Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916)

Educated at Ghent and Louvain, Verhaeren made several stays in Paris where he became part of the circle of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam and Mallarmé. The poetry of his early period, 1887-1890, is steeped in decadent morbidity. The Black Trilogy (Les Soirs, Les Dêbacles and Les Flambeaux Noirs) explores the spiritual abandonment of a soul lost in the recesses of its own involution. The constant theme of his poetry is madness, the twilight of reason, given both stylistic and imaginistic expression. His concrete images are hallucinated, outsized and exaggerated to convey moods of alienation and tormented obsession.

Verhaeren was a subtle critic of painting, and was close friends with Fernand Khnopff and William Degouve des Nuncques, his brother-in-law.

Source: Donald Flanell Friedman "An Anthology of Belgian Symbolist Poetry"

Infiniment/ Infinitely
from Les Soirs/ The Evenings, 1887

The hounds of despair, the hounds of the autumnal wind,
Gnaw with their howling the black echoes of evenings.
The darkness, immensely, gropes in the emptiness
For the moon, seen by the light of water.

From point to point, over there, the distant lights,
And in the sky, above, dreadful voices
Coming and going from the infinity of the marshes and planes
To the infinity of the valleys and the woods.

And roadways that stretch out like sails
And pass each other, coming unfolded in the distance, soundlessly,
While lengthening beneath the stars,
Through the shadows and the terror of the night.

Ténèbres/ Tenebrae
from Les Soirs/ The Evenings, 1887

A moon, with vacant, chilling eye, stares
At the winter, enthroned vast and white upon the hard ground;
The night is an entire and translucent azure;
The wind, a blade of sudden presence, stabs.

Far away, on the skylines, the long pathways of frost,
Seen, in the distance, to pierce the expanses,
And stars of gold, suspended to the zenith,
Always higher, amid the ether, to rend the blue of the sky.

The villages crouched in the plains of Flanders,
Near the rivers, the heather, and the great forests,
Between two pale infinities, shiver with cold,
Huddled near old hearthsides, where they stir the ashes.


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