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Emile Verhaeren Biography | Poet

Photo of Emile Verhaeren

Emile Verhaeren, remarkable among of the brilliant group of writers representing "Young Belgium," and one who has been recognized by the literary world of France as holding a foremost place among the lyric poets of the day was born at St. Amand, near Antwerp, in 1855. His childhood was passed on the banks of the Scheldt, in the midst of the wide-spreading Flemish plains, a country of mist and flood, of dykes and marshes, and the impressions he received from the mysterious, melancholy character of these surroundings, have produced a marked and lasting influence upon his work. Yet the other characteristics with which it is stamped—the wealth of imagination, the gloomy force, the wonderful descriptive power and sense of colour, which set the landscape before one as a picture, suggest rather the possibility of Spanish blood in the poet's veins—and again, his somewhat morbid subjectivity and tendency to self-analysis mark him as the child of the latter end of our nineteenth century.

Verhaeren entered early in life upon the literary career. After some time spent at a college in Ghent, he became a student at the University of Louvain, and here he founded and edited a journal called "La Semaine," in which work he was assisted by the singer Van Dyck, and by his friend and present publisher, Edmond Deman. He also formed, about this time, a close friendship with Maeterlinck. In 1881, Verhaeren was called to the Bar at Brussels, but soon gave up his legal career to devote himself entirely to literature. In 1883 he published his first volume of poems, and shortly afterwards became one of the editors of "L'Art Moderne," to which, as well as to other contemporary periodicals, he was for many years a contributor. In 1892 he founded, with the help of two other friends, the "Section of Art" in the "House of the People," a popular institution in Brussels, where performances of the best music, as well as lectures upon literary and artistic subjects, were given. In spite, however, of the work which all this entailed, and of the many interests created by his ardent appreciation of the various branches of art and literature, Verhaeren continued to labour unceasingly at his poetical work, and between 1883 and 1897 brought out successively eleven small volumes: Les Flamandes, Les Moines, Les Soirs, Les Débâcles, Les Flambeaux Noirs, Les Apparus dans mes chemins, Les Campagnes Hallucinées, Les Villages Illusoires, Les Villes Tentaculaires, Les Heures Claires, and Les Aubes.

In style, Verhaeren is essentially the apostle of the "Vers libre"; and his handling of rhyme and rhythm, his coining of words where he finds the French vocabulary insufficient, have called down upon him some criticism from those of his French contemporaries who are sticklers for the older rules and more conventional forms of versification. But however this may be, it remains an undeniable fact that Verhaeren has at his command a rare and powerful poetic eloquence—a wealth of imagery, a depth of thought and a subtlety of expression which perhaps are not to be imprisoned behind the bars of a too rigid convention. English readers have already been accustomed by their own poets to the "vers libre," and it is not so much, therefore, for my adherence to this form, as for my failure adequately to render Verhaeren's peculiar and striking beauty of language, that I beg their indulgence for the following translations.

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