Tuesday Poem: Grete Tartler

During the Ceaucesceau regime in Rumania writers were so heavily censored that it was difficult to write at all.  But people kept on writing and finding ways to evade the censors.  Metaphor was one way to do it - write about one thing and maybe they won't notice you're actually talking about something else.   Women suffered greatly from the regime's oppression and a few years ago I was privileged to meet a group of Rumanian women poets who had managed to write and publish under Ceaucesceau and survive to talk about it. Grete Tartler was born in Bucharest in 1948.  She studied music and Arabic at university and has published a number of volumes of poetry as well as translations of Arabic classical literature.    This poem appears to be about an insensitive teacher, but it's really about the brainwashing of children through the education system, and the restrictions placed on free thought and individualism.  No matter what you think or feel, you have to give the answers the state requires you to give.   The poem is also a perfect example of poetry as political subversion.

Didactica Nova

How many fingers have you got on one hand?
Five, replied the child.
So, how many do five and five make?
Eleven comes the answer.
Can you blame me for getting cross with you?
Didn't I say count?
Why can't you understand
And answer like all the rest!
What if everyone answered like that?
What would happen if nobody understood?
How many fingers have you got on one hand?
Five, replied the child.
Well, how many on two hands?
Eleven comes the answer.
The blows fall.  On the hand with five fingers,
On the hand with six.

Copyright  Grete Tartler
Translated by Andrea Deletant & Brenda Walker

Sorry I couldn't find a link to any of Grete Tartler's poetry for sale.

For more Tuesday Poems click here.


  1. OMG
    Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

  2. Even without taking the political allegory into consideration, this is a fine poem - especially in its understatement.

  3. yes, the poem is powerful and disturbing - and thank you so much for it Kathleen and for the story behind it and its author....

  4. Glad you all enjoyed it - I'm always happy to recommend a new author!


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