From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 11.1 (1991): 125-33.
Copyright © 1991, The Cervantes Society of America

Eminescu and the Romantic Interpretation of Don Quijote*


The first translation of Don Quijote de la Mancha in Romanian appeared in 1840 from the French version of Jean Pierre Florian. Ten years later, in a small village in the valleys of northern Romania, one of the last Romantics of the world was born: Mihai Eminescu. In one of his lesser known poems, he recreated the story and character of the last knight-errant in the light of the symbolism and atmosphere of late Romanticism. The poem appeared in 1877. Its first title Viziunea lui Don Quijote (The Vision of Don Quixote) was later changed to Diamantul Nordului (The Diamond of the North). The poem was neglected by critics in Romania as well as everywhere else, and it has never yet been considered and analyzed as a Romantic interpretation and adaptation of the story and character of the Spanish hero. The purpose of this study is to undertake such an analysis.
     Eminescu merged his knowledge of the greatest philosophies and literatures of the world and the colorful wisdom and beauty of the folklore of his country. His readings ranged from the Rig Veda, Horace and Homer to Dante and Shakespeare, from Confucius to Schopenhauer, Goethe, Schiller and Novalis. His first

     * The printed version of this article has 21 occurrences of special Romanian characters: a short a, an s with a cedilla, and a t with a cedilla. The regular file uses tiny gif graphic files for these characters; this file is an alternate one, in which those three characters have been replaced with the regular letters a, s, and t to eliminate the gif files.



encounter with the hero of La Mancha must have been through the Romanian translation; but since he pursued a good portion of his studies in Austrian and German universities, and spent much of his youth reading German philosophy and literature, it is also probable that he read a German translation of Don Quijote. He was likely influenced as well by the Romantic view of the hero through the writings of Tieck, Jean Paul Richter and the Schlegel brothers.
     In his book Cervantès et le romantisme allemand, J.-J.A. Bertrand noted that Richter saw in Don Quijote “le tableau de la lutte entre le réalisme et l'idéalisme,”1 A. W. Schlegel saw in the book “la peinture de l'antagonisme entre la réalité prosaïque et le rêve de l'imagination,”2 while Tieck considered it “une union du sublime et spirituel avec le monde bas et misérable.3 Throughout Eminescu's life, his work oscillated between the highest spheres of idealism and the most bitter disillusionment.
     Beyond the typical German Romantic view of Don Quijote as the embodiment of the desire of the absolute, and of the duality between ideal and reality, Eminescu also saw in Don Quijote a symbol of his own personal drama and that of his nation. A crossroad in the middle of the Balkans, a prey to invaders from all sides, a country whose language was little used outside its borders, Romania was home to intellectuals who had to struggle to make their voices heard. As a late Romantic, Eminescu tried to soar, through his poetry, in the purest realms of the spirit, pleading with the world to return to Romantic ideals and to listen to the voice of his nation. But, like Cervantes, he also contemplated the harshness and prosaic nature of reality and of his time and smiled ironically at his own idealism.
     The poem he wrote about Don Quijote has sixty 4-line strophes, and it traces the imaginary travels and adventures of a knight in search of a magic stone hidden at the bottom of the Northern Sea. Once in possession of the stone he would, supposedly, lift the spell that had been cast on his mistress and thus gain her love. After battles with giants and monsters, after wandering through deserts and mountains and facing the unleashed forces of a hostile nature, he finally retrieves the magic stone from the bottom of the sea and brings it to his beautiful Iñez.

     1 J.-J. A. Cervantès et le romantisme allemand, (Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan, 1914), p. 337.
     2 Ibid., p. 407.
     3 Ibid., p. 546.

11.1 (1991) Note 127

She tells him she loved him anyway and had only wanted to test his love. At that very moment he opens his eyes only to realize it had all been a dream and his cruel beloved, whom he had serenaded earlier, had not even opened her window.
     The adaptations of the Cervantine themes to Romantic motifs and symbols are clear. Don Quijote's travels in search of ad venture, of occasions that would call on his courage and faith and would allow him to prove his endless love for Dulcinea del Toboso, are transformed by Eminescu into a search for a magic stone. Also called “piatra luminei “4 (the stone of light), the diamond at the bottom of the sea suggests the Romantic search for the absolute, the quest for the ideal love, or to use Bertrand's words referring to the symbolism of the love for Dulcinea, the journey towards the priceless diamond also suggests “la poursuite métaphysique de la connaissance.”5
     In the serenade that Altisidora sings to Don Quijote (II.44)6, there is an allusion to “La Sola,” the peerless jewel of the crown that had been fished up in the Southern Sea and then lost forever when the palace in Madrid burned. Altisidora mentions the priceless stone when trying to woo Don Quijote; she tells him in her serenade that her love for him is so powerful that she would bring him the most precious gifts and stones in the world, were he to share her love. In Eminescu's poem, Iñez tells the knight who has serenaded her that she is under a spell that prevents her from giving him her love, until he brings her the priceless stone. The Romanian poet seems to have reversed the Cervantine motifs or rather, to have created their counterpart: in the poem, it is the knight who serenades his beloved, and the priceless jewel is found at the bottom of the Northern Sea.
     If the first German Romantics were enchanted mostly by “la côte méditerranéenne,” by the Spain “si curieusement orientale,”8 and “romanesque,”9 depicted by Cervantes, the Romantics such as Novalis or Hölderlin shifted their interest

     4 Mihai Eminescu, Poezii, (Bucuresti: Editura Pentru Literatura, 1969), p. 417.
     5 Bertrand, op. cit., p. 208.
     6 I quote from the edition of Don Quijote de la Mancha, published by Ediciones Zeus, Barcelona in 1968.
     7 Bertrand, op. cit., p.204.
     8 Ibid., p. 204.
     9 Ibid., p. 204.


towards “la poésie de rêve, à la fantaisie exaspérée et insatiable.”10 As a late Romantic and the only outstanding Romantic of his land, Eminescu covered both periods in his lifetime: the poetry of Novalis had a certain impact on his writing, especially with respect to the boreal atmosphere and motifs. And, since his own country had aspects of the meridional, oriental and “romanesque” atmosphere of Spain, he turned toward the icy, crystalline and remote beauty of the North as a symbol of the purest and unreachable realms of the spirit.
     In Eminescu's poem, Don Quijote becomes the alter ego of the poet who is always torn by insatiable longings, and by unquenchable desires for perfection; the serenade of the knight is both a way of alluring the indifferent maid and of transcending his longings through poetry. In both Cervantes' novel and Eminescu's poem, most of the action takes place at the imaginary level: Altisidora is not really in love with Don Quijote but is playing a trick on him, the radiantly beautiful Dulcinea to whom he dedicates most of his travels and adventures is only a creation of his mind, while the peasant woman he takes for Dulcinea is truly a peasant woman laughing at his foolishness. In Eminescu's poem the beautiful woman is not really under a spell, and she sends him in search of the priceless stone only to test the power of his love. Most ironic of all, when he thinks he has Iñez's love forever, he realizes it has all been a dream and that she has never even responded to his serenade.
     Don Quijote becomes the symbol of the Romantic hero who, always disillusioned in reality, finds the fulfillment of his desires only in dreams. Yet the irony and humor are revealed at the end of the poem when the knight, embarrassed by the foolishness of his own dreams, hides in the bushes for fear someone would see him while Iñez's indifferent laughter drifts from the balcony. He gives Quijote the Romantic aura of the singular virtuous hero always in search of the purest essence of love and existence. Then he brings his hero back to earth and awakens him to the tangible, often cruel colors and sounds of reality.
     Eminescu's attitude towards his hero is thus parallel to that of Cervantes towards Don Quijote. If Cervantes ironically smiled through his hero at the books of chivalry of the time and at the foolishness of falling under their spell, Eminescu might also ironically smile through his poem at Romanticism itself and at the very spell it cast on him.

     10 Ibid., p. 223.

11.1 (1991) Note 129

     The nature and atmosphere in Eminescu's poem elicits a sense of awe. The poet has transformed both the actual places crossed by Don Quijote in his travels and those existing only in his imagination into one natural realm in which the fantastic and the real are totally immersed in one another. Typical of Romanticism and of Eminescu in particular, nature becomes the immense extension of the hero's existence and imagination. The descriptions of the natural landscapes contain elements that clearly remind one of the story and atmosphere of Don Quijote: the castle, the giants, the dark rocks, the meadows and groves which stir with the mysterious life of summer nights, and the forests full of threatening shadows and voices.
     The castle in the poem could be either an echo of the inn which becomes, in Quijote's imagination, “un castillo con sus cuatro torres y chapiteles de luciente plata,” (I.2) or an echo of the castle of the duke and duchess who play a whole series of tricks on Don Quijote in order to bring him to his senses. The first glimpse that the reader has of the castle in Eminescu's poem is through its reflected image in the mirror of a lake. In both the story of Don Quijote and Eminescu's ballad, the world in the mind of the hero is projected on the outside world. But while in Cervantes' novel the clash between the two worlds is an obvious and important element of the story and a continuous source of humor, in Eminescu's poem the two worlds are intertwined, the borderline between them is vague and diluted, creating an oneiric atmosphere. Reflection and reflected object become one; reality and dream merge into one another.
     The giants and dragons whose embodiments Don Quijote sees in windmills or wineskins, find in Eminescu's poem a parallel in the form of hyperbolic images of nature. The hills and rocks that surround the castle are compared to giants guarding a golden treasure, that is, the rising moon. Hyperbole and personification are the main devices through which Don Quijote's mind grasps reality: windmills and wineskins are to him vicious giants; a homely peasant is to him the beautiful maid of his dreams, under a wicked spell. In Eminescu's poem, the entire landscape is the result of the hyperbolic transformation of such familiar Romantic motifs as the full moon, the crystalline lake, the ominous mountains.
     There are, in Cervantes' narrative itself, motifs which lend themselves to a Romantic adaptation and, moreover, to an adaptation by Eminescu, something of a Don Quijote himself, pining for an ideal love among the majestic hills and mountains of his


country. The rocks and mountains described in the poem could very well be taken as a Romanian analogue of the rocks of Sierra Morena on which Quijote sings to the indifferent cosmos a hymn of love dedicated to his Dulcinea. At the same time, the enchanting atmosphere “al pie de una alta montaña” (I.25) finds striking echoes in the descriptions of the “umbroase carari”1l (shady paths) and of the whispering meadows through which Eminescu's knight is wandering and serenading his beloved. In Don Quijote the beauty of the meadow inspires the knight to perform penance for the sake of his love:

Corría por su falda un manso arroyuelo, y hacíase por todo su redondez un prado tan verde y vicioso, que daba contento a los ojos que le miraban. Había por allí muchos árboles silvestres y algunas plantas y flores, que hacían el lugar apacible. Este sitio escogió el Caballero de la Triste Figura para hacer su penitencia. (I.25)

In Eminescu's poem, “Dumbrava sopteste, izvoarele suna,”12 (the meadow is whispering, the streams are singing), the summer air, the blooming flowers and the crickets singing in the luscious grass are all unified in the pulsing life of the universe and inspire the knight to touch the strings of his guitar and serenade the beautiful maid.
     The charms and freshness of nature are, in Don Quijote, part of the reality which the knight distorts and absorbs into his imagination, thus creating a comic effect. The details of the natural landscape offer a pretext for the knight to give vent to his delirious pathos in words such as these:

¡O vosotros, quienquiera que seáis, rústicos dioses, que en este inhabitable lugar tenéis vuestra morada, oíd las quejas deste desdichado amante! (I.25)

     Reality and dream are clearly separated by the down-to-earth voice of Cervantes: Quijote “comenzó a decir en voz alta, como si estuviera sin juicio.” (I.25) Eminescu amplifies the beauty of the natural details and creates a dream-like universe in which the passionate words of the amorous cavalier are harmoniously integrated, apparently without a trace of irony on the author's

     11 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 416.
     12 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 416.

11.1 (1991) Note 131

part. The sound of the guitar and the words of the lover seem to be miraculously woven into the magic beauty of the night:

Prin vinata umbra, prin rumana sara,
     In farmecul firei rasuna ghitara.
     (Through the bluish shadows, through the ripe evening,
     In the charmed air guitar sounds are rising.)13

     The words of the serenade express the ecstatic adoration for the angelic beauty of the cruel maid. If Don Quijote expresses his admiration for the unparalleled beauty of Dulcinea in an elevated chivalrous manner, full of hyperbolic images devoid of concrete allusions to her physical charms, Eminescu's knight sings of the maid's beauty in sensual images that reflect both the romantic ideal of feminine beauty and the sensuality and worldliness of the folklore of his country. The comic and dramatic genius of Cervantes has his character disclose his passion for an ideal in exalted tones that inspire both laughter and tears: “¡Oh Dulcinea del Toboso, día de mi noche, gloria de mi pena, norte de mis caminos, estrella de mi ventura . . . !” (I.25). The tormented, idealistic, yet sensual nature of Eminescu's genius shines through the mesmerizing beauty of the words of his hero, with whom he partly identifies. The shadow of his beloved is “-n lumina-nmuieta”14 (soaked in light), her blue eyes are “mari lacrimi a marii”15 (huge tears of the sea), her blond hair shines through the night which is “ninsa de-a lunei zapada”16 (covered by the snow of the moon). Eminescu has taken one of the verbal sources of humor in Cervantes' novel, and turned it into poetic beauty.
     The universe that Eminescu's knight crosses in his search for the magic stone is in many ways comparable to the universe crossed by Don Quijote either in his mind or in reality, as he seeks out adventures and ways of disenchanting Dulcinea. Dark forests, gloomy deserts, awesome mountains and chasms loom and vanish and loom again on the path of Eminescu's knight with all the speed and fluidity of dreams. Cervantes' hero on the other hand, spends many a night in forests and groves,

pensando en su señora Dulcinea, por acomodarse a lo que había leído en sus libros, cuando los caballeros pasaban sin

     13 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 416.
     14 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 416.
     15 Ibid., p. 416.
     16 Ibid., p. 416.


dormir muchas noches en las florestas y despoblados, entretenidos con las memorias de sus señoras (I.8).

     Eminescu's descriptions of the places covered by his hero seem to actualize, with their trance-like colours and shapes, the very fantasies that populate Quijote's mind. On his way, Eminescu's knight also encounters an old man with “barbargintoasa”17 (silver beard) and long white hair coming out of a stately palace, who shows him the way to the magic stone. This episode reminds one of Don Quijote's descent into “la profunda cueva de Montesinos” (II.23) and of the dream he has about the encounter with the old Montesinos. The “venerable anciano” (II.23) is himself under a spell that can be lifted only with the help of a valiant knight. In Eminescu's poem, the old man is, on the contrary, the one who helps the knight in his search. The “venerable” but tearful figure in Don Quijote's dream finds its Romantic echo in the awesome god-like figure that appears along the way of the knight. Don Quijote's dream is but another instance of his illusory identity and of the way in which chivalric literature affected both his conscious and subconscious mind. The encounter of Eminescu's knight with the demiurgic figure of the old man points to the Romantic aspiration for absolute knowledge of and communication with the universe and with the transcendent forces that govern it.
     The tempting and wooing of Don Quijote by Altisidora seems also to have found an echo in Eminescu's poem. Along his way, the hero suddenly crosses from the ominous lands of his travels into a paradisiacal meadow where he encounters a strikingly beautiful woman riding a horse and trying to allure him with her charms. The exact opposite of Iñez, she has dark hair in which “lucesc amortite / Flori rosi de jaratec frumos incilcite”18 (red flowers of embers entangled, are shining, unmoved), her blue eyes are of “bogat intuneric”19 (rich darkness) like “basme pagine”20 (pagan tales). Her beauty makes the forests and the waters shiver, while from the clouds “un colb de diamante”21 (a dust of diamonds) is raining. Demon and angel: the dark-haired temptress and the golden-haired indifferent

     17 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 418.
     18 Eminescu, op. cit., p. 420.
     19 Ibid., p. 420.
     20 Ibid., p. 420.
     21 Ibid., p. 421.

11.1 (1991) Note 133

maid represent the two extremes between which the Romantic genius of Eminescu oscillates in his endless search for the ideal love. But in the same way as Don Quijote overcomes his temptations and remains faithful to his Dulcinea, Eminescu's knight resists the charms of the beautiful temptress and continues his travels until he finally finds the magic stone. But the moment in which Iñez assures him of her eternal love for him is also the moment of his awakening to reality and of the painful recognition of the illusory nature of his adventures.
     The Romanian poet created through his hero a combination of the idealistic, dreamy figure of Don Quijote whose view of the world is a huge projection of his fantasies, and a down-to-earth figure who sparkles with popular humor and who mocks his alter ego trying to awaken him to reality. The abrupt ironic ending of the poem, in which the hero wakes up with his clothes all wet from the dew and tiptoes through the bushes for fear of being seen or heard, the mocking voice of the poet who asks rhetorically: “Si ce-i mai ramine sa faca saracul?”22 (and what else could the poor man do?) make it even more obvious that Eminescu saw in Quijote both an embodiment of the idealism and aspirations of Romanticism and an expression of the failure of Romanticism to grasp reality. If Cervantes turned the dreams and failures of his hero into an aesthetic victory of captivating narrative and humor, Eminescu turned the dreams and failures of his hero into an aesthetic victory of mesmerizing lyricism and subtle irony.
     From among the valleys of his native country, one of the last Romantic poets identified with the last knight-errant and, just like him, awoke from his dreams only to realize that Romanticism, like knight-errantry, had already become part of the irrecoverable past. And, as with Cervantes, Eminescu's humor and irony towards his hero reflect a compassionate view of the dreams and failures of the great idealists of the world.


     22 Ibid., p. 423.

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