Romanians around the world celebrate the 173rd birthday of the country’s most beloved poet, Mihai Eminescu, on January 15. In 2010, the Chamber of Deputies of the Romanian Parliament declared that Eminescu’s birthday would coincide with the National Day of Culture, a beautiful homage to The Morning Star, as he was known after one of his most famous poems with the same name.
Born Mihail Eminovici on January 15th, 1850, in Botoșani, Romania, he was the seventh of eleven children. His mother, Raluca was much wealthier than his father, Gheorghe Eminovici. Young Mihai spent his childhood in Ipotești and later moved to Cernauți, the historical capital of Bucovina, which today is located in Ukraine following the annexation of northern Bucovina by the Soviet Union.
He wrote his first poem at the age of 16, and when it was published in the Familia magazine, Iosif Vulcan, the editor, decided on his own to change his last name from Eminovici to Eminescu. The poet, however, liked this change and decided to continue using this form of his name.
His writing was greatly influenced by the great poets of the world during his studies of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. He returned to Romania when he was 24 years old and started his career as a journalist, but because of struggles with mental health, he decided to abandon journalism in 1883. He was diagnosed with acute mania, and the next six years of his life were spent in and out of mental institutions. He was diagnosed with syphilis, dementia, and alcoholism. The most recent investigations into his death point to bipolar disorder and mercury poisoning. Shortly before he died in 1889, at only 39 years old, the poet was injected by doctors with mercury, an old-fashioned and barbaric practice of those times, which brought about his end in the sanatorium owned by Dr. Alexandru Șuțu.
All of his works, compiled in 42 tomes of manuscripts, were gifted by Titu Maiorescu to the Romanian Academy in 1902.
Aside from being a literary genius, Eminescu was known for his out-of-this-world male beauty. He had a wonderful voice that enchanted high society and stole the hearts of many women. Details about his love life and his bohemian way of living were often found in the pages of newspapers and magazines during that time.
According to Gheorghe Median, a Romanian historian, Mihai Eminescu was not crazy as he had been described so many times. He was a charismatic young man who didn’t allow many to see his true nature, only his close friends. He was a man with many qualities, defects, and vices, just like any other, neither a saint nor a villain. He was a man of high society and disturbed others through his writings, not through his behavior. According to the historian, Eminescu was not an alcoholic, as he was often portrayed. He didn’t care much for alcohol, drinking one or two beers a night, however, he loved smoking. He used to smoke all night and drink mostly coffee.
He liked beautiful women, and they liked him. Eminescu was a funny person, and he attracted women like a magnet with jokes, charms, and compliments. Some of them became the muses of his poems. It is said that he loved peasant girls, actresses, and singers. However, the love of his life was Veronica Micle.
Eminescu and Micle were both 22 years old when they met in Vienna, and they were both poets. Eminescu was there to study and she was receiving medical treatment. Veronica was already married to Professor Ștefan Micle, who was 29 years her senior, and they had two children together, despite her being so young. They spent much time together in Austria, but after she returned to Romania and he went to Berlin to continue his studies, they communicated through letters for two years. He gave up his doctoral studies in Berlin and returned to Romania to be close to her. Their written correspondence continued and they became more passionate as well. In the end, his romantic side won.
„It was the most beautiful day of my life. I held Veronica in my arms, hugged her, and kissed her. She gifted me blue flowers, which I will treasure for the rest of my life,” Eminescu wrote.
Shortly after that, she rejected him, and he poured all his suffering and unreturned love into his poems. Before he had a chance to move on with his life, she took him back, and his happiness can be seen in all the love poems he wrote after the summer of 1876. They had a secret affair for a year in Iași, but then he decided to move to Bucharest. She didn’t want to let him go, but she couldn’t divorce her husband either. Veronica wished to become the beneficiary of her husband’s pension after his death. She believed she was entitled to it after wasting her youth with him.
Professor Ștefan Micle finally died in 1879, and the two poets then made their relationship public. However, Veronica didn’t become the beneficiary of his money as she had hoped, and the couple started having financial problems, Eminescu being unable to support his new fiancee and her two daughters. He became the target of her emotional blackmail, and their relationship became rocky and toxic. His friends didn’t approve of their romance and told him repeatedly that she flirted with other men when he was not in Iași with her. Many breakups and reconciliations followed in the ensuing years.
When his illness took over his life in 1887, Mihai Eminescu returned to Botoșani to be cared for by his sister. During this time, he reconciled with Veronica, and she convinced him to go to Bucharest to obtain medical care. And so he did, in 1888, but a year later, he died. Following his passing, Veronica became severely depressed and hid away in a monastery, where she was found poisoned by arsenic only 50 days later.
Eminescu’s life was short but filled with love, intrigue, and creativity. His style of poetry with heavy classical romantic influences, blends with history, philosophy, history, and metaphysics. It’s so rich that now it’s considered to be a unique Eminescian-style. He became known as Romania’s greatest poet and his writings have impacted his country and the world. The great English playwright George Bernard Shaw once referred to him as “the Moldavian who raised the XVIII-XIX fin de siècle from its grave.”
International readers can enjoy a great selection of his writings in beautiful English translations, compiled in a new volume, Poems and Prose of Mihai Eminescu, published by the Center for Romanian Studies.