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temporary periodicals bear witness him a love of silence, of immensity, of
both to his diligence as a critic and to the sanity and generosity of his literary appreciations. But far above these prose contributions rank his poetical writings, a series of plaquettes, slim quarto volumes, on rough tinted paper, for the most part long out of print, in which the poet has given to the world in rapid succession, "Les Flamandes," "Les Moines," "Les Soirs," "Les Débâcles," "Les Flambeaux Noirs," "Les Apparus dans mes Chemins," "Les Campagnes Hallucinées," "Les Villages Illusoires," and, within the last few months, "Les Villes Tentaculaires." The soul's growth of the poet may be traced throughout the series, and his life's history is laid bare to those who would read.
As emphatically as Maeterlinck is the representative dramatist of his country at the close of this nineteenth century, so is Verhaeren the representative lyric poet. It is impossible to avoid bringing the two names into constant juxtaposition, for both are the product of one and the same literary movement; and both are in many ways profoundly characteristic of their age and country. Verhaeren, though to-day only in his forty-second year, has been in turn materialist, and symbolist, the poet of blind revolt and the poet of mystical faith, the passionate lover of beauty and the morbid delineator of life in its most hideous aspects. But throughout the ever-varying emotions of an intense and poetic temperament, capable of appreciating at one moment the purest and most ecstatic joys, and at another of wallowing in the blackest and most unrelenting misery, we can trace the strong and lasting influences of his early surroundings and his Flemish birthright. Born at St. Amand, not far from Antwerp, his boyhood was spent on the mist-laden banks of the Scheldt, in the midst of that flat, wide-spreading, dyke-bound Flemish landscape, which possesses indeed a beauty and a poetry of its own, but is also pervaded by a profound melancholy. It is a landscape to render a thoughtful boy still more thoughtful and dreamy, to develop in
austere beauty, and to encourage him to penetrate by slow degrees into the hidden secrets of nature, the great mystical lessons of life. All these characteristics have been Verhaeren's throughout his career, marking him off as Flemish by birth. Yet there are in his complex nature other characteristics - his nervous temperament, his gloomy outlook on life, his marvellous sense of color-which would lead one to suppose-and there is nothing extravagant in the supposition-that there is a streak of Spanish blood in his veins. To his century, or rather to this latter end of our nineteenth century, belong his intense subjectivity, his utter lack of moral reticence, his morbid love of self-analysis, amounting at times almost to insanity. The eternal "Moi" of the supreme egotist dominates too many of his pages, yet so pathetic are his revelations, so soul-stirring the pictures he paints in glowing language of his soul's suffering, that the sternest moralist must fain forgive him a selfconcentration turned to so artistic an account. As a poet he is gifted with an almost boundless imagination, a passion for harmonious sounds, a vivid power of snatching fleeting impressions, of reproducing rapid action, of painting a gesture, and of more recent years with an exquisite sense of the mystical beauty of life and a subtle gift of symbolical representation. friend and critic, Albert Mockel, hails him as the "poète du paroxysme," a term which admirably renders the leading characteristic of one period of his life, but which only recognizes a single aspect, and, in my opinion, by no. means the highest aspect of his poetical faculties. But without having passed his poems in review it is not easy to arrive at any true estimate of his genius.
Curiously enough, Verhaeren started on his literary career as a materialist. There is a positively Zolaesque quality about some of his early work, and in "Les Flamandes," his first published volume of verse, there are descriptive poems of Flemish village life that read
like a page of "Germinal." Already at this stage he sees with that passion for detail which has never left him, and reproduces with faithful accuracy; but he prefers to linger over the least att.ac. tive aspects of peasant-life, its coarse brutality, and superabundant flesh and drunken revelling. His "Flamandes" are the women that Rubens painted; his village scenes those that we are familiar with in the canvases of the Dutch masters, but without atmosphere, with out inspiration, and so without charm. Happily the materialistic stage did not last long, and there are already glimpses of higher things in "Les Moines," the outcome of a visit to a Trappist Monastery in Hainault. Verhaeren's monks are the solid, squareshouldered Flemish peasants, strong and fiery, triumphing over their animal passions, or again simple, benign and placid, "les amants naïfs de la TrèsSainte Vierge." But he is mainly inspired by memories of the mighty abbots and priors of the Middle Ages, the rivals of kings and barons, the civilizers of nations.
vious work from "Les Débâcles" and "Les Flambeaux Noirs," published some years later. It is these powerful, gloomy, and lurid volumes which have earned for their author the epithet of "poète du paroxysme," and which by many of his admirers are regarded as the high-water mark of his genius. I confess that I have never been able to share this view. I prefer to regard these years of despair and gloom in the life of the poet as a transitional period, years of "Sturm und Drang" through which he had to pass in order to rid himself of his early materialism before passing into the higher stage of mystical communion with nature, which is the prevailing note of "Les Villages Illusoires." "Les Débâcles" seems to me to mark a stage, not a result, and it had for its external cause a prolonged nervous crisis, the result of ill-health. From the moral point of view the volume is utterly morbid, hysterical, and self-centred, the outcry of a suffering soul in desperate revolt against fate. For the time at least the black cloud of despair had descended upon him. In his own words he is "immensément
Abatteurs d'hérésie à larges coups de emmailloté d'ennui;" "le néant" reigns
The life of the modern recluse is too uniform and cramped for his taste; he loves space and size, and giant sins and boundless repentance, and his sympathies are only really aroused by something vast, mighty, infinite. In spite of a certain monotony of form "Les Moines" is full of beautiful and sonorous rhymes and subtle observation of line and color. But even so the young poet does not penetrate far below the picturesque exteriorities of cloistered life, of the cowled monks in choir and cell. Of the hidden mystical life, the life of prayer and renouncement so marvellously shadowed forth in "En Route," we find traces only here and there. Yet it is only fair to remember that "Les Moines" belongs emphatically to the apprentice-stage of the poet's career, and as such it is full of power and promise.
A chasm, both moral and intellectual, seems to divide all Verhaeren's pre
He describes his own corpse rotting in the grave; he longs to be an idol in a Benares temple before whom fanatics prostrate themselves, or again a monk in a "clôitre de fer," his erotic passions crushed by inhuman penance. In "Les Flambeaux Noirs" the element of madness becomes still more intens'fied, and the poet grows more and more incoherent. His weird ballad of "La Dame en noir des Carrefours" is practically a glorification of prostitution, and is characteristic of the morbidly unhealthy side of his genius. His hallucinations
find their most poetic expression in a tragic poem with the constant refrain,
Je suis l'halluciné de la forêt des Nombres, full of the wild and tangled imagery of an intellect tottering on the borders of lunacy. While revelling in his sufferings and his passions and his pride, he turns from time to time with longing eyes to the externals of religion, to the æsthetic calm of cathedral aisles, to the harmony of slow chanting in dark chapels, to visions of flaring candles and mitred abbots and golden monstrances, to the peace of midnight vigils, and in some exquisite lines he has himself recourse to prayer in a moment of hope which he believes to be vain.
La nuit d'hiver élève au ciel son pur calice. Et je lève mon cœur aussi, mon cœur nocturne
Seigneur mon cœur! vers ton pâle infini vide,
Et néansmoins je sais que rien n'en pourra
But, in spite of all his extravagances and incoherencies, it would be absurd
to deny that as poetry, which after all is the main point, "Les Débâcles" marks an enormous advance on its predeces
sors. It can show an exuberant wealth of imagery, a freedom from conventional restraint, and a widening of the horizon of life over which the imagination can roam. In form, too, Verhaeren has developed many of what have remained as his special characteristics: his bold handling of the "vers libre" in preference to more academic forms, his predilection for polysyllabic rhymes, his haunting rhythmical effects obtained by an artful repetition and manipulation of words of similar sound. "Les Flamandes" and "Les Moines" contained but two aspects of human existence to which the poet restricted himself; in "Les Débâcles" he flings himself into the primary emotions of life, taking the whole scale of human experiences within his grasp, and if the
result is not always edifying, or beautiful, or harmonious, yet we feel grateful to the poet for being true to his own self, and true, in great measure, to life. But as the ripe product of Verhaeren's mature genius I must once more decline to accept "Les Débâcles."
The volume in
It is a positive relief to escape from these gloomy pages into the purer and clearer atmosphere of "Les Apparus dans mes Chemins." deed opens in the minor key with renewed visions of the melancholy landscape in which the poet's soul has hibernated so long, and renewed lamentations over the death-like bondage from which there seems no escape. A series of symbolical figures passes before his eyes: "Celui de l'Horizon," "La Fatigue," "Le Savoir," and finally, "Celui du Rien," a poem at once so grotesque, so ghastly, and so hopelessly incoherent, that it reads like the lurid visions of a delirium-tremens patient. Verhaeren is frequently coarse, but in this instance he passes all bounds. Then suddenly the clouds of despondency roll asunder, and the sunshine of hope irradiates the landscape in the beautiful poem "SaintGeorges." So vivid is the picture of the heaven in all the panoply of war to the radiant knight sweeping down from deliverance of the suffering soul below, so joyous and triumphant is the rhythm of the short resonant lines, so tender
the gratitude of the soul dragged forth from its slough of despond, that the poem must surely commemorate some spiritual crisis in the life of the poet himself, some sudden awakening to the infinite possibilities of human existence. It was a charming and felicitous fancy to symbolize his conception of hope in the warlike figure of the legendary saint who triumphs by courage and purity over the dragon of sin and despair. No English poet, I venture to think, has written with such rapturous enthusiasm or with such perfection of literary form of our national saint-a circumstance which must be my excuse for a somewhat lengthy quotation:Ouverte en tout-à-coup parmi les brumes Une Avenue!
Et Saint Georges, fermentant d'ors,
Avec des écumes de plumes
gers lovingly, in some of the most Au chanfrein tors de son cheval sans mors exquisite lines he has penned, over the Descend.
Avec quelle dérision de biens,
Avec quelle puissance dépensée
sunny garden landscape, gay with bright flowers and green sward and butterflies, symbolical of the new life that has dawned in his soul. Thus it becomes evident that Verhaeren is tentatively launching his skiff on the deep waters of mysticism. He has come to
Avec quelle colère et quel masque et quelle see that the relations of man's con
Devant sa vision altière
Droit vers son Dieu, avec mon cœur.
The same spirit of freshly awakened hope pervades the subsequent poems of the volume. The whole landscape is changed, or rather it is gazed upon with changed eyes. The plain is bathed in sunshine; the north winds have fled, and the poet meets in his wanderings with tender, saint-like figures, bluerobed Mercy and white Virtue and pensive Love, who talk to him with
De belles voix douces et consolantes Comme leurs robes et leures mantes Long-tombantes et longuement calmantes. Lines, illustrative of the hypnotically soothing effect of harmoniously repeated sounds, an effect in the use of which both Verhaeren and Maeterlinck are past masters.
In another poem the poet meets with his Angel Guardian, pure and calm, the hem of her robe embroidered with the three theological virtues, seated in the midst of luxurious blossoms. He lin.
science to life are all important, and that the outward and visible manifestations of nature are mainly beautiful and interesting, in so far as they give evidence of their inward and spritual meaning. For the mystic the realities of life fade into the background; the spiritualities are omnipresent. Verhaeren's mysticism, however, is neither theological nor ascetic, nor, it must be confessed, very profound; rather it is the graceful sympathetic mysticism of the dreamer, whose tender susceptibilities are being continually jarred by the material brutalities of life, and who turns for consolation to joys and appreciations of which the uninitiated can have no perception. There is no conversion-to use the hackneyed phrasein all this; it is the natural development of the poetic temperament purged by a period of suffering. Yet "Les Apparus dans mes Chemins" undoubtedly marks a turning-point in the poet's life. Henceforth he gazes outwards rather than inwards, and his genius takes a wider flight.
The work on which Verhaeren is at present engaged is a Trilogy, of which the first two volumes, "Les Campagnes Hallucinées" and "Les Villes Tentaculaires" have already appeared, and the third, "Les Aubes," is in course of preparation. It is his longest and most ambitious effort, written throughout in a tragic and prophetic spirit, and undoubtedly contains much admirable and striking work. But for my own part, with all due respect for the Trilogy, I prefer Verhaeren in his lighter moods, moods which have already produced "L'Almanach" and "Les Villages Illusoires," and which, I rejoice to hear, will shortly give birth to a volume with the promising title of "Heures Claires."
Yet even at his gayest there is a pro- Such, in very inadequate outline, is the poet's later attitude towards life. To this period belongs "Les Villages Illusoires" which has always seemed to me at once the most beautiful and the most powerful of all his works, most full of true poetical feeling and most perfect in form. But I advance the opinion not without diffidence, for I find that it is not shared by his admirers among "les Jeunes" either of Paris or of Brussels, to whom he appeals most strongly as the poet of revolt, in blind conflict with fate. Such a mood is, however, as a rule, somewhat antagonistic to the English temperament, and I still venture to think that when the English public rises to an appreciation of Verhaeren, it is "Les Villages Illusoires" rather than "Les Débâcles" or the Trilogy, that will be best appreciated on this side of the Channel. In painting these illusory villages his symbolism finds its most perfect expression; with delicate art and with a wonderfully minute appreciation of the conditions of labor, he selects the humble toilers of the plains as symbols of the primary truths of life. Many of the poems are protests against selfish, narrow, and materialistic aims. He writes with bitter scorn of the carpenter who settles all the problems of life by rule and line, and can realize nothing outside his own petty mathematical calculations. "Les Pêcheurs" gives a weird picture, full of suggestive teaching, of the fishermen fishing with bent backs in stagnant waters through the misty night. So absorbed are they, each in his own selfish labors, that, though side by side, they never see one another, or speak to one another, or help one another. Of the enthusiasts and visionaries, the idealists of this world, even though their labor be barren and their dreams impracticable, Verhaeren writes with a note of triumphant tenderness. We find it in the beautiful and pathetic poem of the ferryman rowing vainly against time and tide in answer to a distant voice from the clouds, and again in more dramatic form in the bellringer wildly tolling his bell in the tower when the church is in flames. It
found streak of melancholy running through everything that falls from his pen. A distinctive note of many of his later poems is the sense of death by which they are pervaded, of death and of madness which lurk in the darkening landscape, and to which, sooner or later, man falls a helpless prey. Death is ever relentless, merciless, omnipotent; nothing can avail against her, not even La Sainte Vierge, to whom the peasants turn in their despair. It is here that Verhaeren and Maeterlinck approximate most nearly to one another. To both the spirit world has become the real, the dominant world, and man in his material form, in his outward and visible being, is the mere sport of the infinite and immeasurable forces which surround him, which he feels dominating his life, but of whose personality he remains necessarily in ignorance. Free-will becomes almost blotted out from life; we are all at the mercy of these dimly perceived influences, and more often the evil triumphs over the good. Yet there is beauty in life to save us from despair-abstract beauty, invincible in her strength and soul-satisfy. ing in her manifestations. Beauty is nature undefiled by man, the virgin plain which the "Ville Tentaculaire," or modern industrialism, is eating up. Man's works for the most part are evil: he is fallen humanity, with material instincts, a lust for gold and animal passions. Yet he is possessed of a soul, and those who will may commune with nature and so rise to some measure of appreciation of the higher mystical life. Verhaeren points no moral in all thisthe poet is not concerned with results he simply paints life as it appears to him, and would disclaim responsibility for the sadness of his pictures. For himself he finds his happiness, in the conviction that a benign spirit beyond the grave watches over and directs his life. He feels her hand in his hand, her robes brush past him, her eyes gaze into his, and the forlorn hopelessness of his former life is transformed into an energizing passion of love and gratitude.