace?
If you want them, you can have them all.

But beautiful skull,
I can feel you smiling . . .


At night, lying in bed
on the narrow sheet, the sheet
riddled with senile wrinkles,
when my bones, my independent bones, are hurting me,
when I listen to the breathtaking songs of clang clang,
when I dream what cannot be,
when I memorize vaguely what was,
when I can no longer build
a coop for some problematic stars,
when what the Big Ones are preparing for us
over the ocean or in other places
no longer interests me,
when I can neither sleep
nor stay awake,
close to me
with large disgusting steps
with a body like a bored harpie
comes Lele,
great Lele,
Lele of Boredom,
Lele who without malice gives me
a slap on my ashen lips,
smothers my head in the rotten cabbage of the pillow,
and whistles bored through teeth that reach up to her ears,
"You have died enough. Now go on ..."

And I wake up tomorrow
in the lulling arms
of life . . .


Don't pay too much attention
when you follow me
The more attention you pay
the less you'll see of me

I am not where you think I am

I'm between spaces
I sing between sounds
I hide between bars
and not behind them

Stalked by a tiger
I'm safe not in a cage
but in the spaces between

Sometimes the moon
sneaks through

very pale



I appeared in this world without volition.
I will remain as much as I can,
or am permitted, since I need so many visas,
for air and for freedom.

But in the end
I will become something that cannot be seen.
Something singing in water and smiling in stones.

for Joska M.

Oh, I see her hanging.
But she didn't hang herself.
That would have been better,
for she would have remained
just as beautiful as she was:
noble apple
under a tree
cheeks so clean
so transparent
round flame of life.

Wherever she lowered her eyes
grass grew,
potatoes communicated amongst themselves
with complicit, happy looks,
wheat raised its eyebrows
even during a drought.

But she didn't hang herself.
Not from a tree branch,
nor from the question mark
of a hook.
She didn't hang herself.
She flew, she threw herself
from the pupil of a balcony
towards the earth she made fertile.

She didn't want to remain in the air,
nor on the earth that she loved.
She wanted not to be
anything any longer.
Neither apple, nor round flame,
nor nothing.
And she was guilty of nothing.


I wouldn't say a word.
I would laugh a laugh
that would stun you.
You would become a marble fountain.

And from the tears
dripping onto those lips
so round
I would drink you.


Constanza, city I know.
Constanza of contraband stars and forgotten musk,
Constanza kissed by salty wind.
Where I walk, where I once walked.
Where there are crosses,
slabs of moon,
and a defunct finger of a mosque.

An ah for you happy young sleepwalkers,
an oh and an ouch to the one who only remembers,
and another ouch for me

Eternal Sea, lioness of waves,
pass a tolerant hand
over my dried old eyes.
You are parting forever from me.
You are coming back always
for those not yet found.


you are more beautiful
than in life.

Death found you
a perfect rhyme.

If you could see yourself
you would not want
to have lived.


I learned from the water
how not to flow
I learned from the plow
how not to plow
and from life I learned
how to disappear


From where you don't expect it,
jumps the rabbit, hop!
A sea rabbit,
then a salt one, then one of pepper.

The sea gave me about forty thousand
white foam rabbits
filling the horizon with water lilies
and starring my sky.

One of them curled up into my arms.
From time to time
he smiles ironically.
Sometimes he comes out.
He is a gentle rabbit
of fiery snow

and he never wears epaulets.


Why you would find this useful, nobody knows.
Meaning it isn't useful at all.
The poetry of poverty
is getting stronger everywhere.
The only strong ones
are those who can mount.
The horses get weaker and weaker,
and the horsemen more and more bestial.
And the ribs of the horses
are solar jewels
in the prison of dead visions.
And we deserve all these things
because we have earned them.
Now you are bronze,
and you don't care about anything.
Or, maybe, I don't know ...
Because, last night
it seemed to me that
cautiously rotating
your infinite
you pulled one carnation
from the wreath caressing your back
and swallowed it

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER has recently published poems in Harvard Review, Fence and the Verse Younger American Poets issue. He has work upcoming in Volt. Poems from Eugen Jebeleanu's Secret Weapon have appeared in Verse, Salt Hill, Fence, International Poetry Review and Exquisite Corpse.

RADU IOANID, who did the literal translations, is a historian who lives in Washington D.C. He is the author of books about Romanian fascism and the Holocaust in Romania, and wrote the introduction to the recently-published Diaries of Mihail Sebastian.