Poems from communist prisons

Poems from communist prisons


Mother Alexandra


Within this booklet are a few poems originally written in Romanian, chosen from a large collection, POEZII DIN INCHISORI, edited by Zahu Pana, published by CUVANTUL ROMANESC, 1982

They were written or rather composed by political prisoners who had no paper on which to write. They were memorized by those who survived, and finally spirited out to the free West. Remarkable in that they are true poetry of the soul, they express various emotions of those unjustly imprisoned by the Communist Party, for the crime of independent thought. None of these poets were criminals. They were philosophers, theologians (lay or clergy), generals, intellectuals of all sorts, factory workmen and tillers of the soil. Women and even children shared the same fate.

Not being a poet I have not been able to make the translation rhyme, but have tried to convey the thoughts and as far as possible the rhythm. My aim has been to bring forth a picture of the suffering and courage of these Romanians, feeling that neither they nor their martyrdom should be passed over.

These poems should not be read too quickly for their meaning may be difficult at first sight to comprehend. There is much symbolism in them and however bitter in parts, they are full of Christian fortitude and forgiveness. They express also a great love for the land and nation, which we exiles share.

The poems have not been put together according to the authors because what I have sought to bring out is the remarkable spiritual growth in the thinking of our political prisoners. They passed from revolt and despair to faith and serenity. I have tried to render understandable the whole scale of their emotional experience, from hatred and despair, to final serenity, forgiveness and even hope.

I trust these poems will speak better than I ever can for my country’s pain, despair and faith. I pray that they will not remain “voices crying in the wilderness”, but will awaken understanding and compassion in the hearts of men.

To set the true spiritual tone of these pages we will start with the poem “GLORY” which is really about suffering, as indeed is the whole book. Suffering in its most intense form physically and morally in which there was no logical reason for hope  – yet hope survived and faith and finally love.

The suffering is real so it belongs here to explain the final strength to forgive”




Radu Budisteanu



Radu Budisteanu

Blessed be suffering

which brings man out of a flat groove –

swift sling hurled at a Goliath,

tree in which knowledge is born.

Blessed be suffering.

Without it, good earth would be clay,

the heart would not catch the murmur of a tear

and sin would not know what contrition is.

Blessed be suffering.

If there were not death, would there be love?

Value is given to all by separation,

fruit in the hidden furrow of the passing rays.

Blessed be suffering,

its breast a resting place, a caress upon the brow,

the strong altar screen of the sense let it be,

archway through which alone desire passes.

Blessed be suffering

fruit of the hidden furrow of a passing ray

soul with large embracing arms

like an all enveloping mantle.



Unwritten Letters


Radu Gyr

Our life often lies hidden

in a humble corner of paradise,

in letters which were never sent us

by a hand that never wrote them.


We know not what we’d have the pages say,

what unwritten love song

but the hand which does not write us,

at all times we hold in a dream.


And the phrases that do not come,

in memory’s eye become ever dearer

and that hand which gave me light

as blossom upon my heart I hold.


And thus through the door crack,

we watch with unquenchable longing

for letters that were never sent

by a hand that did not write them.



Birthday wishes


Radu Gyr


For your birthday

I don’t know what

To bring you as a gift.

Bruised upon my bones

My skin only do I have.

Since I have pulled in harness,

Since I have sighed in yoke,

All that was plenteous

Has melted away as snow.

The owls hoot,

the darkness deepens;

The nails on my hands

Grow long for retribution…

grow you,too,

My timid voice,

Grow as a djinn,

Grow as a great bird;

Gather in your flight

And bring to the assailant

The crying of orphans,

The suffocating voice of mothers

Drowned in tears, the mourning of the homeless.


Hate of the whole country

Rise up, now!

Master your curses,

Doom this day!

Curse it with fire and brimstone

For the savage beast

That is bore,

Over the horizon to rise

And with his horns

The world to overthrow.

O my mild voice,

Grow strong, little by little,

As a spring grows

In volume, increasing,

As down the mountains it falls.

Become a sickle;upon his brown

Bludgeon the beast!

O my voice, grow! From the forest swell

Out of the felled woods,

Out of the deserted villages,

Out of the dried-up oil-wells,

Grow out of golden grain

That is taken over the foreign roads,

Grow out of the ruins,

Sound from the depths of prison dungeons,

There where rots in chains

All that stands firm in the land

And is about to die…

Out of gaunt and livid beings

Arise, open eagle’s wings;

Soar over the foe –

Dirty bloodsuckers!

Fly over frontiers

Which have not yet been stolen,

Pass cities and villages

Where in the dead of night

Whispered Christian prayers

Can still be heard


Cross as best you can

The endless steppes

And the sad waters;

Over forests and towns

Look for and follow paths

Traced through mud.

Go far!

Fly as the genii in the legends

Until you come to

Imperial courts

Without royal faces,

Barbaric monasteries

Without altars,

Without God.

Rise, O myvoice,

Lift yourself

Upon wings of fire

In heavenly heat,

And fall back as a tunderbolt!

Blast the citadel

of the beast’s den!

Seed of his seed destroy!

In the land and in eternity,

A word of execration

Let his name be!

Let perish in the mold

All which he stole!

His dust and ashes

Let the earth swallow!

May my unbounded hate

Burn up Satan,

Ana’s* brother!

Thunder blast him!

In scum putrify him!


O heaven,

On his birthday,

Satan’s birthday –

Ana’s* brother –


What offering have you

Sent him, John Doe?

*Ana – Ana Pauker , born in Romania, lived in Russia , an intimate friend of Stalin, an all-powerful one in Romania until the postumous fall of Stalin.

It is not astonishing that those who can and dare express their feelings in verse burst forth in indignation. Although the language of these poems is often archaic and full of symbolism, the picture they make is a true one. As in Birthday Wishes, for example, people were really put into harness and pulled in yokes. In fact, these were the lucky ones, for there were those in concentration camps who pulled trucks, replacing mechanical traction with human power, and the cables bit deep into the flesh of their bare hands. A brilliant young lawyer in one of these camps has written:”My highest ideal of comfort today is to be allowed to wear a yoke.” Maybe such things are less prevalent today but the prisons are still there and just as cruel.

A once rich and plentiful land has been reduced to misery and poverty. Seventy-five percent of all its products go to the USSR.

In these poems we hear the cry of a desperate people voicing their woes, their misery, their revolt and hatred of their oppressors with an intensity that is startling. The Romanians are, by nature, a gentle, kindly people, long-suffering and patient, a people used, through much occupation by foreign armies, to bend their heads but never give in.

They, who after 700 years of Magyar oppression and 3-400 years of Turkish suzeranity, kept their language, their national dress, their customs and their faith, are faced today as never before in their history with an extermination of all these things held dear for centuries.

Birthday Wishes (which can be compared to Psalms 58 and 109) is in the old popular ballad style of the country. Such songs have been sung for generations but never before have they expressed such violence, such vehement hatred, such desperation.

Since these lines were written in Circa 1950 the situation has in no way changed, rather it has worsened.





Radu Gyr


Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Monday

Neutral days without form,

Like a great fog

Over the landscape

 Good morning, prison cell!

Good night, prison bars!

I’d smash you as a mastiff in his fangs

I’d rend you with my teeth, O Cell!

 I stand in Time terribly naked

With my soul planted in liquid eternity,

Like an atoll in an ocean

Beaten by torrid winds…

 Dungeon, dungeon, mad fortress,

How my hate would set fire to you!

Life, life outside,

How dare you dance in my dreams like a puppet!

 Tuesday,Wednesday,Friday – what day is it?

the week is a dead amassment;

My months pass through no calendar,

My island is on no map.

 Monday, Wednesday, Thursday – The devil take you!

Stinking days – Stagnant days,

Here in the jaws of eternity

Who shall count your dark hundreds?


In DAYS is found all the loneliness, the isolation of the man behind iron bars who has still kept the integrity of his soul – who can speak through what hunger and torture?





Nichifor Crainic


If ever I was a cluster of grapes,

today I am residue left by the press.

Into the fathomless hunger in me

pour some drop of juice.

 I feel how my body is melting away,

a soup of amaranth would warm it.

If touched by a blade of grass

in a flash I’d be green.

 At least let my phantom arm

pick an apple from a tree.

It will fill my mouth with aroma

and I would truly live.

 In the country of sheep folds and bread

I dream of mushroom soup.

Let me shelter with the dogs

near the heaven of a bowl of terci.*

On the depth of my hunger

blind deserts open up.

When the last spoonful is eaten

I drop over my bowl and spoon.

 O God, You Who

out of two fishes and five loaves

made mountains of food

and satisfied thousands of poor

 Repeat the miracle, O Good One,

and satisfy thousands of mouths.

Listen also to my prayer,

Give me the basket of crumbs.

* terci – a thin gruel often given to dogs

Hunger (apart from other forms – tortures, beatings etc.) was and probably still is perhaps the No.1 torture all political prisoners had to suffer. They received three starvation meals a day: A small portion of bread and a thin gruel in the morning called “teci”. At noon and in the evening they were served a slop with a few cabbage leaves or a handful of cereal. Once a week they were given so called meat, consisting of unwashed entrails, all but impossible to swallow. Hunger became an obsession, gave them hallucinations; it was a specter that haunted them by day and by night – never letting go.




Radu Gyr



This night Jesus entered my cell.

O how sad, how tall was Christ!

The moon followed Him into my cell

And made Him taller, sadder still.

He sat by me upon my mat;

“Put your hand upon my wounds.”

On His ankle there were scars from sores and rust

As if He too had worn chains once…

His hands were like lilies upon a grave,

His eyes as deep as forests;

His garments whitened by the moon,

Silvering in His hands old wounds.

Sighing, He stretched His weary bones

Upon my lousy mat;

In His sleep He shone forth, but the heavy bars

Lengthened upon Him like rods.

I rose from beneath my gray blanket.

“Lord, from whence come you? Out of which eternity?”

Jesus put His finger to His lips

And signed me to be still.

My cell seemed like a mountain peak;

Rats and roaches swarmed around;

I felt my head fall heavy upon my hand

And I slept, a thousand years…

When I awoke from my heavy trance

The straw smelled of roses;

I was in my cell and there was moonlight

But Jesus was nowhere.

“Where are you, Lord?” I cried between the bars.

Across the moon came drifts of mist…

I touched myself, and found upon my palms

The sign of His nails.


JESUS IN THE NIGHT presents a different picture – that of a sufferer resigned to his pain, to injustice and torture, who seeks no redress in hatred, does not revolt or curse. Lost in a world of pain, seemingly without redress in his lifetime, he expresses the beautiful, tender spirit of the Romanian people. He was vouchsafed a vision, the authenticity of which we dare not doubt. He realizes that his pain was shared once by Another, and knows that he is part of the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints. Through pain they have become for him reality. This man does not cling to faith but is one with it, thus transcending all time.




Radu Gyr


The exhausted wind froze

like a bow on a cracked violin.

Last night an angel knocked in my door,

his voice weak, his tread tired.

 I don’t know if he came from heaven

or some earthly cross

but he looked at me with wounded eyes,

trembling with cold when I welcomed him.

 In his eyes of strange god

it was as if some grave illness battled

and he gazed at me with blood-filled eyes

and all that night he wept upon my breast.

 In the morning I found him no more.

vestiges of red footprints faded from my door.

Far away in the sky on a cracked violin

the wind fell like a broken bow.


The trials of mans’ sojourn on earth are many and his temptations legion. When abandoned, falsely accused, he battles alone with despair and he looks perhaps for comfort where no comfort is. It is then that the strange visitor comes; from heaven or from hell the prisoner does not know. The angel brings no strength but weakness, grief becomes all-embracing, there is no light left, no string of hope sounds.


3 thoughts on “Poems from communist prisons

  1. Pingback: Radu Gyr – The Poet of the Romanian Communist Prisons | The Legionary Movement

  2. Pingback: Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania | orthodox city hermit

  3. Pingback: Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — II | orthodox city hermit

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