Monday, January 26, 2009

The Poetry of Emile Verhaeren

Above, we see a painting, by Theo van Rysselberghe, of Emile Verhaeren reciting his poetry. Born in 1855 into a Flemish, but French-speaking family, in Sint Amands, Belgium, Verhaeren trained as a lawyer at the University of Louvain but, after a short period in legal practice, decided to devote his life to literature. One of the founders of Symbolism, Verhaeren became one of the most prominent figures in Belgian literature. Always radical and flamboyant, he was a revolutionary firebrand in his youth, but, nonetheless, developed a close friendship with King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. World War I profoundly shocked Verhaeren's pacifist sensibilities, but his country's brave resistance to German invasion inspired a series of magnificent war poems. Verhaeren had a deep admiration and regard for the Belgian royal couple. When the King and Queen were holding out at La Panne, near the North Sea, in the last strip of Belgian territory free of German occupation, the poet wrote: 
Ce n'est qu'un bout de sol étroit
Mais qui renferme et sa Reine et son Roi
Et l'amour condensé d'un peuple qui les aime
Le nord a beau y déchainer le froid qui gerce et qui mord
Il est brûlant ce sol suprême

Sadly, Verhaeren did not live to see the return of peace and his country's liberation. He died tragically, by falling under a train, in 1916. 

A collection of poems by Emile Verhaeren may be found here.

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