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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Elisabeth, Queen of Roumania (Carmen Sylva) (1843–1916)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
CARMEN SYLVA, the charming pen-name of the poet-queen of Romania, is a reminiscence of the forests of Neuwied on the Rhine, where she was born December 29th, 1843. She belonged to an intellectual family: her great-uncle was a scientist, whose collection of specimens of natural history is now in New York; and her father, Prince Herman of Wied, was a man of culture, devoted to philosophic studies. The young princess grew up in an atmosphere well fitted to develop her natural gifts. Her temperament was passionate, restless, and reserved; and her imagination so active that her mother forbade the reading of novels until she was nineteen. She began to write verses in her childhood; and from her sixteenth year kept a sort of poetic diary, whose existence however was for many years a secret. Her early life was saddened by the constant illness of her father and young brother; and on the whole, sorrow is the prevailing note in her poems.  1
  After several years spent in travel, she had determined to devote herself to teaching, when she was married in 1869 to Charles of Hohenzollern, Prince of Romania. Elisabeth entered on her new sphere with enthusiasm; thoroughly acquiring the Romanian language, and so winning the love of her people that she is known among them as their “little mother.” She founded schools, asylums, hospitals, art galleries, and art schools; and in every way strove to develop Romanian nationality.  2
  The death of her little daughter in 1874 led her to express her sorrow in verse. Up to this time her poems had been simply spontaneous utterances; but now she began to study the art of composition under the guidance of Alexandre, the Romanian poet. Her poetic labors were soon interrupted by the Turko-Russian war, during which she devoted herself to work among the soldiers, and in the hospitals. Romania became a kingdom in 1881. Shortly before her coronation, Elisabeth published her first book,—a translation of Romanian poems. Her first collection of original poems appeared in 1881, entitled ‘Storms.’ It contains four poems, the best of which is ‘Sappho.’ The following year she published ‘Sorrow’s Earthly Pilgrimage’; ‘The Enchantress’; ‘Jehovah,’ describing the wanderings of Ahasuerus in search of God; ‘A Prayer’; and ‘Pensées d’une Reine’ (A Queen’s Thoughts),—a book of aphorisms, which won a medal of honor from the French Academy. In 1883 appeared ‘From Carmen Sylva’s Kingdom,’—a collection of Romanian fairy tales and legends, a second series of which was brought out in 1887, together with ‘Through the Centuries.’ Another collection, ‘Fairy Tales from the Pelesch,’ takes its title from the stream near the beautiful royal palace in the Sinaja valley. To this year also belong ‘My Rest,’ a collection of songs and lyrics, in which the Queen is at her best; and ‘My Rhine,’ poems on places dear to her in childhood. ‘My Book’—poems on Egypt—appeared in 1885. The ‘Songs of Toil’ were published collectively in 1891; but an English version of thirty songs was brought out in New York in 1888. Most of these had previously appeared in the Independent; and through them the Queen was first known to the American public. These original little poems show her intense sympathy for the poor, and at the same time illustrate her genius. Her greatest poetical effort, the tragedy ‘Master Manole,’ appeared in 1892. In collaboration with Madame Kremnitz, under the common pseudonym of Idem and Ditto, she wrote the novels ‘From Two Worlds’ (1885), ‘Astra’ (1886), ‘The Outpost’ (1887), and ‘Idle Wanderings’ (1887). With the help of Mademoiselle Vacaresco, the Queen collected Romanian legends and tales, which were published under the title ‘Tales of the Dimbovitza’ in 1890. She died in 1916.  3
  Carmen Sylva’s German is pure and beautiful, and she wrote with remarkable facility in French, English, and Romanian. Her poems are full of fire and grace, and show a true musical sense. Her prose, however, has the defect of extreme brevity; and her work generally is impaired by her great facility and rapidity of composition.  4
  The biographies of Queen Elisabeth are Mita Kremnitz’s ‘Carmen Sylva’ (1882); ‘The Life of Carmen Sylva,’ by Baroness Stackelberg (fifth edition, 1889); M. Schmitz’s ‘Carmen Sylva’ (1889); Stackelberg’s ‘Life of Carmen Sylva,’ translated by Baroness Deichmann (1890); and ‘Elizabeth of Roumania: A Study,’ by Blanche Roosevelt (1891). For bibliography see G. Bengescu, ‘Carmen Sylva—bibliographie et extraits de ses œvres’ (1904).  5
 
 
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