A Private Sensibility

A generous spread of four poems that appeared in the New Yorker early in 1990 introduced many American readers to the work of the renowned Romanian poet Nina Cassian (Renee Annie Stefanescu). Even though her poetry has been appearing in English versions for the better part of a decade, the New Yorker set, translated by such respected practitioners of the art as Richard Wilbur, Stanley Kunitz, Dana Gioia, and William Jay Smith, drew belated attention to a poet whose body of work ought to rank her among the foremost contemporary virtuosos of the short lyric.

Nevertheless, it may be difficult for American readers to appreciate Cassian fully, the dual fault of our recent literary fashions and the uneven abilities of her translators. She has apparently been too involved with getting on with her life (her bibliography lists 24 separate books of poetry, as well as children's books, puppet plays, fiction, and translations) to worry much about being stylishly neurotic. Her love lyrics, in particular, are so healthy in their emotional clarity that an audience raised on confessional breast-beating may find them old-fashioned. Her work is not political in any overt sense, though one might hasten to add that in a totalitarian society the cultivation of the private sensibility, expressed in lyrical poetry, may in fact be considered a subversive act. Cassian's personal history, as related by Smith in his excellent...

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