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Alice Călugăru


Alice Stephanie Călugăru (July 4, 1886 — August 9, 1933) was a French-born Romanian poet and novelist. She made her poetic debut in 1903 while still in high-school, and in 1905 her volume of poems Violets (Viorele) was published under the guidance of Romanian literary critic Titu Maiorescu. After moving back to Paris, she wrote under the pseudonyms Alice Orient (in French) and Alice Soare (in Romanian). In 1924, she published the autobiographical novel The Green Tunic (La tunique verte) as Alice Orient. "The Serpents" was published on April 4, 1913, in The Romanian Life (Viața Românească) magazine. Her poetry, often treading beyond the edges of symbolism, entwines motifs such as eros, nature, death, and self-reflection with a celebration of sensory experiences.


Translated from Romanian by Christina Tudor-Sideri



Under the towering canopy of the humid forest,

I lie down on swaying grass, resting my temples on my palms;

I do not let sleep overwhelm me with the smell of weeds

But softly begin to whistle the song that calls the silver long serpents.


They come, sliding under leaves, supple like flowing waters,

Convulsing in hidden green flames that tremble under embers,

They come and stretch their cunning and triangular heads toward me,

Their turbulent eyes watching from under translucid eyelids.


With an eternal whistle begins this unknown song,

The song that will gather them from afar and deceptively caress them.

And they will crawl toward me on the verdant blossoming moss,

From the darkness, one by one, like springs from the depths of the earth.


Behold, I hear the rustling of bushes everywhere,

They were resting wrapped around tree branches, like a chain of treacherous ivy;

Through the raw grass they kneaded their venom of weeds;

They slept with the waters of the forest, hidden under the heavy alluvium.


But when my chant threw its first thrill into the world,

They each left their lone nests in the forest

And succumbing to the meandering wail of my vibrant calling,

They began measuring their slow slithering to my odd rhythm.


Come, o serpents, come crawling through the forest bed, come on your agile loins

Through tall grass like spears through the stones, show your narcotic faces!

Come, you who are twined like fetters; from now on you will be chained

By the endless cadence of my never-before-sung calling.


Come, mysterious and fearsome, lured by a foreign voice, come!

From now on your wriggle shall change only with its rhythm

And your dangerous tongue shall hold no power over me,

Your tongue that like a poisonous flower offers its bitter venom from the ground.


I was there, amidst tall grass, waiting with lurking eyes

And now you bring me the strength of the majestic forest,

Surrendering its cunning in your deceptive slither;

From now on my chant shall be a song of victory.


I lean against a tree and await there for your defeated species

To gather their sharp bodies like swords at my feet

I raise high my arm wrapped in wild prey

And let my waist be embraced by living serpent belts.


No longer able to bewitch me, the whole forest is my handmaid.

She, who tethered me with her jarring fragrance and heavy angst.

From now on, her boundless kingdom of terror and rustling is mine,

Her poisoned enmity is the adornment I conquered for myself.

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