Monday, September 26, 2011

Learning to count

The childhood of Romanian poet Nichita Stanescu (1933-1983) took place during World War II and his teen years during his country's adjustment to a new Communist system; his dark images are drawn from a culture largely unknown to the outside world.  Often, however, he utilized mathematical imagery or terminology; here is his "Learning to count." 

     Learning to count     by Nichita Stanescu                     
     Hairy and sweaty sit                              
     the barbarian Hittites.         
     Learning to count they pull from corpses  
     fingers, legs, arms, eyes.                                      
     Oh, divided ones,      
     how bloody                
     is the idea of having ideas!                                  
     Hairy and sweaty sit                               
     the grand Hittites, grandly —
     from corpses they pull a finger, a leg:    
     eight, says one,                      
     four, says another.                                                
     They are learning to count.  

Each war has its stories of the dead, both counted and uncounted. "Learning to Count" captures, with simplicity, some of war's horror.
The translation from the Romanian was prepared by Gabriel Prajitura and JoAnne Growney.  The original poem in Romanian is available here.

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