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As a young man, and with many other students and young intellectuals attracted to the nationalistic fervor of the times, he became Member of the Iron Guard and the Legion of St.Michael the Archangel (a right wing, fascist movement which wrought terror and held government for a few months at the end of 1940 and beginning of 1941). During those months, Radu Gyr was appointed minster for Theatres, and when that government fell (Marshall Ion Antonescu staging coup with the help of the Army) – this lead to him being imprisoned, and then sent to the Eastern Front as punishment – which he somehow survived.
But his troubles did not end there. Once the Communists were pushed into power by the Soviet Army after the war, Gyr was imprisoned again (for 11 years between 1945-1956), on the grounds he was previously a leader in the Legion (he lead the chapter of his native Câmpunulg Muscel region). Just fresh ut of 11 years the communist/Stalinist prisons – as a political prisoner of conscience, in 1958 he wrote e poem (“Rise up Gheorghe, Rise up Ion), a spine-tingling hymn, a thinly veiled encouragement for Romanians (generically identified in the poem with the most widely used names Gheorghe & Ion, George and John, that is) to raise against the totalitarian communist dictatorship – not for bread, not for land, but for free air, for their song nailed on the cross, for the tears of an enchained sun…). For this he was arrested, summarily sent before the court, and sentenced to death. He is one of the few poets, as far as I know, sentenced to death for what he wrote.He was sentenced for sedition. His sentence was also commuted – to life with hard labor. He served only six years, two of which were with chains at his feet. Although severely ill (hepatitis, tuberculosis, haemophilia, and others), he was refused any medical assistance, was starved and tortured. Altogether Gyr served 16 years in communist prisons. He was released with the general amnesty of 1964, together with all surviving political prisoners. This was upon pressure from the West (the Romanian government was beginning to distance itself from the clutches of Moscow).
The poetry that Radu Gyr wrote in prison is particularly haunting, aching, heart-rending, not revengeful, rather prayers, or powerful and moving descriptions of the feelings and plight of prisoners of conscience in communist jails.
Radu Gyr’s poems sweetened somewhat the life of many of his colleague inmates, to the point that they learned them by heart, as he composed them in his mind and recited them to his fellow sufferers, rarely being able to scrabble them on cell walls. As they were freed, the former prisoners would, in turn recite the poems to their families and friends. And this is how they spread.
“Gyr – wrote Atanasie Berzescu, a fellow political prisoner – brought Jesus down from the cross and into our cell. He was our patriarch, he encouraged us. Through him, the beauty of the Spirit continued to illuminate the deepest darkness” Radu Gyr was never fully rehabilitated as a man of letters and a poet, despite comments by various critics and literary historians about the beauty and power of his poetry – and this is a shame. Perhaps the stigma of his fascist youth history never quite faded from people’s minds.
In fact, a few years ago, a political scandal erupted in Bucharest, with accusations of ultra-nationalism and fascism flying from the leftist (then) government party (Social-Democrats) toward a member of the center-right opposition, who dared to recite publically the poem Raise up Gheorghe, Raise up Ion!
But what I find most puzzling. is that – while Radu Gyr’s poems are well proliferated, and important composers have even put them to music – everyone knows them both in literary circles and the public at large – none of the major literary critics, including the “big” ones Nicolae Manolescu and Alex Stefanescu … dedicate him any significant space in their considerably big volumes. Sure, they spoke and wrote positively about his poetry in various magazine articles…
…BUT while other poets with a lot less impact than Radu Gyr – poets whose names and poems the public does not know or remember, not now, not EVER, are given plenty space. I have no idea if this is for political reasons, or what, but I find this deeply disappointing.
I will recite for you two of his most representative poems. Of course, one of them will be he famous “Raise up Gheorghe, Raise up Ion!”
I bet this poem will inspire you, whatever the situation you find yourself in, to break the chains and set yourself free.
In addition, one of the classical prison poems – “Late last night, Jesus” (or Jesus in my Cell, as it is otherwise known). Sursa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_unQwcCuPx4

Romanian Poetry in English – Episode 11 – Radu Gyr

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