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Title: Émile Verhaeren
Author: Zweig, Stefan, 1881-1942
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Émile Verhaeren from an unpublished photograph by
Charles Bernier, 1914.]


Four years have passed since the present volume appeared simultaneously
in German and French. In the meantime Verhaeren's fame has been
spreading; but in English-speaking countries he is still not so well
known as he deserves to be.

Something of his philosophy--if it may be called philosophy rather than
a poet's inspired visualising of the world--has passed into the public
consciousness in a grotesquely distorted form in what is known as
'futurism.' So long as futurism is associated with those who have
acquired a facile notoriety by polluting the pure idea, it would be an
insult to Verhaeren to suggest that he is to be classed with the
futurists commonly so-called; but the whole purpose of the present
volume will prove that the gospel of a very serious and reasoned
futurism is to be found in Verhaeren's writings.

Of the writer of the book it may be said that there was no one more
fitted than he to write the authentic exposition of the teaching which
he has hailed as a new religion. His relations to the Master are not
only those of a fervent disciple, but of an apostle whose labour of
love has in German-speaking lands and beyond been crowned with signal
success. Himself a lyrist of distinction, Stefan Zweig has accomplished
the difficult feat, which in this country still waits to be done, of
translating the great mass of Verhaeren's poems into actual and enduring
verse. Another book of his on Verlaine is already known in an English
rendering; so that he bids fair to become known in this country as one
of the most gifted of the writers of Young-Vienna.

As to the translation, I have endeavoured to be faithful to my text,
which is the expression of a personality. Whatever divergences there are
have been necessitated by the lapse of time. For help in reading the
proofs I have to thank Mr. M.T.H. Sadler and Mr. Fritz Voigt.

                                               J. BITHELL.

  14_th July_ 1914.













     Son tempérament, son caractère, sa vie, tout conspire à nous
     montrer son art tel que nous avons essayé de le définir. Une
     profonde unité les scelle. Et n'est-ce pas vers la découverte de
     cette unité-là, qui groupe en un faisceau solide les gestes, les
     pensées et les travaux d'un génie sur la terre, que la critique,
     revenue enfin de tant d'erreurs, devait tendre uniquement?

                                 VERHAEREN, _Rembrandt._


     Tout bouge--et l'on dirait les horizons en marche.
                                        É.V., 'La Foule.'

The feeling of this age of ours, of this our moment in eternity, is
different in its conception of life from that of our ancestors. Only
eternal earth has changed not nor grown older, that field, gloomed by
the Unknown, on which the monotonous light of the seasons divides, in a
rhythmic round, the time of blossoms and of their withering; changeless
only are the action of the elements and the restless alternation of
night and day. But the aspect of earth's spirit has changed, all that is
subjected to the toil of man. Has changed, to change again. The
evolution of the phenomena of culture seems to proceed with ever greater
rapidity: never was the span of a hundred years as rich, as replete as
that which stretches to the threshold of our own days. Cities have shot
up which are as huge and bewildering, as impenetrable and as endless, as
nothing else has been save those virgin forests now fast receding before
the onward march of the tilled land. More and more the work of man
achieves the grandiose and elementary character that was once Nature's
secret. The lightning is in his hands, and protection from the
weather's sudden onslaughts; lands that once yawned far apart are now
forged together by the iron hoop with which of old only the narrow
strait was arched; oceans are united that have sought each other for
thousands of years; and now in the very air man is building a new road
from country to country. All has changed.

     Tout a changé: les ténèbres et les flambeaux.
     Les droits et les devoirs out fait d'autres faisceaux,
     Du sol jusqu'au soleil, une neuve énergie
     Diverge un sang torride, en la vie élargie;
     Des usines de fonte ouvrent, sous le ciel bleu,
     Des cratères en flamme et des fleuves en feu;
     De rapides vaisseaux, sans rameurs et sans voiles,
     La nuit, sur les flots bleus, étonnent les étoiles;
     Tout peuple réveillé se forge une autre loi;
     Autre est le crime, autre est l'orgueil, autre est l'exploit.[1]

Changed, too, is the relation of individual to individual, of the
individual to the whole; at once more onerous and less burdensome is the
network of social laws, at once more onerous and less burdensome our
whole life.

But a still greater thing has happened. Not only the real forms, the
transitory facts of life have changed, not only do we live in other
cities, other houses, not only are we dressed in different clothes, but
the infinite above us too, that which seemed unshakable, has changed
from what it was for our fathers and forefathers. Where the actual
changes, the relative changes also. The most elementary forms of our
conception, space and time, have been displaced. Space has become other
than it was, for we measure it with new velocities. Roads that took our
forefathers days to traverse can now be covered in one short hour; one
flying night transports us to warm and luxuriant lands that were once
separated from us by the hardships of a long journey. The perilous
forests of the tropics with Jheir strange constellations, to see which
cost those of old a year of their lives, are of a sudden near to us and
easy of access. We measure differently with these different velocities
of life. Time is more and more the victor of space. The eye, too, has
learned other distances, and in cold constellations is startled to
perceive the forms of primeval landscapes petrified; and the human voice
seems to have grown a thousand times stronger since it has learned to
carry on a friendly conversation a hundred miles away. In this new
relationship of forces we have a different perception of the spanning
round of the earth, and the rhythm of life, beating more brightly and
swiftly, is likewise becoming new for us. The distance from springtime
to springtime is greater now and yet less, greater and yet less is the
individual hour, greater and less our whole life.

And therefore is it with new feelings that we must comprehend this new
age. For we all feel that we must not measure the new with the old
measures our forefathers used, that we must not live through the new
with feelings outworn, that we must discover a new sense of distance, a
new sense of time, a new sense of space, that we must find a new music
for this nervous, feverish rhythm around us. This new-born human
conditionality calls for a new morality; this new union of equals a new
beauty; this new topsy-turvydom a new system of ethics. And this new
confrontation with another and still newer world, with another Unknown,
demands a new religion, a new God. A new sense of the universe is, with
a muffled rumour, welling up in the hearts of all of us.

New things, however, must be coined into new words. A new age calls for
new poets, poets whose conceptions have been nurtured by their
environment, poets who, in the expression they give to this new
environment, themselves vibrate with the feverish rotation of life. But
so many of our poets are pusillanimous. They feel that their voices are
out of harmony with reality; they feel that they are not incorporated
with the new organism and a necessary part of it; they have a dull
foreboding that they do not speak the language of our contemporary life.
In our great cities they are like strangers stranded. The great roaring
streams of our new sensations are to them terrific and inconceivable.
They are ready to accept all the comfort and luxury of modern life; they
are quick to take advantage of the facilities afforded by technical
science and organisation; but for their poetry they reject these
phenomena, because they cannot master them. They recoil from the task
of transmuting poetical values, of sensing whatever is poetically new in
these new things. And so they stand aside. They flee from the real, the
contemporary, to the immutable; they take refuge in whatsoever the
eternal evolution has left untouched; they sing the stars, the
springtime, the babbling of springs which is now as it ever was, the
myth of love; they hide behind the old symbols; they nestle to the old
gods. Not from the moment, from the molten flowing ore, do they seize
and mould the eternal--no, as ever of old they dig the symbols of the
eternal out of the cold clay of the past, like old Greek statues. They
are not on that account insignificant; but at best they produce
something important, never anything necessary.

For only that poet can be necessary to our time who himself feels that
everything in this time is necessary, and therefore beautiful. He must
be one whose whole endeavour as poet and man it is to make his own
sensations vibrate in unison with contemporary sensations; who makes the
rhythm of his poem nothing else than the echoed rhythm of living things;
who adjusts the beat of his verse to the beat of our own days, and takes
into his quivering veins the streaming blood of our time. He must not on
this account, when seeking to create new ideals, be a stranger to the
ideals of old; for all true progress is based on the deepest
understanding of the past. Progress must be for him as Guyau interprets
it: 'Le pouvoir, lorsqu'on est arrivé à un état supérieur, d'éprouver
des émotions et des sensations nouvelles, sans cesser d'être encore
accessible à ce que contenaient de grand ou de beau ses précédantes
émotions.'[2] A poet of our time can only be great when he conceives
this time as great. The preoccupations of his time must be his also; its
social problem must be his personal concern. In such a poet succeeding
generations would see how man has fought a way to them from the past,
how in every moment as it passed he has wrestled to identify the feeling
of his own mind with that of the cosmos. And even though the great works
of such a poet should be soon disintegrated and his poems obsolete,
though his images should have paled, there would yet remain imperishably
vivid that which is of greater moment, the invisible motives of his
inspiration, the melody, the breath, the rhythm of his time. Such poets,
besides pointing the way to the coming generation, are in a deeper sense
the incarnation of their own period. Hence the time has come to speak of
Émile Verhaeren, the greatest of modern poets, and perhaps the only one
who has been conscious of what is poetical in contemporary feeling, the
only one who has shaped that feeling in verse, the first poet who, with
skill incomparably inspired, has chiselled our epoch into a mighty
monument of rhyme.

In Verhaeren's work our age is mirrored. The new landscapes are in it;
the sinister silhouettes of the great cities; the seething masses of a
militant democracy; the subterranean shafts of mines; the last heavy
shadows of silent, dying cloisters. All the intellectual forces of our
time, our time's ideology, have here become a poem; the new social
ideas, the struggle of industrialism with agrarianism, the vampire force
which lures the rural population from the health-giving fields to the
burning quarries of the great city, the tragic fate of emigrants,
financial crises, the dazzling conquests of science, the syntheses of
philosophy, the triumphs of engineering, the new colours of the
impressionists. All the manifestations of the new age are here reflected
in a poet's soul in their action--first confused, then understood, then
joyfully acclaimed--on the sensations of a New European. How this work
came into being, out of what resistance and crises a poet has here
conquered the consciousness of the necessity and then of the beauty of
the new cosmic phase, it shall be our task to show. If the time has
indeed come to class Verhaeren, it is not so much with the poets that
his place will be found. He does not so much stand with or above the
verse-smiths or actual artists in verse, with the musicians, or
painters, as rather with the great organisers, those who have forced the
new social currents to flow between dikes; with the legislators who
prevent the clashing of flamboyant energies; with the philosophers, who
aim at co-ordinating and unifying all these vastly complicated
tendencies in one brilliant synthesis. His poetry is a created poet's
world; it is a resolute shaping of phases, a considered new æstheticism,
and a conscious new inspiration. He is not only the poet, he is at the
same time the preacher of our time. He was the first to conceive of it
as _beautiful_, but not like those who, in their zeal for embellishment,
tone down the dark colours and bring out the bright ones; he has
conceived of it--we shall have to show with what a painful and intensive
effort--after his first most obstinate rejection of it, as a necessity,
and he has then transformed this conception of its necessity, of its
purpose, into beauty. Ceasing to look backwards, he has looked forwards.
He feels, quite in the spirit of evolution, in the spirit of Nietzsche,
that our generation is raised high above all the past, that it is the
summit of all that is past, and the turning-point towards the future.
This will perhaps seem too much to many people, who are inclined to call
our generation wretched and paltry, as though they had some inner
knowledge of the magnificence or the paltriness of generations gone. For
every generation only becomes great by the men who do not despair of it,
only becomes great by its poets who conceive of it as great, by its
charioteers of state who have confidence in its power of greatness. Of
Shakespeare and Hugo Verhaeren says: 'Ils grandissaient leur
siècle.'[3] They did not depict it with the perspective of others, but
out of the heart of their own greatness. Of such geniuses as Rembrandt
he says: 'Si plus tard, dans l'éloignement des siècles, ils semblent
traduire mieux que personne leur temps, c'est qu'ils l'ont recréé
d'après leur cerveau, et qu'ils l'ont imposé non pas tel qu'il était,
mais tel qu'ils l'ont déformé.'[4] But by magnifying their century, by
raising even ephemeral events of their own days into a vast perspective,
they themselves became great. While those who of set purpose diminish,
and while those by nature indifferent, are themselves diminished and
disregarded as the centuries recede, poets such as these we honour tell,
like illumined belfry clocks, the hour of the time to generations yet to
come. If the others bequeath some slight possession, a poem or so,
aphorisms, a book maybe, these survive more mightily: they survive in
some great conception, some great idea of an age, in that music of life
to which the faint-hearted and the ungifted of following epochs will
listen as it sounds from the past, because they in their turn are unable
to understand the rhythm of their own time. By this manner of inspired
vision Verhaeren has come to be the great poet of our time, by approving
of it as well as by depicting it, by the fact that he did not see the
new things as they actually are, but celebrated them as a new beauty.
He has approved of all that is in our epoch; of everything, to the very
resistance to it which he has conceived of as only a welcome
augmentation of the fighting force of our vitality. The whole atmosphere
of our time seems compressed in the organ music of his work; and whether
he touches the bright keys or the dark, whether he rolls out a lofty
diapason or strikes a gentle concord, it is always the onward-rushing
force of our time that vibrates in his poems. While other poets have
grown ever more lifeless and languid, ever more secluded and
disheartened, Verhaeren's voice has grown ever more resonant and
vigorous, like an organ indeed, full of reverence and the mystical power
of sublime prayer. A spirit positively religious, not of despondency,
however, but of confidence and joy, breathes from this music of his,
freshening and quickening the blood, till the world takes on brighter
and more animated and more generous colours, and our vitality, fired by
the fever of his verse, flashes with a richer and younger and more
virile flame.

But the fact that life, to-day of all days, needs nothing so urgently as
the freshening and quickening of our vitality, is good reason why--quite
apart from all literary admiration--we must read his books, is good
reason why this poet must be discussed with all that glad enthusiasm
which we have first learned for our lives from his work.


[1] 'Aujourd'hui'(_Les Héros_).

[2] Guyau, _L'Esthétique Contemporaine._

[3] 'L'Art' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[4] _Rembrandt_.


     Entre la France ardente et la grave Allemagne.
             _É.V._, 'Charles le Téméraire.'

In Belgium the roads of Europe meet. A few hours transport one from
Brussels, the heart of its iron arteries, to Germany, France, Holland,
and England; and from Belgian ports all countries and all races are
accessible across the pathless sea. The area of the land being small, it
provides a miniature but infinitely varied synthesis of the life of
Europe. All contrasts stand face to face concisely and sharply outlined.
The train roars through the land: now past coal-mines, past furnaces and
retorts that write the fiery script of toil on an ashen sky; now through
golden fields or green pastures where sleek, brindled cows are grazing;
now through great cities that point to heaven with their multitudinous
chimneys; and lastly to the sea, the Rialto of the north, where
mountains of cargoes are shipped and unshipped, and trade traffics with
a thousand hands. Belgium is an agricultural land and an industrial
land; it is at the same time conservative and socialistic, Roman
Catholic and free-thinking; at once wealthy and wretched. There are
colossal fortunes heaped up in the monster cities; and two hours thence
the bitterest poverty sweats for the dole of a living in mines and
barns. And again in the cities still greater forces wrestle with one
another: life and death, the past and the future. Towns monkishly
secluded, girt with ponderous mediæval walls, towns on whose swart and
sedgy canals lonely swans glide like milky gondolas, towns like a dream,
strengthless, prisoned in sleep eternal. At no great distance glitter
the modern residential cities; Brussels with its glaring boulevards,
where electric inscriptions dart coruscating up and down the fronts of
buildings, where motor-cars whiz along, where the streets rumble, and
modern life twitches with feverish nerves. Contrast on contrast. From
the right the Teutonic tide dashes in, the Protestant faith; from the
left, sumptuous and rigidly orthodox, Roman Catholicism. And the race
itself is the restlessly struggling product of two races, the Flemish
and the Walloon. Naked, clear, and direct are the contrasts which here
defy each other; and the whole battle can be surveyed at a glance.

But so strong, so persistent is the inexorable pressure of the two
neighbouring races, that this blend has already become a new ferment, a
new race. Elements once contrary are now unrecognisably mixed in a new
and growing product. Teutons speak French, people of Romance stock are
Flemish in feeling. Pol de Mont, in spite of his Gallic name, is a
Flemish poet; Verhaeren, Maeterlinck, and van Lerberghe, though no
Frenchman can pronounce their names rightly, are French poets. And this
new Belgian race is a strong race, one of the most capable in Europe.
Contact with so many foreign cultures, the vicinity of such
contradictory nations, has fertilised them; healthy rural labour has
steeled their limbs; the near sea has opened their eyes to the great
distances. Their consciousness of themselves is of no long date: it can
only be reckoned from the time when their country became independent,
hardly a hundred years ago. A nation younger than America, they are in
their adolescence now, and rejoicing in their new, unsought strength.
And just as in America, the blend of races here, together with the
fruitful, healthy fields, has procreated robust men. For the Belgian
race is a race pulsing with vitality. Nowhere in Europe is life so
intensely, so merrily enjoyed as in Flanders, nowhere else is sensuality
and pleasure in excess so much the measure of strength. They must be
seen particularly in their sensual life; it must be seen how the Flemish
enjoy; with what greediness, with what a conscious pleasure and robust
endurance. It is among them that Jordaens found the models for his
gluttonous orgies; and they could be found still at every kermesse, at
every wake. Statistics prove that in the consumption of alcohol Belgium
stands to-day at the head of Europe. Every second house is an inn, an
_estaminet_; every town, every village has its brewery; and the brewers
are the wealthiest men in the country. Nowhere else are festivals so
loud, boisterous, and unbridled; nowhere else is life loved and lived
with such a superabundant zest and glow. Belgium is the land of
excessive vitality, and ever was so. They have fought for this plenitude
of life, for this enjoyment full to satiety. Their most heroic exploit,
their great war with the Spaniards, was only a struggle not so much for
religion as for sensual freedom. These desperate revolts, this immense
effort was in reality not directed against Roman Catholicism, but
against the morality, the asceticism it enforced; not so much against
Spain as against the sinister malignity of the Inquisition; against the
taciturn, bitter, and insidious Puritanism which sought to curtail
enjoyment; against the morose reserve of Philip II. All that they wanted
at that time was to preserve their bright and laughing life, their free,
dionysiac enjoyment, the imperious avidity of their senses; they were
determined not to be limited by any measure short of excess. And with
them life conquered. Health, strength, and fecundity is to this very day
the mark of the Belgian people in town and country. Poverty itself is
not hollow-cheeked and stunted here. Chubby, red-cheeked children play
in the streets; the peasants working in the fields are straight and
sturdy; even the artisans are as muscular and strong as they are in
Constantin Meunier's bronzes; the women are moulded to bear children
easily; the unbroken vigour of the old men persists in a secure defiance
of age. Constantin Meunier was fifty when he began his life-work here;
at sixty Verhaeren is at the zenith of his creative power. Insatiable
seems the strength of this race, whose deepest feeling has been
chiselled by Verhaeren in proud stanzas:

    Je suis le fils de cette race,
    Dont les cerveaux plus que les dents
    Sont solides et sont ardents
    Et sont voraces.
    Je suis le fils de cette race
    Qui veut, après avoir voulu
    Encore, encore et encore plus![1]

This tremendous exertion has not been in vain. To-day Belgium is
relatively the richest country in Europe. Its colony of the Congo is ten
times as extensive as the mother-land. The Belgians hardly know where to
place their capital: Belgian money is invested in Russia, in China, in
Japan; they are concerned in all enterprises; their financiers control
trusts in all countries. The middle classes, too, are healthy, strong,
and contented.

Such rich and healthy blood is more likely than any other to produce
good art, and, above all, art full of the zest of life. For it is in
countries with few possibilities of expansion that the desire for
artistic activity is keenest. The imagination of great nations is for
the most part absorbed by the practical demands of their development.
The best strength of a great nation is claimed by politics, by
administration, by the army and navy; but where political life is of
necessity poor, where the problems of administration are forcibly
restricted, men of genius almost exclusively seek their conquests in the
domains of art. Scandinavia is one example, Belgium another, of
countries in which the aristocracy of intellect have with the happiest
results been forced back on art and science. In such young races the
vital instinct must _a priori_ make all artistic activity strong and
healthy; and even when they produce a decadence, this reaction, this
contradiction, is so decided and consequent, that strength lies in its
very weakness. For only a strong light can cast strong shadows; only a
strong, sensual race can bring forth the really great and earnest
mystics; because a decided reaction which is conscious of its aim
requires as much energy as positive creation.

The towering structure of Belgian art rests on a broad foundation. The
preparation, the growing under the sod, took fifty years; and then in
another fifty years it was reared aloft by the youth of one single
generation. For every healthy evolution is slow, most of all in the
Teutonic races, which are not so quick, supple, and dexterous as the
Latin races, who learn by life itself rather than by studious
application. This literature has grown ring by ring like a tree, with
its roots deep in a healthy soil nourished by the unyielding
perseverance of centuries. Like every confession of faith, this
literature has its saints, its martyrs, and its disciples. The first of
the creators, the forerunner, was Charles de Coster; and his great epic
_Thyl Ulenspiegel_ is the gospel of this new literature. His fate is
sad, like that of all pioneers. In him the native blend of races is more
plastically visualised than in all later writers. Of Teutonic
extraction, he was born in Munich, wrote in French, and was the first
man to feel as a Belgian. He earned his living painfully as a teacher at
the Military School. And when his great romance appeared, it was
difficult to find a publisher, and still more difficult to find
appreciation, or even notice. And yet this work, with its wonderful
confrontation of Ulenspiegel as the deliverer of Flanders with Philip
II. as Antichrist, is to this day the most beautiful symbol of the
struggle of light with darkness, of vitality with renunciation; an
enduring monument in the world's literature, because it is the epic of a
whole nation. With such a work of wide import did Belgian literature
begin, a work that with its heroic battles stands like the Iliad as the
proud and primitive beginning of a more delicate, but in its advanced
culture more complex, literature. The place of this writer, who died
prematurely, was taken by Camille Lemonnier, who accepted the hard task
and the melancholy inheritance of pioneers--ingratitude and
disillusion. Of this proud and noble character also one must speak as of
a hero. For more than forty years he fought indefatigably for Belgium, a
soldier leading the onset from first to last, launching book after book,
creating, writing, calling to the fray and marshalling the new forces;
and never resting till the adjective 'Belgian' ceased in Paris and
Europe to be spoken with the contempt that attaches to 'provincial';
till, like once the name of the Gueux, what was originally a disgrace
became a title of honour. Fearlessly, not to be discouraged by any
failure, this superb writer sung his native land--fields, mines, towns,
and men; the angry, fiery blood of youths and maidens; and over all the
ardent yearning for a brighter, freer, greater religion, for rapt
communion with the sublimity of Nature. With the ecstatic revelling in
colour of his illustrious ancestor Rubens, who gathered all the things
of life together in a glad festival of the senses, he, like a second
voluptuary at the feast, has lavished colours, had his joy of all that
is glowing, and glaring, and satiated, and, like every genuine artist,
conceived of art as an intensifying of life, as life in intoxication.
For more than forty years he created in this sense, and miraculously,
just like the men of his country, like the peasants he painted, he
waxed in vigour from year to year, from harvest to harvest, his books
growing ever more fiery, ever more drunken with the zest and glow of
life, his faith in life ever brighter and more confident. He was the
first to feel the strength of his young country with conscious pride,
and his voice rang out its loud appeal for new fighters till he no
longer stood alone, till a company of other artists were ranged around
him. Each of these he supported and firmly established, with a strong
grip placing them at their vantage for the battle; and without envy, nay
with joy, he saw his own work triumphantly overshadowed by the acclaimed
creations of his juniors. With joy, because he probably considered not
his own novels, but this creation of a literature his greatest and most
lasting work. For it seemed as though in these years the whole land had
become alive; as though every town, every profession, every class had
sent forth a poet or a painter to immortalise them; as though this whole
Belgium were eager to be symbolised in individual phases in works of
art, until he should come who was destined to transform all towns and
classes in a poem, enshrining in it the harmonised soul of the land. Are
not the ancient Teutonic cities of Bruges, Courtrai, and Ypres
spiritualised in the stanzas of Rodenbach, in the pastels of Fernand
Khnopff, in the mystic statues of Georges Minne? Have not the sowers of
corn and the workers in mines become stone in the busts of Constantin
Meunier? Does not a great drunkenness glow in Georges Eekhoud's
descriptions? The mystic art of Maeterlinck and Huysmans drinks its
deepest strength from old cloisters and _béguinages_; the sun of the
fields of Flanders glows in the pictures of Théo van Rysselberghe and
Claus. The delicate walking of maidens and the singing of belfries have
been made music in the stanzas of the gentle Charles van Lerberghe; the
vehement sensuality of a savage race has been spiritualised in the
refined eroticism of Félicien Rops. The Walloons have their
representative in Albert Mockel; and how many others might still be
named of the great creators: the sculptor van der Stappen; the painters
Heymans, Stevens; the writers des Ombiaux, Demolder, Glesener,
Crommelynck; who have all in their confident and irresistible advance
conquered the esteem of France and the admiration of Europe. For they,
and just they, were gifted with a sense of the great complex European
feeling which in their work is glimpsed in its birth and growth; for
they did not in their idea of a native land stop at the boundaries of
Belgium, but included all the neighbouring countries, because they were
at the same time patriots and cosmopolitans: Belgium was to them not
only the place where all roads meet, but also that whence all roads

Each of these had shaped his native land from his own angle of vision; a
whole phalanx of artists had added picture to picture. Till then this
great one came, Verhaeren, who saw, felt, and loved everything in
Flanders, 'toute la Flandre.' Only in his work did it become a unity;
for he has sung everything, land and sea, towns and workshops, cities
dead and cities at their birth. He has not conceived of this Flanders of
his as a separate phase, as a province, but as the heart of Europe, with
the strength of its blood pulsing inwards from outside and outside from
inwards; he has opened out horizons beyond the frontiers, and heightened
and connected them; and with the same inspiration he has molten and
welded the individual together with the whole until out of his work a
life-work grew--the lyric epic of Flanders. What de Coster half a
century before had not dared to fashion from the present, in which he
despaired of finding pride, power, and the heroism of life, Verhaeren
has realised; and thus he has become the 'carillonneur de la Flandre,'
the bell-ringer who, as in olden days from the watch-tower, has summoned
the whole land to the defence of its will to live, and the nation to the
pride and consciousness of its power.

This Verhaeren could only do, because he in himself represents all the
contrasts, all the advantages of the Belgian race. He too is a ferment
of contrasts, a new man made of split and divergent forces now
victoriously harmonised. From the French he has his language and his
form; from the Germans his instinctive seeking of God, his earnestness,
his gravity, his need of metaphysics, and his impulse to pantheism.
Political instincts, religious instincts, Catholicism and socialism,
have struggled in him; he is at once a dweller in great cities and a
cottager in the open country; and the deepest impulse of his people,
their lack of moderation and their greed of life, is in the last
instance the maxim of his poetic art. Only that their pleasure in
intoxication has in him become joy in a noble drunkenness, in ecstasy;
only that their carnal joy has become a delight in colour; that their
mad raging is now in him a pleasure in a rhythm that roars and thunders
and bursts in foam. The deepest thing in his race, an inflexible
vitality which is not to be shaken by crises or catastrophes, has in him
become universal law, a conscious, intensified zest in life. For when a
country has become strong and rejoices in its strength, it needs, like
every plethora, a cry, an exultation. Just as Walt Whitman was the
exultation of America in its new strength, Verhaeren is the triumph of
the Belgian race, and of the European race too. For this glad confession
of life is so strong, so glowing, so virile that it cannot be thought of
as breaking forth from the heart of one individual, but is evidently the
delight of a fresh young nation in its beautiful and yet unfathomed


[1] 'Ma Race' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).


        Seize, dix-sept et dix-huit ans!
     O ce désir d'être avant l'âge et le vrai temps
                 Dont chacun dit
     Il boit à larges brocs et met à mal les filles!
                                    É.V., _Les Tendresses Premières_.

The history of modern Belgian literature begins, by a whim of chance, in
one and the same house. In Ghent, the favourite city of the Emperor
Charles V., in the old, heavy Flemish town that is still girdled with
ramparts, lies, remote from the noisy streets, the grey Jesuit college
of Sainte-Barbe. A cloister with thick, cold, frowning walls, mute
corridors, silent refectories, reminding one somewhat of the beautiful
colleges in Oxford, save that here there is no ivy softening the walls,
and no flowers to lay their variegated carpet over the green courts.
Here, in the seventies, two strange pairs of boys meet on the
school-benches; here among thousands of names are four which are
destined in later days to be the pride of their country. First, Georges
Rodenbach and Émile Verhaeren, then Maeterlinck and Charles van
Lerberghe--two pairs of friendships, both of which are now torn asunder
by death. The weaker, the more delicate of the four, Georges Rodenbach
and Charles van Lerberghe, have died; Emile Verhaeren and Maeterlinck,
the two heroes of Flanders, are still growing and not yet at the zenith
of their fame. But all four began their course in the old college. The
Jesuit fathers taught them their humanities, and even to write poems--in
Latin, it is true, to begin with; and in this exercise, strange to say,
Maeterlinck was excelled by van Lerberghe with his more instinctive
sense of form, and Verhaeren by the more supple Georges Rodenbach. With
rigorous earnestness the fathers trained them to respect the past, to
have faith in conventional things, to think in old grooves, and to hate
innovations. The aim was not only to keep them Catholics, but to win
them for the priesthood: these cloister walls were to protect them from
the hostile breath of the new world, from the freshening wind which, in
Flanders as everywhere else, was assailing the growing generation.

But in these four pupils the aim was not realised, least of all in
Verhaeren, perhaps for the very reason that he, as the scion of a
strictly orthodox family, was the most fitted to be a priest; because
his mind did not absorb conviction mechanically, but achieved it by
vital processes; because his inmost being was self-surrender and a
glowing devotion to great ideas. However, the call of the open country,
in which he had grown up, was too strong in him; the voice of life was
too loud in his blood for so early a renunciation of all; his mind was
too tameless to be satisfied with the established and the traditional.
The impressions of his childhood were more vivid than the teaching of
his masters. For Verhaeren was born in the country, at St. Amand on the
Scheldt (on the 21st of May 1855), where the landscape rolls to the vast
horizons of the heath and the sea. Here in the happiest manner kindly
circumstances wove the garland of his earlier years. His parents were
well-to-do people who had retired from the din of the town to this
little corner of Flanders; here they had a cottage of their own, with a
front garden ablaze with flowers of all colours. And immediately behind
the house began the great golden fields, the tangle of flowering
hedgerows; and close by was the river with its slow waves hasting no
longer, feeling the nearness of their goal, the infinite ocean. Of the
untrammelled days of his boyhood the ageing poet has told us in his
wonderful book _Les Tendresses Premières_. He has told us of the boy he
was when he ran across country; clambered into the corn-loft where the
glittering grain was heaped; climbed steeples; watched the peasants at
their sowing and reaping; and listened to the maids at the washing-tub
singing old Flemish songs. He watched all trades; he rummaged in every
corner. He would sit with the watch-maker, marvelling at the humming
little wheels that fashioned the hour; and no less to see the glowing
maw of the oven in the bakery swallowing the corn which only the day
before had glided through his fingers in rustling ears, and was now
already bread, golden, warm, and odorous. At games he would watch in
astonishment the glad strength of the young fellows tumbling the reeling
skittles over; and he would wander with the playing band from village to
village, from fair to fair. And, sitting on the bank of the Scheldt, he
would watch the ships, with their coloured streamers, come and go, and
in his dreams follow them to the vast distances, which he only knew from
sailors' yarns and pictures in old books. All this, this daily physical
familiarity with the things of Nature, this lived insight into the
thousand activities of the working-day, became his inalienable
possession. Inalienable, too, was the humane feeling he acquired that he
was one at heart with the people of his village. From them he learned
the names of all these thousand things, and the intelligence of the
mysterious mechanism in all skilled handiwork, and all the petty cares
and perplexities of these many scattered little souls of life which,
combined, are the soul of a whole land. And therefore Verhaeren is the
only one among modern poets in the French tongue who is really popular
with his countrymen of all ranks. He still goes in and out among them as
their equal, sits in their circle even now, when fame has long since
shown him his place among the best and noblest, chats with the peasants
in the village inn, and loves to hear them discussing the weather and
the harvest and the thousand little things of their narrow world. He
belongs to them, and they belong to him. He loves their life, their
cares, their labour, loves this whole land with its tempests raging from
the north, with its hail and snow, its thundering sea and lowering
clouds. It is with pride that he claims kindred with his race and land;
and indeed there is often in his gait and in his gestures something of
the peasant trampling with heavy steps and hard knee after his plough;
and his eyes 'are grey as his native sea, his hair is yellow like the
corn of his fields.' These elemental forces are in his whole being and
production. You feel that he has never lost touch with Nature, that he
is still organically connected with the fields, the sea, the open air;
he to whom spring is physically painful, who is depressed by relaxing
air, who loves the weather of his home-land, its vehemence, and its
savage, tameless strength.

For this very reason he has in later years felt, what was natively
uncongenial to him--the great cities--differently and far more intensely
than poets brought up in them. What to the latter appeared self-evident
was to him astonishment, abomination, terror, admiration, and love. For
him the atmosphere we breathe in cities was heavy, stifling, poisoned;
the streets between the massed houses were too narrow, too congested;
hourly, at first in pain and then with admiration, he has felt the
beautiful fearfulness of the vast dimensions, the strangeness of the new
forms of life. Just as we walk through mountain ravines dumbfounded and
terrified by their sublimity, he has walked through streets of cities,
first slowly accustoming himself to them; thus he has explored them,
described them, celebrated them, and in the deepest sense lived them.
Their fever has streamed into his blood; their revolts have reared in
him like wild horses; their haste and unrest has whipped his nerves for
half the span of a man's life. But then he has returned home again. In
his fifties he has taken refuge once more in his fields, under the
lonely sky of Flanders. He lives in a lonely cottage somewhere in
Belgium, where the railway does not reach, enjoying himself among
cheerful and simple people who fill their days with plain labour, like
the friends and companions of his boyhood. With a joy intensified he
goes eagerly year by year to the sea, as though his lungs and his heart
needed it to breathe strongly again, to feel life with more jubilant
enthusiasm. In the man of sixty there is a wonderful return of his
healthy, happy childhood; and to the Flanders that inspired his first
verses his last have been dedicated.

Against this atavism, against this bright and inalienable joy in life,
the _patres_ of Sainte-Barbe could do nothing. They could only deflect
his great hunger of life from material things, and turn it in the
direction of science, of art. The priest they sought to make of him he
has really become, only he has preached everything that they proscribed,
and fought against everything that they praised. At the time Verhaeren
leaves school, he is already filled with that noble yet feverish greed
of life, that tameless yearning for intensive enjoyments heightened to
the degree of pain which is so characteristic of him. The priesthood was
repugnant to him. Nor was he more allured by the prospect, held out to
him, of directing his uncle's workshop. It is not yet definitely the
poetic vocation which appeals to him, but he does desire a free active
calling with unlimited possibilities. To gain time for his final
decision, he studies jurisprudence, and becomes a barrister. In these
student years in Louvain Verhaeren gave free rein to his untameable zest
in life; as a true Fleming he eschewed moderation and launched into
intemperance. To this very day he is fond of telling of his liking for.
good Belgian beer, and of how the students got drunk, danced at all the
kermesses, caroused and feasted, when the fury came over them, and got
into all kinds, of mischief, which often enough brought them into
conflict with the police. Uncertainty was never a feature of his
character, and so his Roman Catholicism was in those years no silent and
impersonal faith, but a militant orthodoxy. A handful of hotspurs--the
publisher Deman was one of them, and another was the tenor van Dyck--set
a newspaper going, in which they lashed away mercilessly at the
corruption of the modern world, and did not forget to blow their own
trumpets. The university was not slow to veto these immature
manifestations; but ere long they started a second periodical, which
was, however, more in harmony with the great contemporary movements.
Betweenwhiles verses were written. And still more passionate is the
young poet's activity when, in the year 1881, he is called to the bar in
Brussels. Here he makes friends with men of great vitality: he is
welcomed by a circle of painters and artists, and a cénacle of young
talents is formed who have the authentic enthusiasm for art, and who
feel that they are violently opposed to the conservative bourgeoisie of
Brussels. Verhaeren, who at this time greedily adopts all fashionable
freakishness as something new, and struts about in fantastic apparel,
promptly acquires notoriety by his vehement passionateness and his first
literary attempts. He had begun to write verse in his school-days.
Lamartine had been his model, then Victor Hugo, who bewitches young
people, that lord of magnificent gestures, that undisputed master of
words. These juvenilia of Verhaeren have never been published, and
probably they have little interest, for in them his tameless vitality
attempted expression in immaculate Alexandrines. More and more, as his
artistic insight grew, he felt that his vocation was to be a poet; the
meagre success he achieved as a barrister confirmed him in this
conviction, and so in the end, following the advice of Edmond Picard, he
discarded the barrister's gown, which now seemed to him as narrow and
stifling as he had once thought the priest's cassock to be.

And then came the hour, the first decisive hour. Lemonnier was as fond
of relating it as is Verhaeren; both would speak of it with their
fervent, proud joy in a friendship of over thirty years; both with
heartfelt admiration, the one for the other. Once, it was a rainy day,
Verhaeren burst in on Lemonnier, whom he did not know, trampling into
the elder man's lodging with his heavy peasant's tread, hailing him with
his hearty gesture, and blurting out: 'Je veux vous lire des vers!' It
was the manuscript of his first book _Les Flamandes_; and now he
recited, while the rain poured down outside, with his hard voice and
sharp scansion, his great enthusiasm and his compelling gestures, those
pictures, palpitating with life, of Flanders, that first free confession
of patriotism and foaming vitality. And Lemonnier encouraged him,
congratulated him, helped him, and suggested alterations, and soon the
book appeared, to the terror of Verhaeren's strictly orthodox family, to
the horror of the critics, who were helpless in the face of such an
explosion of strength. Execrated and lauded, it immediately compelled
interest. In Belgium, it is true, it was less acclaimed than declaimed
against; but nevertheless it everywhere excited a commotion, and that
grumbling unrest which always heralds the advent of a new force.


     Je suis le fils de cette race
     Qui veut, après avoir voulu
     Encore, encore et encore plus.
                               É.V., _Ma Race_.

The life-work of great artists contains not only a single, but a
threefold work of art. The actual creation is only the first, and not
always the most important; the second must be the life of the artists
themselves; the third must be the harmoniously finished, organically
connected relationship between the act of creating and the thing
created, between poetry and life. To survey how inner growth is
connected with external formation, how crises of physical reality are
connected with artistic decadence, how development and completion
interpenetrate as much in personal experience as in the artistic
creation, must be an equal artistic rapture, must disengage as pure a
line of beauty as the individual work. In Verhaeren these conditions of
the threefold work of art are accomplished in full. Harsh and abrupt as
the contrasts in his books seem to be, the totality of his development
is yet rounded off to a clear line, to the figure of a circle. In the
beginning the end was contained, and in the end the beginning: the bold
curve returns to itself. Like one who travels round the world and
circles the vast circumference of the globe, he comes back in the end to
his starting-point. Beginning and end touch in the motive of his work.
To the country to which his youth belonged his old age returns: Flanders
inspired his first book, and to Flanders his last books are dedicated.

True it is, between these two books _Les Flamandes_ and _Les Blés
Mouvants_, between the work of the man of five-and-twenty and that of
the man of sixty, lies the world of an evolution with, all its points of
view and achievements. Only now, when the line that was at first so
capricious has returned to itself, can its form be surveyed and its
harmony perceived. A purely external observation has become penetration:
the eye no longer exclusively regards the external phenomena of things,
but all has been seized in his soul from within and imaged in accordance
with its reality. Now nothing is seen isolated, from the point of view
of curiosity or passing interest, but everything is looked upon as
something that is, that has grown, and that is still growing. The motive
is the same in the first and in the last books; only, in the first book
we have isolated contemplation, while in the great creations of the last
period the vast horizons of the modern world are set behind the scenes,
with the shadows of the past on the one side, and, as well, with fiery
presentiments of the future shedding a new light over the landscape.
The painter, who only portrayed the outer surface, the patina, has
developed into the poet, he who in a musical vibration vivifies the
psychic and the inconceivable. These two works stand in the same
relation to each other as Wagner's first operas, _Rienzi_ and
_Tannhäuser_, do to his later creations, to the _Ring_ and _Parsifal_:
what was at first only intuitive becomes consciously creative. And as in
Wagner's case, so too with Verhaeren there are to this very day people
who prefer the works that are still prisoned in the traditional form to
those which were created later, and who are thus, in reality, greater
strangers to the poet than those who, from principle, assume a hostile
attitude to his artistic work.

_Les Flamandes_, Verhaeren's first work, appeared in a period of
literary commotion. Zola's realistic novels had just become the object
of discussion; and they had stirred up, not France only, but the
adjacent countries as well. In Belgium Camille Lemonnier was the
interpreter of this new naturalism, which regarded absolute truth as
more important than beauty, and which saw the sole aim of imaginative
literature in photography, in the exact, scientifically accurate
reproduction of reality. To-day, now that excessive naturalism has been
overcome, we know that this theory only brings us half-way along the
road; that beauty may live by the side of truth; that on the other hand
truth is not identical with art, but that it was only necessary to
establish a transmutation of the value of beauty; that it was in the
actual, in realities, that beauty was to be sought. Every new theory, if
it is to succeed, needs a strong dose of exaggeration. And the idea of
realising reality in poetry seduced young Verhaeren into carefully
avoiding, in the description of his native province, all that is
sentimental and romantic, and deluded him with the hope of expressing in
his verse only what is coarse, primitive, and savage. Something external
and something internal, nature and intention, combined to cause this
effect. For the hatred of all that is soft and weak, rounded off and in
repose, is in Verhaeren's blood. His temperament was from the first
fiery, and loved to respond to strong provocation with a violent blow.
There was ever in him a love of the brutal, the hard, the rough, the
angular; he had always a liking for what is glaring and intensive, loud
and noisy. It is only in his latest books that, thanks to his cooler
blood, he has attained classical perfection and purity. In those days,
moreover, his hatred of sentimental idealisation, the hatred that in
Germany fulminated against Defregger's drawing-room Tyrolese, Auerbach's
scented peasants, and the spruce mythology of poetical pictures, led him
deliberately to emphasise what is brutal, unæsthetic, and, as it was
then felt, unpoetical; led him, as it were, to trample with heavy shoes
in the tedious footsteps of French poets. Barbarian: this was the word
they tried to kill him with, not so much on account of the harshness and
coarseness of his diction, which often reminds one of the guttural
sounds of German, as because of the savage selection of his instinct,
which always preferred what is ringingly resonant and ferociously alive,
which never fed on nectar and ambrosia, but tore red and steaming shreds
of flesh from the body of life. And genuinely barbarous, savage with
Teutonic strength, is this his inroad into French literature, reminding
one of those migrations of the Teutons into the Latin lands, where they
rushed ponderously to battle with wild and raucous cries, to learn,
after a time, a higher culture and the finer instincts of life from
those they had conquered. Verhaeren in this book does not describe what
is amiable and dreamy in Flanders, not idylls, but 'les fureurs
d'estomac, de ventre et de débauche,'[1] ail the explosions of the lust
of life, the orgies of peasants, and even of the animal world. Before
him, his old schoolfellow Rodenbach had described Flanders to the French
in poems that sounded gently with a silvery note, like the peal of
belfries hovering over roofs; he had reminded them of that unforgettable
melancholy of the evening over the canals of Bruges, of the magic of the
moonlight over fields framed with dikes and hedges of willows. But
Verhaeren closes his ears to hints of death; he describes life at its
maddest, 'le décor monstrueux des grasses kermesses,'[2] popular
festivals, in which intoxication and sensual pleasure sting the
unbridled strength of the crowd, in which the demands of the body and
the greed of money come into conflict, and the bestial nature of man
overthrows the painfully learned lessons of morality. And even in these
descriptions, which often teem with the exuberance of Rabelais, one
feels that even this explosive life is not mad enough for him, that he
yearns to intensify life out and beyond reality: 'jadis les gars avaient
les reins plus fermes et les garces plus beau téton.'[3] These young
fellows are too weak for him, the wenches too gentle; he cries for the
Flanders of olden time, as it lives in the glowing pictures of Rubens
and Jordaens and Breughel. These are his true masters, they, the
revellers, who created their masterpieces between two orgies, whose
laughter and feasting ring into the motives of their pictures. Some of
the poems in _Les Flamandes_ are direct imitations of certain interiors
and sensual genre-pictures: lads afire with lust forcing wenches under
the hedges; peasants in their drunken jubilation dancing round the inn
table. His desire is to sing that superabundance of vitality which
relieves itself by excess, excess flung into excess, even in sensual
pleasures. And his own colours and words, which are laid on with lavish
profusion and flow along in liquid fire, are themselves a debauch, a
'rut' (a favourite word of his). This vaunting display of seething
pictures is nothing less than an orgy. A terrific sensuality rages to
exhaustion as much in the execution as in the motive, a delight in these
creatures who have the madness of rutting stallions, who root about in
odorous meats and in the flowering flesh of women, who of set purpose
gorge themselves with beer and wine, and then in the dance and in
embraces discharge all the fire they have swallowed. Now and again a
reposeful picture alternates, firmly fixed in the dark frame of a
sonnet. But the hot wave streams over these breathing-spaces, and again
the mood is that of Rubens and of Jordaens, those mighty revellers.

But naturalistic art is pictorial, not poetic. And it is the great
defect of this book that it was written by an inspired painter only, not
yet by a poet. The words are coloured, but they are not free; they do
not yet rock themselves in their own rhythm; they do not yet storm along
to soar aloft with the inspiration; they are wild horses regularly
trotting along in the shafts of the Alexandrine. There is a disparity
between the inner intractability and the external regularity of these
poems. The ore has not yet been molten long enough in the crucible of
life to burst the hereditary mould. You feel that the avidity of life
which is the substance of the work has really been seen 'à travers un
tempérament,' that here a strong personality is in revolt against all
tradition, a strong personality whose ponderous onslaught was bound to
strike terror into the cautious and the short-sighted. But the strength
and the art are not yet emancipated. Verhaeren is already a passionate
onlooker, but he is still only an onlooker, one who stands without and
not within the vortex, who watches everything with inspired sympathy,
but who has not yet experienced it. This land of Flanders has not yet
become a part of the poet's sensibility; the new point of view and the
new form for it are not yet achieved; there is yet wanting that final
smelting of the artistic excitement which is bound to burst all bonds
and restrictions, to flame along in its own free feeling in an
enraptured intoxication.


[1] 'Les Vieux Maîtres' (_Les Flamandes_).

[2] 'Les Vieux Maîtres' (_Les Flamandes_).

[3] 'Truandailles' (_Ibid._).


     Moines venus vers nous des horizons gothiques,
     Mais dont l'âme, mais dont l'esprit meurt de demain....
     Mes vers vous bâtiront de mystiques autels.
                                       É.V., 'Aux Moines.'

Rubens, that lavish reveller, is the genius of the Flemish zest in
living; but zest in living is only the temperament and not the soul of
Flanders. Before him there were the earnest masters of the cloisters,
the primitives, the van Eycks, Memling, Gerhard David, Roger van der
Weyden; and after them came Rembrandt, the meditative visionary, the
restless seeker after new values. Belgium is something else beside the
merry land of kermesses; the healthy, sensual people are not the soul of
Flanders. Glaring lights cast strong shadows. All vitality that is
strongly conscious of itself produces its counterpart, seclusion and
asceticism; it is just the healthiest, the elemental races--the Russians
of to-day for instance--who among their strong have the weak, among
their gluttons of life those who avert their faces from it, among those
who assent some who deny. By the side of the ambitious, teeming Belgium
we have spoken of, there is a sequestered Belgium which is falling into
ruins. Art exclusively in Rubens's sense could take no account of all
those solitary cities, Bruges, Ypres, Dixmude, through whose noiseless
streets the monks hasten like flocks of ravens in long processions, in
whose canals the dumb white shadows of gliding nuns are mirrored. There,
mid life's raging river, are broad islands of dream where men find
refuge from realities. Even in the great Belgian cities there are such
sequestered haunts of silence, the _béguinages,_ those little towns in
the town, whither ageing men and women have retired, renouncing the
world for the peace of the cloister. Quite as much as the passion of
life, the Roman Catholic faith and monkish renunciation are nowhere so
deeply and firmly rooted as in this Belgium, where sensual pleasure is
so noisy in its excess. Here again an extreme of contrasts is revealed:
frowning in the face of the materialistic view of life stands the
spiritual view. While the masses in the exuberance of their health and
strength proclaim life aloud and pounce on its eternal pleasures, aside
and cut off from them stand another, far lesser company to whom life is
only a waiting for death, whose silence is as persistent as the
exultation of the others. Everywhere here austere faith has its black
roots in the vigorous, fruitful soil. For religious feeling always
remains alive among a people that has once, although centuries may have
passed since, fought with every fibre of its being for its faith. This
is a subterranean Belgium that works in secret and that easily escapes
the cursory glance, for it lives in shadows and silence. From this
silence, however, from this averted earnestness, Belgian art has derived
that mystical nourishment which has lent its baffling strength to the
works of Maeterlinck, the pictures of Fernand Khnopff and Georges Minne.
Verhaeren, too, did not turn aside from this sombre region. He, as the
painter of Belgian life, saw these shadows of a vanishing past, and, in
1886, added to his first book _Les Flamandes_ a second, _Les Moines_. It
almost seems as though he had first of all been obliged to exhaust both
the historical styles of his native land before he could reach his own,
the modern style. For this book is essentially a throw-back, a
confession of faith in Gothic art.

Monks are for Verhaeren heroic symbols of I mighty periods in the past.
In his boyhood he I was familiar with their grave aspect. Near the
cheerful house where his youth was passed, there was at Bornhem a
Bernhardine monastery, whither the boy had often accompanied his father
to confession, and in whose cold corridors he had often waited in
astonishment and with a child's timidity, listening to the majestic
chant of the liturgy married to the organ's earnest notes. And here, one
day of days, he received, with a thrill of pious terror, his first
communion. Since that day the monks had been to him, as he trod the
beaten track of custom, beings in a strange world apart, the incarnation
of the beautiful and the supersensual, the unearthly on his child's
earth. And when, in the course of years, he sought to create in verse a
vision of Flanders in all her luminous and burning colours, he could not
forgo this mysterious chiaroscuro, this earnest tone. For three weeks he
withdrew to the hospitable monastery of Forges, near Chimay, taking part
in all the ceremonies and rites of the monks, who, in the hope of
winning a priest, afforded him full insight into their life. But
Verhaeren's attitude towards Roman Catholicism was by this time anything
but religious, it was rather an æsthetic and poetic admiration for the
noble romanticism of the ceremonial, a moral piety for the things of the
past. He remained three weeks. Then he fled, oppressed by the nightmare
of the ponderous walls, and, as a souvenir for himself, chiselled the
image of the monastery in verse.

This book too, no doubt, had no other aim than to be pictorial,
descriptive. In rounded sonnets, as though etched by Rembrandt's needle,
he fixed the chiaroscuro of the cloister's corridors, the hours of
prayer, the earnest meetings of the monks, the silence in the intervals
of the liturgy. The evenings over the landscape were described, in a
ritual language, with the images of faith: the sun as it sets in crimson
flaming like the wine in the chalice; steeples like luminous crosses in
a silent sky; the rustling corn bowing when the bell rings to evensong.
The poetry of devotion and repose was here revived: the harmony of the
organ; the beauty of corridors garlanded with ivy; the touching idyll of
the lonely cemetery; the peaceful dying of the prior; the visiting of
the sick, and the I comfort it brings. Nothing was allowed in the deep
light of the colours, in the grave repose of the theme, save what could
be fitted into the strictly religious frame of the picture.

But here the pictorial method proved to be I insufficient for the poetic
effect. The problem of religious feeling is too close to the heart to be
reached by outward, even by plastic manifestations. A thing which is so
eminently hostile to the sensuous, nay, which is the very symbol of I
all that is contrary to sensuousness, cannot be reached by a picturesque
appeal to the senses; the description of an intellectual problem must
cease to be descriptive and become psychology. And so, thus early in his
career, Verhaeren is forced away from the picturesque. First, however,
he attempts the plastic method: he gives us sombre statues of monks; but
even as statues they are only types of an inner life, symbols of the
ways to God. Verhaeren develops in his monks the difference of their
characters, which are still effective even under the soutane; and by his
delicate characterisation he shows the I manifold possibilities of
religious feeling. The I feudal monk, a noble of ancient lineage, would
make a conquest of God, as once his ancestors conquered castle and
forest lands with spur and sword. The _moine flambeau_, he that is
burning with fervour, would possess Him with his passion like a woman.
The savage monk, he that has come from the heart of a forest, can only
comprehend Him in heathen wise, only fear Him as the wielder of thunder
and lightning, while the gentle monk, he that loves the Virgin with a
troubadour's timid tenderness, flees from the fear of Him. One monk
would fathom Him by the learning of books and by logic; another does not
understand Him, cannot lay hold on Him, and yet finds Him everywhere, in
all things, in all he experiences. Thus all the characters of life, the
harshest contrasts, are jostled together, quelled only by the monastery
rules. But they are only in juxtaposition, just as the painter loves all
his colours and things equally, just as he places things in
juxtaposition, without estimating them according to their value. So far
there is nothing that binds them together inwardly, there is no conflict
of forces, no great idea. Neither are the verses as yet free; they too
have the effect of being bound by the strict discipline of the monks.
'Il s'environne d'une sorte de froide lumière parnassienne qui en fait
une œuvre plus anonyme, malgré la marque du poète poinçonnée à
maintes places sur le métal poli,'[1] says Albert Mockel, the most
subtle of æsthetic critics, of the book. Verhaeren must himself have
felt this insufficiency, for, conscious of not having solved his
problems in terms of poetry, he has remoulded both aspects of the
country, renewed both books in another form after many years: _Les
Moines_ in the tragedy _Le Cloître, Les Flamandes_ in the great
pentalogy _Toute la Flandre._

_Les Moines_ was the last of Verhaeren's descriptive books, the last in
which he stood on the outer side of things contemplating them
dispassionately. But already here there is too much temperament in him
to allow him to look at things as altogether unconnected and
undisciplined; the joy of magnifying and intensifying by feeling already
stirs in him. At the end of the book he no longer sees the monks as
isolated individuals, but gathers them all together in a great synthesis
in his finale. Behind them the poet sees order, a secret law, a great
force of life. They, these hermits who have renounced, who are scattered
over the world in a thousand monasteries, are to the poet the last
remnants of a great departed beauty, and they are so much the more
grandiose as they have lost all feeling for our own time. They are the
last ruins of moribund Christianity in a new world, projecting, in
tragic loneliness, into our own days. 'Seuls vous survivez grands au
monde chrétien mort!'[2] he hails them in admiration, for they have
built the great House of God, and for many generations sacrificed their
blood for the Host eternally white. In admiration he hails them. Not in
faith and love, but in admiration for their fearless energy, and above
all because they go on fighting undaunted for something that is dead and
lost; because their beauty serves none other than itself; because they
project into our own time like the ancient belfries of the land, which
no longer call to prayer. In a land where everything else serves a
purpose, pleasure and gold, they stand lonely; and they die without a
cry and without a moan, fighting against an invisible enemy, they, the
last defenders of beauty. For at that time, at that early stage of his
career, beauty for Verhaeren was still identical with the past, because
he had not yet discovered beauty for himself in the new things; in the
monks he celebrates the last romanticists, because he had not yet found
poetry in the things of reality, not yet found the new romance, the
heroism of the working-day. He loves the monks as great dreamers, as the
_chercheurs de chimères sublimes_, but he cannot help them, cannot
defend what they possess, for behind them already stand their heirs.
These heirs are the poets--a curious echo of David Strauss's idea about
religion--who will have to be, what religion with its faithful was to
the past, the guardians and eternal promoters of beauty. They it will
be--here rings strangely the deepest intention of Verhaeren's later
work--who will wave their new faith over the world like a banner, they,
'les poètes venus trop tard pour être prêtres,'[3] who shall be the
priests of a new fervour. All religions, all dogmas, are brittle and
transitory, Christ dies as Pan dies; and even this poetic faith, the
last and highest conquest of the mind, must in its time pass away.

     Car il ne reste rien que l'art sur cette terre
     Pour tenter un cerveau puissant et solitaire
     Et le griser de rouge et tonique liqueur.

In this great hymn to the future Verhaeren first turns away from the
past and seeks the path to the future. For the poetic idea is here
understood with new and greater feelings than in the beginning of his
career. Poetry is for Verhaeren a confession not only as applied to an
individual in Goethe's phrase, but in a religious sense as well: as the
highest moral confession.

Much as these two books are marked by the effort to describe Flanders as
it actually is, stronger than this effort is the yearning at the heart
of them to escape from the present to the past. Every temperament
exceeds reality. Flanders was here described in the sense of an ideal;
but the ideal in both cases was projected on the past. Beauty young
Verhaeren had sought in the monks, the symbols of the past; strength and
the fire of life he had sought in the old Flemish masters. He still
needed the costume of the past to discover the heroic and the beautiful
in the present, just like many of our poets, who, when they would paint
strong men, must perforce place their dramas in the Florentine
renaissance, and who, if they would fashion beauty, deck their
characters with Greek costumes. To find strength and beauty, or in one
word poetry, in the real things that surround us, is here still denied
to Verhaeren; and therefore he has disowned his second book as well as
his first. In the distance between the old and the new works the long
road may be seen, and seen with pride, which leads from the traditional
poet to the truly contemporary poet.

Though not yet divided with a master hand, though not yet in the light
of reality, the inner contrast of the country, the conflict between body
and soul, between the joy of life and the longing for death, between
pleasure and renunciation, the alternative between 'yes' and 'no,' was
yet already contained in the contrast of these two books. And in a
really emotional poet this contrast could not remain one that was purely
external; it was bound to condense to an inner problem, to a personal
decision between past and present. Two conceptions of the world, both
inherited and in the blood, have here attained consciousness in one man;
and though in life they may act independently in juxtaposition, in the
individual the conflict must be fought out, the victory of the one or
the other must be decided by force, or else by something higher, by an
internal reconciliation. This conflict for a conception of the world
pierces through the constant contrast between the acceptance and the
denial of life in the poet, a conflict that for ten long years
undermined his artistic and human experiences with terrific crises, and
brought him to the verge of annihilation. The hostility which divides
his country into two camps seems to have taken refuge in his soul to
fight it out in a desperate and mortal duel: past and future seem to be
fighting for a new synthesis. But only from such crises, from such
pitiless struggles with the forces of one's own soul, do the vast
conceptions of the universe and their new creative reconciliation grow.


[1] Albert Mockel, _Émile Verhaeren_.

[2] 'Aux Moines.'

[3] 'Aux Moines.'


     Nous sommes tous des Christs qui embrassons nos croix.
                                             É. V.,'La Joie,'

Every feeling, every sensation is, in the last instance, the
transformation of pain. Everything that in vibration or by contact
touches the epithelium affects it as pain. As pain, which then, by the
secret chemistry of the nerves, transmitted from centre to centre, is
transformed into impressions, colours, sounds, and conceptions. The
poet, whose last secret really is that he is more sensitive than others,
that he purifies these pains of contact into feeling with a still more
delicate filter, must have finer nerves than anybody else. Where others
only receive a vague impression, he must have a clear perception, to
which his feeling must respond, and the value of which he must be able
to estimate. In Verhaeren's very first books a particular kind of
reaction to every incitement was perceptible. His feeling really
responds only to strong, intensive, sharp irritation; its delicacy was
not abnormal, only the energy of the reaction was remarkable. His first
artistic incitement; however, that of Flemish landscapes, was only one
of the retina, glaring colours, pictorial charm; only in _Les Moines_
had for the first time more delicate psychic shades been crystallised.
In the meantime a transformation had taken place in his exterior life.
Verhaeren had turned aside from the contemplation of Nature to
concentrate his strength on the cultivation of his mind. He had
travelled extensively, had been in Paris and London, in Spain and
Germany; with impetuous haste he had assimilated all great ideas, all
new phases, all the manifold theories of existence. Without a pause,
incessantly, experiences assail him and tire him out. A thousand
impressions accost him, each demanding an answer; great, sombre cities
discharge their electric fire upon him, and fill his nerves with leaping
flame. The sky above him is obscured by the clouds of cities; in London
he wanders about as though wildered in a forest. This grey, misty city,
that seems as though it were built of steel, casts its whole melancholy
over the soul of him who lives there in loneliness, ignorant of the
language, and who is so much the more lonely, as all these
manifestations of the new life in great cities are still unintelligible
to him. He is still unable to capture the poetry that is in them, and so
they leap at him and penetrate him with a confused, unintelligible pain.
And in this novel atmosphere the intense refinement of his nerves
proceeds at such a pace that already the slightest contact with the
outer world produces a quivering reaction. Every noise, every colour,
every thought presses in upon him as though with sharp needles; his
healthy sensibility becomes hypertrophied; that fineness of hearing, of
which one is conscious, say in sea-sickness, which perceives every
noise, even the slightest sound, as though it were the blow of a hammer,
undermines his whole organism; every rapidly-passing smell corrodes him
like an acid; every ray of light pricks him like a red-hot needle. The
process is aggravated by a purely physical illness, which corresponds to
his psychic ailment. Just at that time Verhaeren was attacked by a
nervous affection of the stomach, one of those repercussions of the
psychic on the physical system in which it is hard to say whether the
ailing stomach causes the neurasthenic condition, or the weakness of the
nerves the stagnation of the digestive functions. Both ailments are
inwardly co-ordinated, both are a rejection of the outer impression, an
impotent refusal of the chemical conversion. Just as the stomach feels
all food as pain, as a foreign body, so the ear repels every sound as an
intrusion, so the eye rejects every impression as pain. This nervous
rejection of the outer world was already then, in Verhaeren's life,
pathological. The bell on the door had to be removed, because it shocked
his nerves; those who lived in the house had to wear felt slippers
instead of shoes; the windows were closed to the noise of the street.
These years in Verhaeren's life are the lowest depth, the crisis of his
vitality. It is in such periods of depression that invalids shut
themselves off from the world, from their fellow-men, from the light of
day, from the din of existence, from books, from all contact with the
outer world, because they instinctively feel that everything can be a
renewal of their pain, and nothing an enrichment of their life. They
seek to soften the world, to tone its colours down; they bury themselves
in the monotony of solitude. This 'soudaine lassitude'[1] then impinges
on to the moral nature; the will, losing the sense of life, is
paralysed; all standards of value collapse; ideals founder in the most
frightful Nihilism. The earth becomes a chaos, the sky an empty space;
everything is reduced to nothingness, to an absolute negation. Such
crises in the life of a poet are almost always sterile. And it is
therefore of incalculable value that here a poet should have observed
himself and given us a clear picture of himself in this state, that,
without fear of the ugliness, the confusion of his ego, he should have
described, in terms of art, the history of a psychic crisis. In
Verhaeren's trilogy, _Les Soirs, Les Débâcles, Les Flambeaux Noirs_, we
have a document that must be priceless to pathologists as to
psychologists. For here a deep-seated will to extract the last
consequence from every phase of life has reproduced the stadium of a
mental illness right to the verge of madness; here a poet has with the
persistence of a physician pursued the symptoms of his suffering
through every stage of lacerating pain, and immortalised in poems the
process of the inflammation of his nerves.

The landscape of this book is no longer that of his native province;
indeed, it can hardly be called one of earth. It is a grandiose
landscape of dreams, horizons as though on some other planet, as though
in one of those worlds which have cooled into moons, where the warmth of
the earth has died out and an icy calm chills the vast far-seen spaces
deserted of man. Already in the book of the monks, Rubens's merry
landscape had been clouded over; and in the next, _Au Bord de la Route_,
the grey hand of a cloud had eclipsed the sun. But here all the colours
of life are burnt out, not a star shines down from this steel-grey
metallic sky; only a cruel, freezing moon glides across it from time to
time like a sardonic smile. These are books of pallid nights, with the
immense wings of clouds closing the sky, over a narrowed world, in which
the hours cling to things like heavy and clammy chains. They are works
filled with a glacial cold. 'Il gèle ...'[2] one poem begins, and this
shuddering tone pierces like the howling of dogs ever and ever again
over an illimitable plain. The sun is dead, dead are the flowers, the
trees; the very marshes are frozen in these white midnights:

     Et la crainte saisit d'un immortel hiver
     Et d'un grand Dieu soudain, glacial et splendide.[3]

In his fever the poet is for ever dreaming of this cold, as though in a
secret yearning for its cooling breath. No one speaks to him, only the
winds howl senselessly through the streets like dogs round a house.
Often dreams come, but they are _fleurs du mal_; they dart out of the
ice burning, yellow, poisonous. More and more monotonous grow the days,
more and more fearful; they fall down like drops, heavy and black.

     Mes jours toujours plus lourds s'en vont roulant leur cours![4]

In thought and sound these verses express ail the frightful horror of
this desolation. Impotently the ticking of the clock hammers this
endless void, and measures a barren time. Darker, and darker grows the
world, more and more oppressive; the concave mirror of solitude distorts
the poet's dreams into frightful grimaces, and spirits whisper evil
thoughts in his restless heart.

And like a fog, like a heavy, stifling cloud, fatigue sinks down on his
soul. First pleasure in things had died, and then the very will to
pleasure. The soul craves nothing now. The nerves have withdrawn their
antennæ from the outer world; they are afraid of every impression; they
are spent. Whatever chances to drift against them no longer becomes
colour, sound, impression; the senses are too feeble for the chemical
conversion of impressions: and so everything remains at the stage of
pain, a dull, gnawing pain. Feeling, which the nerves are now powerless
to feed, starves; desire is sunk in sleep. Autumn has come; all the
flowers have withered; and winter comes apace.

     Il fait novembre en mon âme.
     Et c'est le vent du nord qui clame
     Comme une bête dans mon âme.[5]

Slowly, but irresistible as a swelling tide, emerges an evil thought:
the idea of the senselessness of life, the thought of death. As the last
of yearnings soars up the prayer:

     Mourir! comme des fleurs trop énormes, mourir![6]

For the poet's whole body is, as it were, sore from this contact with
the outer world, from these little gnawing pains. Not a single great
feeling can stand erect: everything is eaten away by this little,
gnawing, twitching pain. But now the man in his torture springs up, as a
beast, tormented by the stings of insects, tears its chains asunder and
rushes madly and blindly along. The patient would fain flee from his bed
of torture, but he cannot retrace his steps. No man can 'se recommencer
enfant, avec calcul.'[7] Travels, dreams, do nothing but deaden the
pain; and then the torment of the awakening sets in again with redoubled
strength. Only one way is open: the road which leads forward, the road
to annihilation. Out of a thousand petty pains, the will longs for one
single pain that shall end all: the body that is being burnt piecemeal
cries for the lightning. The sick man desires--as fever-patients will
tear their wounds open--to make this pain, which tortures without
destroying, so great and murderous that it will kill outright: to save
his pride, he would fain be himself the cause of his destruction. Pain,
he says to himself, shall not continue to be a series of pin-pricks; he
refuses to 'pourrir, immensément emmailloté d'ennui';[8] he asks to be
destroyed by a vast, fiery, savage pain; he demands a beautiful and
tragic death. _The will to experience becomes here the will to suffer
pain_ and even death. He will be glad to suffer any torture, but not
this one low little thing; he can no longer endure to feel himself so
contemptible, so wretched.

     N'entendre plus se taire, en sa maison d'ébène,
     Qu'un silence total dont auraient peur les morts.[9]

And with a flagellant's pleasure the patient nurses this fire of fever,
till it flames up in a bright blaze. The deepest secret of Verhaeren's
art was from the first his joy in intemperance, the strength of his
exaggeration. And so, too, he snatches up this pain, this neurasthenia
to a wonderful, fiery, and grandiose ecstasy. A cry, a pleasure breaks
out of this idea of liberation. For the first time the word 'joy' blazes
again in the cry:

     Le joie enfin me vient, de souffrir par moi-même,
     Parce que je lé veux.[10]

True, only a perverse joy, a sophism, the false triumph over life of the
suicide, who believes he has conquered fate when, truth to tell, it has
conquered him. But this self-deception is already sublime.

By this sudden interference of the will the physical torture of the
nerves becomes a psychic event; the illness of the body encroaches upon
the intellect; the neurasthenia becomes a 'déformation morale'; the
suffering schism of the poet's ego is of itself subdivided, so to speak,
into two elements, one that excites pain and one that suffers pain. The
psychic would fain tear itself free from the physical, the soul would
fain withdraw from the tortured body:

     Pour s'en aller vers les lointains et se défaire
     De soi et des autres, un jour,
     En un voyage ardent et mol comme l'amour
     Et légendaire ainsi qu'un départ de galère![11]

But the two are relentlessly bound up with each other, no flight is
possible, however much disgust drives the poet to rescue at least a part
of himself by snatching it into a purer, calmer, and higher state.
Never, I believe, has the aversion of a sick man to himself, the will to
health of a living man, been more cruel and more grandiose than in this
book of a poet's diabolical revolt against himself. His suffering soul
is torn into two parts. In a fearful personification the hangman and the
condemned criminal wrestle for the mastery. 'Se cravacher dans sa
pensée et dans son sang!'[12] and finally, in a paroxysm of fury, 'me
cracher moi-même,'[13] these are the horribly shrilling cries of
self-hatred and self-disgust. With all the strings of her whipped
strength the soul tears to free herself from the rotting and tormented
body, and her deepest torture is that this separation is impossible. In
this distraction flickers already the first flame of madness.

Never--if we except Dostoieffsky--has a poet's scalpel probed the wound
of his ego so cruelly and so deeply, never has it gone so dangerously
near to the nerve of life. And never perhaps, except in Nietzsche's
_Ecce Homo!_ has a poet stepped so close to the edge of the precipice
that juts above the abyss of existence, with so clear a consciousness of
its vicinity, to feast on the feeling of dizziness and on the danger of
death. The fire in Verhaeren's nerves has slowly inflamed his brain. But
the other being, the poet in him, had remained watchful, observing the
eye of madness slowly, inevitably, and as though magnetically attracted,
coming nearer and nearer. 'L'absurdité grandit en moi comme une fleur
fatale.'[14] In gentle fear, but at the same time with a secret
voluptuous pleasure, he felt the dreaded thing approaching. For long
already he had been conscious that this rending of himself had hunted
his thinking from the circle of clarity. And in one grandiose poem, in
which he sees the corpse of his reason floating down the grey Thames,
the sick man describes that tragic foundering:

     Elle est morte de trop savoir,
     De trop vouloir sculpter la cause,
     Elle est morte, atrocement,
     D'un savant empoisonnement,
     Elle est morte aussi d'un délire
     Vers un absurde et rouge empire.[15]

But no fear takes him at this thought. Verhaeren is a poet who loves
paroxysm. And just as in his physical illness he had called out in the
deepest joy for the intoxication of illness, for its exasperation, for
death, so now his psychic illness demands its intoxication, the
dissolution of all order, its most glorious foundering: madness. Here,
too, the pleasure in the quest of pain is intensified to the highest
superlative, to a voluptuous joy in self-destruction. And as sick men
amid their torments scream of a sudden for death, this tortured man
screams in grim yearning for madness:

     Aurai-je enfin l'atroce joie
     De voir, nerfs par nerfs, comme une proie,
     La démence attaquer mon cerveau?[16]

He has measured all the deeps of the spirit, but all the words of
religion and science, all the elixirs of life, have been powerless to
save him from this torment. He knows all sensations, and there was no
greatness in any of them; all have goaded him, none have exalted him or
raised him above himself. And now his heart yearns ardently for this
last sensation of all. He is tired of waiting for it, he will go out to
meet it: 'Je veux marcher vers la folie et ses soleils.'[17] He hails
madness as though it were a saint, as though it were his saviour; he
forces himself to 'croire à la démence ainsi qu'en une foi.'[18] It is a
magnificent picture reminding one of the legend of Hercules, who,
tortured by the fiery robe of Nessus, hurls himself on the pyre to be
consumed by one great flame instead of being wretchedly burnt to death
by a thousand slow and petty torments.

Here the highest state of despair is reached; the black banner of death
and the red one of madness are furled together. With unprecedented logic
Verhaeren, despairing of an interpretation of life, has exalted
senselessness as the sense of the universe. But it is just in this
complete inversion that victory already lies. Johannes Schlaf, in his
masterly study, has with great eloquence demonstrated that it is just at
the moment when the sick man cries out like one being crucified, 'Je
suis l'immensément perdu,'[19] just when he feels he is being drawn into
the bosom of the infinite, that he is redeemed and delivered. Just this
idea, which here had whipped the little pain to the verge of madness,

     À chaque heure, violenter sa maladie;
     L'aimer, et la maudire,[20]

is already the deepest leitmotiv of Verhaeren's work, the key to unlock
the gates of it. For the idea is nothing else than the idea of his life,
to master all resistance by a boundless love, 'aimer le sort jusqu'en
ses rages';[21] never to shun a thing, but to take everything and
enhance it till it becomes creative, ecstatic pleasure; to welcome every
suffering with fresh readiness. Even this cry for madness, no doubt the
extreme document of human despair, is an immense yearning for clearness;
in this tortured disgust with illness cries a joy in life perhaps else
unknown in our days; and the whole conflict, which seems to be a flight
from life, is in the last instance an immense heroism for which there is
no name. Nietzsche's great saying is here fulfilled: 'For a dionysiac
task a hammer's hardness, _the pleasure in destruction itself_, is most
decidedly one of the preliminary conditions.'[22] And what at this
period of Verhaeren's work appears still to be negative is in the higher
sense a preparation for the positive, for the decisive consummation, of
the later books.

For that reason this crisis and the shaping of it in verse remain an
imperishable monument of our contemporary literature, for it is at the
same time an eternal monument to the conquest of human suffering by the
power of art. Verhaeren's crisis--his exposition, for the sake of the
value of life, of his inward struggle--has gone deeper than that of any
other poet of our time. To this very day the sufferings of that time are
graven, as though by iron wedges, in the furrows of his lofty brow; the
recovery of his health and his subsequent robustness have been powerless
to efface them. This crisis was a fire without parallel, a flame of
passion. Not a single acquisition from the earlier days was rescued from
it. Verhaeren's whole former relation to the world has broken down: his
Catholic faith, his religion, his feeling for his native province, for
the world, for life itself, all is destroyed. And when he builds up his
work now, it must perforce be an entirely different one, with a
different artistic expression, with different feelings, different
knowledge, and different harmonies. This tempest has changed the
landscape of his soul, where once the peace of a modest existence had
prevailed, into a pathless desert. But this desert with its solitude has
space and liberty for the building up of a new, a richer, an infinitely
nobler world.


[1] 'L'Heure Mauvaise' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[2] 'La Barque' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[3] 'Le Gel' (_Les Soirs_).

[4] 'L'Heure Mauvaise' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[5] 'Vers' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[6] 'Mourir' (_Les Soirs_).

[7] 'S'amoindrir' (_Les Débâcles_).

[8] 'Si Morne' (_Les Débâcles_)

[9] 'Le Roc' (_Les Flambeaux Noirs_).

[10] 'Insatiablement' (_Les Soirs_).

[11] 'Là-bas' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[12] 'Vers le Cloître' (_Les Débâcles_).

[13] 'Un Soir' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[14] 'Fleur Fatale' (_Les Débâcles_).

[15] 'La Morte' (_Les Flambeaux Noirs_).

[16] 'Le Roc' (_Ibid._).

[17] 'Fleur Fatale' (_Les Débâcles_).

[18] 'Le Roc' (_Les Flambeaux Noirs_).

[19] 'Les Nombres' (_Ibid._).

[20] 'Celui de la Fatigue' (_Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_).

[21] 'La Joie' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[22] _Ecce Homo!_


     On boit sa soif, on mange sa faim.--É.V., 'L'Amour.'

In this crisis the negation was driven to the last possible limits. The
sick man had denied not only the outer world, but himself as well.
Nothing had remained but vexation, disgust, and torment.

     La vie en lui ne se prouvait
     Que par l'horreur qu'il en avait.[1]

He had arrived at the last possibility, at that possibility which means
destruction or transformation. The at first purely physical pain of the
supersensitive organs of the senses had become a moral depression; the
depression had become psychic suffering; and this again had gradually
turned in a grandiose progression not only to pain in the individual
thing but to suffering in the all: to _cosmic pain_. For Him, however,
who in His loneliness took the suffering of the whole world upon His
shoulders, who was strong enough to bear it for all the centuries,
humanity has invented the symbol of 'God.' He who is born of earth and
lives to die must perforce break down under so gigantic a burden. Into
the last corner of his ego revengeful life had here driven the man who
denied it, had driven him to the point where now he stood shivering
before the abyss in his own breast, face to face with death and madness.
The physical and poetic organism of Verhaeren was overheated to the most
dangerous and extreme degree. This fever-heat--that of a flagellant
--had brought his blood to the boiling-point; it was filling the chamber
of his breast with pictures of such overwhelming horror that the
explosion of self-destruction could only be prevented by opening the

There were only two means of flight from this destruction: flight into
the past--or flight into a new world. Many, Verlaine for instance, had
in such catastrophes, wherein the whole structure of their lives tumbled
to the ground, fled into the cathedrals of Catholicism rather than stand
in solitude under the threatening sky. Verhaeren, however, though an
inspired faith is one of the most living sources of his poetical power,
was more afraid of the past than of the Unknown. _He freed himself from
the immense pressure upon him by fleeing into the world_. He who in his
pride had conceived the whole process of the world as a personal affair,
he who had tried to solve the eternal discord, the undying 'yes' and
'no' of life in his own lonely self, now rushes into the very midst of
things and involves himself in their process. He who previously had felt
everything only subjectively, only in isolation, now objectifies
himself; he who previously had shut himself off from reality, now lets
his veins pulse in harmony with the breathing organism of life. He
relinquishes his attitude of pride; he surrenders himself; lavishes
himself joyously on everything; exchanges the pride of being alone for
the immense pleasure of being everywhere. _He no longer looks at all
things in himself, but at himself in all things_. But the poet in him
frees himself, quite in Goethe's sense, by symbols. Verhaeren drives his
superabundance out of himself into the whole world, just as Christ in
the legend drove the devils out of the madman into the swine. The heat,
the fever of his feeling--which, concentrated in his too narrow chest,
were near bursting it--now animate with their fire the whole world
around him, which of old had been to him congealed with ice. All the
evil powers, which had slunk around him in the trappings of nightmares,
he now transforms to shapes of life. He hammers away at them and shapes
them anew; he is himself the smith of that noble poem of his, the smith
of whom he says:

     Dans son brasier, il a jeté
     Les cris d'opiniâtreté,
     La rage sourde et séculaire;
     Dans son brasier d'or exalté,
     Maître de soi, il a jeté
     Révoltes, deuils, violences, colères,
     Pour leur donner la trempe et la clarté
     Du fer et de l'éclair.[2]

He objectifies his personality in the work of art, hammering out of the
cold blocks, that weighed upon him with the weight of iron, monuments
and statues of pain. All the feelings which of old weighed down upon him
like dull fog, formless and prisoned in dream like nightmares, now
become clear statues, symbols in stone of his soul's experiences. The
poet has torn his fear, his burning, moaning, horrible fear, out of
himself, and poured it into his bell-ringer, who is consumed in his
blazing belfry. He has turned the monotony of his days to music in his
poem of the rain; his mad fight against the elements, which in the end
break his strength, he has shaped into the image of the ferryman
struggling against the current that shatters his oars one after the
other. His cruel probing of his own pain he has visualised in the idea
of his fishermen, who with their nets all in holes go on fishing up
nothing but suffering on suffering out of the sombre stream; his evil
and red lusts he has spiritualised in his _Aventurier_, in the
adventurer who returns home from a far land to celebrate his wedding
feast with his dead love. Here his feelings are shaped no longer in
moods, in the fluid material of dreams, but in the infinitely mobile
form of human beings. Here there is symbolism in the highest sense, in
Goethe's sense of liberation. For every feeling that has achieved
artistic shape is as it were conjured away out of the breast. And thus
the too heavy pressure slowly disappears from the poet's being, and the
morbid fever from his work. Now and now only does he recognise the
suicidal cowardice behind the visor of the pride that forced him to fly
from the world, now and now only does he understand that fatal egoism
which had taken refuge beyond the pale of the world:

     J'ai été lâche et je me suis enfui
     Du monde, en mon orgueil futile,[3]

This confession is the last liberating word of the crisis.

Now his despair--a despair like that of Faust--is overcome. The mood of
Easter morning begins to sound the exulting cry, 'Earth has me
again!'[4] with the anthems of the resurrection. Verhaeren has described
this deliverance, this ascent from illness to health, from the most
despairing 'no' to the most exultant 'yes,' in many symbols, most
beautifully in that magnificent poem wherein St. George the
dragon-slayer bows down to him with his shining lance; and again in that
other poem in which the four gentle sisters approach him and announce
his deliverance:

     L'une est le bleu pardon, l'autre la bonté blanche,
     La troisième l'amour pensif, la dernière le don
     D'être, même pour les méchants, le sacrifice.[5]

Goodness and love call to him now from where of old there were only
hatred and despair. And in their approach already he feels the hope of
recovery, the hope of a natural, artistic strength.

     Et quand elles auront, dans ma maison,
     Mis de l'ordre à mes torts, plié tous mes remords
     Et refermé, sur mes péchés, toute cloison,
     En leur pays d'or immobile, où le bonheur
     Descend, sur des rives de fleurs entr'accordées,
     Elles dresseront les hautes idées,
     En sainte-table, pour mon cœur.[6]

This feeling of recovery grows more and more secure, more and more the
mist parts before the approaching sun of health. Now the poet knows that
he has been wandering in the dark galleries of mines, that he has been
hammering a labyrinth through the hard rock of hatred instead of walking
the same path as his fellow-men in the light. And at last, bright and
exultant, high above the shy voices of hope and prayer, the sudden
triumph of certainty rings out. For the first time Verhaeren finds the
form of the poem of the future--the dithyramb. Where of old, confused
and lonely, _le carillon noir_ of pain sounded, now all the strings of
the heart vibrate and sing.

     Sonnez toutes mes voix d'espoir!
     Sonnez en moi; sonnez, sous les rameaux,
     En des routes claires et du soleil![7]

And now the path proceeds in light 'vers les claires métamorphoses.'[8]

This flight into the world was the great liberation. Not only has the
body grown strong again and rejoices in the wandering and the way, but
the soul too has become cheerful, the will has grown new wings that are
stronger than the old, and the poet's art is filled with a fresh blood
red with life. The deliverance is perceptible even in Verhaeren's verse,
which with its delicate nerves reproduces all the phases of his soul.
For his poetry, which at first in the indifference of its picturesque
description preserved the cold form of the Alexandrine, and then, in the
grim monotony of the crisis, tried to represent the void waste of
feeling by a terrifying, gruesomely beautiful uniformity of rhythm, this
poem of a sudden, as though out of a dream, starts into life, awakens
like an animal from sleep, rears, prances, curvets; imitates all
movements, threatens, exults, falls into ecstasy: in other words, all of
a sudden, and independently of all influences and theories, he has won
his way to the _vers libre,_ free verse. Just as the poet no longer
shuts the I world up in himself, but bestows himself on the world, the
poem too no longer seeks to lock the world up obstinately in its
four-cornered prison, but surrenders itself to every feeling, every
rhythm, every melody; it adapts itself, distends; with its foaming
voluptuous joy it can fold in its embrace the illimitable length and
breadth of cities, can contract to pick up the loveliness of one fallen
blossom, can imitate the thundering voice of the street, the hammering
of machines, and the whispering of lovers in a garden of spring. _The
poem can now speak in all the languages of feeling, with all the voices
of men; for the tortured, moaning cry of an individual has become the
voice of the universe._

But together with this new delight the poet feels the debt which he has
withheld from his age. He beholds the lost years in which he lived only
for himself, for his own little feeling, instead of listening to the
voice of his time. With a remarkable concordance of genius Verhaeren's
work here expresses what Dehmel--in the same year perhaps--fashioned
with such grandeur in 'The Mountain Psalm,' the poem in which, looking
down from the heights of solitude to the cities in their pall of smoke,
he cries in ecstasy:

     Was weinst du, Sturm?--Hinab, Erinnerungen!
     dort pulst im Dunst der Weltstadt zitternd Herz!
     Es grollt ein Schrei von Millionen Zungen
     nach Glück und Frieden: Wurm, was will dein Schmerz!
     Nicht sickert einsam mehr von Brust zu Brüsten,
     wie einst die Sehnsucht, als ein stiller Quell;
     heut stöhnt ein _Volk_ nach Klarheit, wild und gell,
     und du schwelgst noch in Wehmutslüsten?

     Siehst du den Qualm mit dicken Fäusten drohn
     dort überm Wald der Schlote und der Essen?
     Auf deine Reinheitsträume fällt der Hohn
     der Arbeit! fühl's: sie ringt, von Schmutz zerfressen.
     Du hast mit deiner Sehnsucht bloss gebuhlt,
     in trüber Glut dich selber nur genossen;
     schütte die Kraft aus, die dir zugeflossen,
     und du wirst frei vom Druck der Schuld![9]

Pour out the power that has flowed in upon thee! Surrender thyself! That
too is Verhaeren's ecstatic cry at this hour. Opposites touch. _Supreme
solitude is turned to supreme fellowship_. The poet feels that
self-surrender is more than self-preservation. All at once he sees
behind him the frightful danger of this self-seeking pain.

     Et tout à coup je m'apparais celui
     Qui s'est, hors de soi-même, enfui
     Vers le sauvage appel des forces unanimes.[10]

And he who in days gone by had fled from this appeal into cold solitude,
now casts himself ecstatically into the arms of the world, with the I
deepest yearning

         De n'être plus qu'un tourbillon
     Qui se disperse au vent mystérieux des choses.[11]

He feels that in order to live to the full all the greatness and beauty
of this fiery world, he must multiply himself, be a thousandfold and ten
thousandfold what he is. 'Multiplie-toi!' Be manifold. Surrender
thyself! For the first time this cry bursts up like a flame. Be

     Multiplie et livre-toi! Défais
     Ton être en des millions d'êtres;
     Et sens l'immensité filtrer et transparaître.[12]

Only from this brotherhood with all things accrue the possibilities of
being a modern poet. Only by self-surrender to everything that is could
Verhaeren attain to so grandiose a conception of contemporary
manifestations, only thus could he become the poet of the democracy of
cities, of industrialism, of science, the poet of Europe, the poet of
our age. Only such a pantheistic feeling could create this intimate
relationship between the world of self and the world surrounding self,
the relationship which subsequently ends in an unparalleled identity:
only so despairing a 'no' could be transformed to so enraptured a 'yes,'
only one who had fled from the world could possess it with such passion.


[1] 'Un Soir' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[2] 'Le Forgeron' (_Les Villages Illusoires_).

[3] 'Saint Georges' (_Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_).

[4] Goethe's _Faust_, 1. 784.

[5] 'Les Saintes' (_Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_).

[6] 'Les Saintes' (_Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_).

[7] 'Saint Georges' (_Ibid_).

[8] 'Le Forgeron' (_Les Villages Illusoires_).

[9] 'Why weepest thou, O storm?--Down, memories! Yonder in the smoke
pulses the great city's trembling heart! A million grumbling tongues are
crying for peace and happiness: worm, what would thy pain! Yearning no
longer trickles lonely from breast to breasts, a quiet source and no
more: to-day a _nation_ groans, and with wild, shrill voices demands
clearness--and thou still revellest in the joys of melancholy?

'Seest thou the reek and smoke threatening yonder over the forest of
flues and chimneys? Upon thy dreams of purity falls the scorn of labour!
Feel it: labour is struggling, eaten up with dirt! Thou hast but
wantoned with thy yearning, thou hast but enjoyed thyself in turbid
heat; pour out the power that has flowed in upon thee, and thou shalt be
free from the burden of guilt!'--'Bergpsalm' (_Aber die Liebe_).

[10] 'La Foule' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[11] 'Celui du Savoir' (_Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_).

[12] 'La Forêt' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).






      J'étais le carrefour où tout se rencontrait.--É.V., 'Le Mont.'

Verhaeren's deliverance from the stifling clasp of his crisis was a
flight to realities. He saved himself by no longer fixing his gaze
rigidly on himself and deeply probing every feeling of joy and torment,
but by turning to the world of phenomena and flinging himself on its
problems. He has no longer to stand in solitude facing the world; his
desire is to multiply himself, to realise himself in everything that is
alive, in everything that expresses a will, an idea, a form, anything at
all animated. His poetic aim now is, not so much to analyse himself to
himself, as to analyse himself in the whole world.

To realities, and particularly to the realities of our day, lyric poets
had previously felt themselves alien. It had long been a commonplace to
speak of the danger to art of industrialism, of democracy, of this age
of machinery which makes pur life uniform, kills individuality, and
drowns romance in actualities. All these poets have looked upon the new
creations, machines, railways, monster cities, the telegraph, the
telephone, all the triumphs of engineering, as a drag on the soaring of
poetry. Ruskin preached that workshops should be demolished and chimneys
razed to the ground; Tolstoy pointed to primitive man, who produces all
his requirements from his own resources independently of any community,
and saw in him the moral and æsthetic ideal of the future. In poetry,
the past had gradually come to be identified with the poetical. People
were enamoured of the glory that was Greece, of mail-coaches and narrow,
crooked streets; they were filled with enthusiasm for all foreign
cultures, and decried that of our own time as a phase of degeneration.
Democracy, levelling all ranks and confining even the poet to the
middle-class profession of author, seemed, as a social order, to be the
correlation of machinery which, by the constructive skill of workshops,
renders all manual dexterity unnecessary. All the poets, who were glad
to avail themselves of the practical advantages provided by technical
science, who had no objection to covering immense distances in the
minimum time, who accepted the comfort of the modern house, the luxury
of modern conditions of life, increased pecuniary rewards and social
independence, refused obstinately to discover in these advantages a
single poetic motive, a single object of inspiration, the least stimulus
or ecstasy. Poetry had by degrees come to be something which was the
very opposite of what-, ever is useful; all evolution seemed to these
poets to be, from the point of view of culture, retrogression.

Now it is Verhaeren's great exploit that he effected a transmutation
poetic values. He discovered the sublime in the far-spread serried ranks
of democracy; beauty he found not only where it adapts itself to
traditional ideas, but also where, still hidden by the cotyledon of the
new, it is just beginning to unfold. By rejecting no phenomenon, in so
far as an inward sense and a necessity dwelt in it, he infinitely
extended the boundaries of the lyric art. He found a fruitful soil in
the very places where all other poets despaired of poetic seed. He and
he alone, who had for so long been eating his heart out in fierce
isolation, feels the strength and fulness of society, the poetical
element in the massed strength of great cities and in great inventions.
_His deepest longing, his most sublime exploit is the lyric discovery of
the new beauty in new things._

The only way to this feat lay for him through the conviction that beauty
does not express anything absolute, but something that changes with
circumstances and with men; that beauty, like everything that is subject
to evolution, is constantly changing. Yesterday's beauty is not to-day's
beauty. Beauty is no more opposed than anything else to that tendency to
spiritualisation which is the most characteristic symptom ind result of
all culture. Physiologists have proved that the physical strength of
modern man is inferior to that of his ancestors, but that his nervous
system is more developed, so that strength is more and more concentrated
in the intellect. The Hellenic hero was the wrestler, the expression of
a body harmoniously developed in every limb, the perfection of strength
and skill; the hero of our time is the thinker, the ideal of
intellectual strength and suppleness. And since our only way of
estimating the perfection of things is by the ideal of our personal
feeling, the form of beauty likewise has been transformed and become
intellectual. And even when we seek it in the body, as, for instance, in
the ideal woman's figure, we have grown accustomed to seeing perfection
not so much in robustness and plumpness as in a noble, slender play of
lines which mysteriously expresses the soul. Beauty is turning away more
and more from the outer surface, from the physical, to the interior
aspects, to the psychic. In proportion as motive forces hide themselves
and as harmony becomes less obvious, beauty intellectualises itself. It
is becoming for us not so much a beauty of appearance as a beauty of;
aim. If we are to admire the telegraph or the telephone, we shall not be
satisfied with considering the exterior forms, the network of wires, the
keys, the receivers; we shall be impressed rather by the ideal beauty,
by the idea of a vibrating spark leaping over countries and whole
continents. A machine is not wonderful on, account of its rattling,
rusty, iron framework, but by the idea, deep-seated in its body, which
is the principle of its magical activity. A modern idea of beauty must
be adapted not only to the idea of beauty of the past, but also to that
of the future. And the future of æsthetics is a kind of ideology, or, as
Renan expresses it, an identity with the sciences. We shall lose the
habit of understanding things only by our senses, of seeing their
harmony only on their exterior surface, and we shall have to learn how
to conceive their intellectual aims, their inner form, their psychic
organisation, as beauty.

For these new things are only ugly when they are regarded with the eyes
of a past century, when our contemporaries, jealously guarding a
reverent over-estimation, valuing the rust and not the gold, despise
modern works of art, and pay a thousand times too dear for the
indifferent productions of a past age. Only in this state of feeling is
it possible to esteem mail-coaches poetical and locomotives ugly; only
thus is it possible for poets, who have not learned to see with
emancipated and independent eyes, to assume such a hostile attitude, or
at the best an indifferent attitude, to our realities. Let us remember
Nietzsche's beautiful words: 'My formula for grandeur in man is _amor
fati_: that a man should ask for nothing else, either in the past or in
the future, in all eternity. We must not only endure what is necessary,
still less conceal it--all idealism is lying in necessity's face--but
we must _love_ it.'[1] And in this sense some few in our days have loved
what is new, first as a necessity, and then as beauty. A generation ago
now, Carlyle was the first to preach the heroism of everyday life, and
exhorted the poets of his day not to describe the greatness they found
in mouldy chronicles, but to look for it where it was nearest to them,
in the realities around them. Constantin Meunier has found the idea of a
new sculpture in democracy, Whistler and Monet have discovered in the
smoky breath of this age of machinery a new tone of colour which is not
less beautiful than Italy's eternal azure and the halcyon sky of Greece.
It is only from the vast agglomerations, the immense dimensions of the
new world that Walt Whitman has derived the strength and power of his
voice. The whole difficulty which thus far has permitted only a few to
serve the new beauty in the new things lies in the fact that our age is
not yet a period of decided conviction, but only one of transition. The
victory of machinery is not yet complete; handiwork still subsists,
little towns still flourish, it is still possible to take refuge in an
idyll, to find the old beauty in some sequestered corner. Not till the
poet is shut off from all flight to inherited ideals will he be forced
to change himself into a new man. For the new things have not yet
organically developed their beauty. Every new thing on its first
appearance is blended with something repellent, brutal, and ugly; it is
only gradually that its inherent form shapes itself æsthetically. The
first steamers, the first locomotives, the first automobiles, were ugly.
But the slender, agile torpedo-boats of to-day, the bright-coloured,
noiselessly--gliding automobiles with their hidden mechanism, the great,
broad-chested Pacific Railway engines of to-day, are impressive by their
outward form alone. Our huge shops, such as those which Messel built in
Berlin, display a beauty in iron and glass which is hardly less than
that of the cathedrals and palaces of old time. Certain great things,
such as the Eiffel Tower, the Forth Bridge, modern men-of-war, furnaces
belching flame, the Paris boulevards, have a new beauty beyond anything
which past ages had to show. These new things compel a new enhancement
of value, on the one hand by the idea that moves them, on the other hand
by their democratic grandeur and their vast dimensions--equalled by none
but the very greatest works of antiquity. But whatever is beautiful
must, sooner or later, be conceived of as poetry. And thus, it is quite
sure, Verhaeren has only been one of the first to build bridges from the
old to the new time; others will come who will celebrate the new
beauties in the new things--gigantic cities, engines, industrialism,
democracy, this fiery striving for new standards of greatness--and they
will not only be compelled to find the new beauties, they will also
have to establish new laws for this new order, a different morality, a
different religion, a different synthesis for this new conditionality.
the poetic transmutation of the beautiful is only a first beginning of
the poetic transmutation of the feeling of life.

But a poet never finds anything in things save his own temperament. If
he is melancholy, the world in his books is void of sense, all lights
are extinguished, laughter dies; if he is passionate, all feelings
seethe in a fiery froth as though in a cauldron, and foam up in angry
happenings. Whereas the real world is manifold, and contains the elixirs
of pleasure and pain, confidence and despair, love and hate, only as
elements so to speak, the world of great poets is the world of one
single feeling. And so Verhaeren too sees all things in their new beauty
with the feelings of his own life only, only with energy. In these the
fiery years of his prime it is not harmony that he seeks, but energy,
power. For him a thing is the more beautiful the more purpose, will,
power, energy it contains. And since the whole world of to-day is
over-heated with effort and energy; since our great towns are nothing
but centres of multiplied energy; since machinery expresses nothing save
force tanied and organised; since innumerable crowds are yoked in
harmonious action--to him the world is full of beauty. He loves the new
age because it does not isolate effort but condenses it, because it is
not scattered but concentrated for action. And of a sudden everything
he sees appears to be filled with soul. All that has will, all that has
an aim in view--man, machine, crowd, city, money; all that vibrates,
works, hammers, travels, exults; all that propagates itself and is
multiplied, all that strives to be creation; all that bears in itself
fire, impulse, electricity, feeling--all this rings again in his verse.
All that of old had acted upon him as being cold and dead and hostile is
now inspired with will and energy, and lives its minute; in this
multiple gear there is nothing that is merely dust or useless
ornamentation; everything is creation, everything is working its way
towards the future. The town, this piled-up Babylon of stones and men,
is of a sudden a living being, a vampire sucking the strength of the
land; the factories, that had seemed to him nothing but an unsightly
mass of masonry, now become the creators of a thousand things, which in
their turn create new things out of themselves. All at once Verhaeren is
the socialist poet, the poet of the age of machinery, of democracy, and
of the European race. And energy fills his poetry too: it is strength
let loose, enthusiasm, paroxysm, ecstasy, whatever you like to call it;
but always active, glowing, moving strength; never rest, always
activity. His poem is no longer declamation, no longer the marmoreal
monument of a mood, but a crying aloud, a fight, a convulsive starting,
a stooping down and a springing up again; it is a battle materialised.
For him all values have been transmuted. It is just what had repelled
him most--London, monster cities, railway stations, Exchanges, which now
lure him most of all as poetic problems. The more a thing seems to
resist beauty--the more he has first to discover its beauty by fighting
it and wrestling with it in torment--with so much the greater ecstasy
does he now extol it. The strength which had murderously raged against
itself now, in creative ecstasy, breaks into the world. To tear down
resistance, to snatch beauty from its most hidden corner, is now for him
a tenfold strength and joy of creation. _Verhaeren now creates the poem
of the great city in the dionysiac sense_; the hymn to our own time, to
Europe; creates ecstasy, renewed and renewed again, in life.


[1] _Ecce Homo!_


     Le siècle et son horreur se condensent en elles
     Mais leur âme contient la minute éternelle.
                                       É.V., 'Les Villes.'

When a man just recovered from illness steps for the first time with
arms outspread, and as though climbing up from a dungeon, into the light
of day, he is filled with a bliss beyond measure by the open air
caressing him on all sides, by the orgies of the sunlight, the cataracts
of deafening din: with a cry of infinite exultation he takes into
himself the symphony of life. And from this first moment of his recovery
Verhaeren was seized by a limitless thirst for the intoxication of life,
as though with one single leap he would make good the lost years of his
loneliness, of his illness, and of his crisis. His eyes, his ears, his
nerves, all his senses, which had been a-hungered, now pounce on things
with a pleasure that is almost murderous, and snatch everything to
themselves in a frenzy of greed. At this time Verhaeren travelled from
country to country, as though he would take possession of all Europe. He
was in Germany, in Berlin, in Vienna, and in Prague; always a lonely
wanderer; quite alone; ignorant of the language, and listening only to
the voice of the town itself, to the strange, sombre murmuring, to the
surge of the European metropolises. In Bayreuth he paid his devotions at
the tomb of Wagner, whose music of ecstasy and passion he absorbed in
Munich; in Colmar he learned to understand his beloved painter Mathias
Grünewald; he saw and loved the tragic landscapes of northern Spain,
those gloomy, treeless mountains, whose threatening silhouettes
afterwards became the background of the fiery happenings in his drama of
_Philip II._; in Hamburg he was an excited spectator, day by day, of the
stupendous traffic, the coming and going of the ships, the unloading and
the loading of cargoes. Everywhere where life was intensive, expressive,
and animated with a new energy, he passionately loved it. It is
characteristic of his temperament that the harmonious beauty of peaceful
and empty, of sleeping and dreaming cities appealed to him less than
modern cities in their pall of soot and smoke. Almost intentionally his
affection turns from the traditional ideal to one yet unknown. Florence,
for many centuries the symbol of all poets, disappointed him: the
Italian air was too mild, these contours were too meagre, too dreamy the
streets. But London, this piled-up conglomeration of dwellings and
workshops; this town that might have been cast in bronze; this teeming
labyrinth of dingy streets; this ever-beating, restless heart of the
world's trade with its smoke of toil threatening to eclipse the sun;
this was to him a revelation. Just the industrial towns, which had thus
far tempted no poet; those towns which roll up the vault of their leaden
sky with their own fog and smoke, which confine their inhabitants in
leagues and leagues of congested masonry, these attract him. He, who
revels in colour, grew fond of Paris, to which, since then, he has
returned every year for the winter months. Just what is restless and
busy, confused and breathless, hunted, eager, feverish, hot with an
ardour as of rut, all this Babylonian medley lures him. He loves this
pell-mell multiplicity and its strange music. Often he would travel for
hours on the top of heavy omnibuses, to have a bird's-eye view of the
bustling throng, and here he would close his eyes the better to feel the
dull rumour, this surging sound which, in its ceaselessness, is not
unlike the rustling of a forest, beating against his body. No longer as
in his earlier books does he follow the existence of simple callings; he
loves the ascension of handiwork to mechanical labour, in which the aim
is invisible, and only the grandiose organisation is revealed. And
gradually this interest became the motive interest of his life.
Socialism, which in those years was becoming strong and active, fell
like a red drop into the morbid paleness of his poetic work.
Vandervelde, the leader of the Labour Party, became his friend. And
when, at this stage, the party founded the Maison du Peuple at Brussels,
he readily helped, gave lectures at the Université Libre, took part in
all the projects, and afterwards, wards, in the most beautiful vision
of his poetical work, lifted them far above the political and actual
into the great events of all humanity. His life, now inwardly
established, henceforth beats with a strong and regular rhythm. He had
in the meantime, by his marriage, attained a personal appeasement, a
counterpoise for his unbridled restlessness. Now his wild ecstasies have
their fixed point, from which they can survey the fiery vortex of the
new phenomena. The morbid pictures, the feverish hallucinations, now
become clear visions; not by flashes of lightning, but in a steady,
beaming light are the horizons of our time now illuminated for him.

Now that he steps boldly into life, his first problem is to come to an
understanding with the world around him, with his fellow-men, with the
city itself. But it is not the city he lives in which interests him in a
provincial sense, but the ideal, modern city, the monster city in
general, this strange and uncanny thing that like a vampire has snatched
to herself all the strength of the soil and of men to form a new
residuum of power. She crowds together the contrasts of life; grades, in
unexpected layers, immense riches over the most wretched poverty;
strengthens opposing forces, and goads them to hostility, goads them to
that desperate battle in which Verhaeren loves to see all things
involved. The grandeur of this new organism is beyond the æsthetics of
the past; and new and strange before Nature stand men also, with
another rhythm, a hotter breath, quicker movements, wilder desires than
were known to any association of men, to any calling or caste, of a
previous time. It is a new outlook which not only sweeps the distance,
but has also to reckon with height, with the piled tiers of houses, with
new velocities and new conditions of space. A new blood, money, feeds
these cities, a new energy fires them; they are driven to procreate a
new faith, a new God, and a new art. Their dimensions, terrific, and of
a beauty hitherto unknown, defy measurement; the order that rules is
hidden in the earth behind a pathless wilderness.

     Quel océan, ses cœurs? ...
     Quels nœuds de volonté serrés en son mystère![1]

cries out the poet in wonderment as he strides through the city and is
overpowered by her grandeur:

     Toujours en son triomphe ou ses défaites,
     Elle apparaît géante, et son cri sonne et son nom luit.[2]

He feels that an enormous energy proceeds from her; he is conscious that
her atmosphere rests with a new pressure on his body, that his blood
quickens to keep pace with her rhythm. Merely to be near her starts the
thrill of a new delight.

     En ces villes ...
            *       *       *       *       *
     Je sens grandir et s'exalter en moi,
     Et fermenter, soudain, mon cœur multiplié.[3]

Involuntarily he feels himself becoming dependent on her, feels this
grandiose coupling of energy producing a similar concentration of all
his forces in himself too, feels his fever becoming infectious like her
own, and feels--with an intensity unknown to any other poet of our
days--the identity of his personality with the soul of the city. He
knows she is dangerous, knows she will fill him with all restlessness,
overheat him and excite him, confuse him with her hostile contrasts.

     Voici la ville en or des rouges alchimies,
     Où te fondre le cœur en un creuset nouveau
     Et t'affoler d'un orage d'antinomies
     Si fort qu'il foudroiera tes nerfs jusqu'au cerveau.[4]

But he knows that she will impregnate him as well, give him power from
her strength. There will never be a great man again who will pass her
by, who will not be thrilled by her sensation, who will not live with
her, and by her grow. Henceforth all new and strong men will stand in
reciprocal action with her.

This great recognition of a fact is, as we have seen, not spontaneous,
but painfully acquired. For in the sense of the old beauty the aspect of
a modern city is frightful. She is a sleepless, an ever wakeful woman;
she does not, like Nature, sometimes rest; she is never silent.
Restlessly she sucks men into her whirlpool; ceaselessly she pricks
their nerves; day and night her life pulses. By day she is as grey as
lead; a sultry shuttle of passions; a dark mine in which men, buried in
the mines of her streets, are forced to unresting toil. How dense are
these virgin forests of bronze and stone; and of all these thousands of
streets 'à poumons lourds et haletants, vers on ne sait quels buts
inquiétants,'[5] not one seems to lead into the open, into the light of
day. Monotonous, like dull eyes, glare the millions of windows; and the
darksome caverns in which men, themselves like machines, sit by
machines, thunder in the unseizable rhythm of petrified exertion. Not a
ray is reflected on them from the eternal; hostile, repulsive, and grey
the town pants in the puffed smoke of her daily labour. But night,
softening all harsh lines, fierily welds the lumbering limbs together
into something new. By night the town is turned into one great
seduction. Passion, fettered in the day-time, breaks its chains:

      ... Pourtant, lorsque les soirs
     Sculptent le firmament de leurs marteaux d'ébène,
     La ville au loin s'étale et domine la plaine
     Comme unnocturne et colossal espoir;
     Elle surgit: désir, splendeur, hantise;
     Sa clarté se projette en lueurs jusqu'aux cieux,
     Son gaz myriadaire en buissons d'or s'attise,
     Ses rails sont des chemins audacieux
     Vers le bonheur fallacieux
     Que la fortune et la force accompagnent;
     Ses murs se dessinent pareils à une armée
     Et ce qui vient d'elle encor de brume et de fumée
     Arrive en appels clairs vers les campagnes.[6]

These fiery eruptions Verhaeren shapes in grandiose visions. There is
the vision of the music halls: wheels of fire revolve round a house,
blazing letters climb up façades and lure the crowds to sit in front of
the brilliant footlights. I Here the people's hunger for sensation is
fed full, and art is cruelly murdered day by day. Here tedium is tamed
for an hour or so, and whipped up with colour, flame, and music for
another pleasure that is waiting outside, as soon as the illusion here
sinks into the night:

     Et minuit sonne et la foule s'écoule
     --Le hall fermé--parmi les trottoirs noirs;
     Et sous les lanternes qui pendent,
     Rouges, dans la brume, ainsi que des viandes,
     Ce sont les filles qui attendent....[7]

they the harlots, 'les promeneuses,' 'les veuves d'elles-mêmes,'[8] who
live on the sensual hunger of the masses. For sensual pleasure too is
organised in cities, is guided into canals, like all instincts. But the
primordial instinct is the same. The hunger which out in the fields and
in the country was still pleasure in healthy food, in frothing beer, has
here been converted into the idea of money. Money is what everybody
hungers for here; money is the meaning of the town. 'Boire et manger de
l'or'[9] is the hot dream of the crowd. Everything is expressed by
money, 'tout se définit par des monnaies';[10] all values are
subordinate to this new value, monetary value. Superb is the vision of
the bazaar, where, on all the counters, in the many stories, everything
is sold, not only as in reality objects in common use, but, in a loftier
symbolism, ethical values as well: convictions and opinions, fame and
name, honour and power, all the laws of life. But all this fiery blood
of money flows together in the great heart of the city, flows into the
Exchange, that greedy maw that swallows all the gold and spits it out
again, which smelts all this hectic fever and then pours it flaming into
all the veins of the city. Everything can be bought, even pleasure: in
back streets, in _l'étal_, in the haunts where debauch lies in wait,
women sell themselves as goods are sold in the bazaar. But this energy
is not always regulated, not always made to flow between dikes. Here
too, as in Nature, there are sudden catastrophes. Sometimes revolt is
kindled, flashes up instantaneously, and this stream of money blazes
itself a new trail. The masses pour out of their dismal caverns, greed
takes possession of men, and the myriad-headed monster fights and bleeds
for this one thing, this red-burning, relucent gold.

But the great and powerful thing in these towns is not passion; it is
the hidden strength behind these passions, the noble order that keeps
them in their proper limits, and holds them in check. This rumbling
chaos, this inundation of things doomed to die, is dominated in the
_Villes Tentaculaires_ by three or four figures standing like
statues--the tamers of passions. They are what kings and priests were of
old, they who have the power of bridling ebullient energies and turning
them to use. With hands of iron they hold down this wild and dangerous
animal, they, the new rulers, statesmen, generals, demagogues,
organisers. For the town is an animal in its movements, a beast in its
passions, a brute in its instincts, a monster in its strength. It is
ugly, like all rut. It cannot be contemplated with a pure pleasure, like
a landscape gently and harmoniously fading in forest verdure; it rather
evokes, at first, loathing, hatred, caution, and hostility. But that is
the great thing in Verhaeren, that he always overcomes whatever is
hostile, pain and torment, by a great vista, that in this panting steam
of the unæsthetic he already sees the flame of the new beauty. Here for
the first time is, seen the beauty of factories, _les usines
rectangulaires,_ the fascination of a railway station, the new beauty in
the new things. If the town is indeed ugly in its denseness, ugly in the
sense of all classical ideals; if the picture of it is indeed I cruel
and frightful; it is yet not unfertile. 'Le siècle et son horreur se
condensent en elle, mais son âme contient la minute éternelle.' And this
I feeling, that in her the minute of eternity is contained, that she is
the new thing risen above all the pasts, a new thing that one must
perforce come to terms with, this feeling makes her momentous and
beautiful to the poet. If her form is loathsome, grey, and sombre, her
idea, her organisation, are grandiose and admirable. And here, as
always, where admiration finds a pivot, it can give the whole world the
swing from negation to assent.

But Verhaeren is by this time too little of an artist, too much
interested in all the problems of life, to be able to contemplate the
idea of the modern city from the æsthetic side alone. It is for him a
still more important symbol for the expression of contemporary feeling.

Not only the problem of the new social stratification is poetically
digested in his trilogy, but also one of the most burning and pressing
questions of political economy as of politics, the struggle between the
centrifugal and the centripetal power, the struggle between agrarianism
and industrialism. Town and country purchase their prosperity, the one
by the impoverishment of the other. Production and trade, however much
one is the condition of the other, at their extreme points are hostile
forces. And how, in our days in Europe, the victory between town and
country is being decided in favour of the town; how, gradually, the town
is absorbing the best strength of the provinces--the problem of the
_déracinés_--this has for the first time in poetry been described by
Verhaeren in his magnificent vision of _Les Villes Tentaculaires_. The
cities have sprung up like mushrooms. Millions have conglomerated. But
where have they come from? From what sources have these immense masses
suddenly streamed into the mighty reservoirs? The answer is quick to
come. The heart of the city is fed with the oozing blood of the country.
The country is impoverished. As though they were hallucinated, the
peasants migrate to where gold is minted, to the town that in the
evenings flames across the horizon; to where alone riches lies, and
power. They march away with their carts, to sell their last stick of
furniture, their last rags; they march away with their daughter, to
deliver her up to lust; they march away with their son, to let him
perish in the factories; they march away to dip their hands, they also,
in this roaring river of gold. The fields are deserted. Only the
fantastic figures of idiots stagger along lonely paths; the abandoned
flour-mills are empty, and only turn when the wind smites against them.
Fever rises from the marshes, where the water, no longer gathered into
dikes, spreads putrefaction and pestilence. Beggars drag themselves from
door to door, with the country's barrenness reflected in their eyes; to
the last lingering cultivators come, sinuously, their worst enemies,
_les donneurs de mauvais conseils_. The emigration agent entices them to
wander to the lands of gold, and they squander what they have inherited
from their ancestors, to seek a far-distant hope:

     Avec leur chat, avec leur chien,
     Avec, pour vivre, quel moyen?
     S'en vont, le soir, par la grand'route.[11]

And they who are not enticed away by emigration are evicted from hearth
and home by usurers. Villages in which the dance of the kermesse has
long been silent are of a sudden cut in two by a network of railways.
There is no fairness in the fight. The country is conquered because the
blood of its inhabitants has been sucked out of it. 'La plaine est morte
et ne se défend plus.'[12] Everything streams to Oppidomagnum. This is
the name given by Verhaeren in his symbolical drama _Les Aubes_--which,
with the _Campagnes Hallucinées_ and the _Villes Tentaculaires_ forms
the trilogy of the social revolution--to the monster city. This, with
its arms as of a polypus, pitilessly sucks all the strength of the
district round it. From all sides strength streams in upon it. 'Tous les
chemins se rythment vers elle.' Not only from the country does she drink
the strength of men, all the ocean seems to be pouring its waters only
to her port. 'Toute la mer va vers la ville.'[13] The whole sea streams
to the city; all the rolling waves seem only to exist that they may
bring to her this wandering forest of ships. And she absorbs everything,
digests it in the 'noire immensité des usines rectangulaires,'[14]
greedily devours it, to spit it out again as gold.

But this immense social struggle between the country and the town
expresses, like the other new phases, something yet higher. It is only a
momentary symbol of an eternal schism. The country is the symbol of the
Conservatives. In the country the forms of labour are petrified, calm,
and regular; there life is without haste, and only regulated by the
rotation of the seasons. All sensations, all forms are pure and simple.
These men stand nearer to the freaks of chance: a flash of lightning, a
hailstorm can destroy their labour; and so they fear God, and do not
dare to doubt in Him. The town, however, symbolises progress. In the
thunder of the streets of to-day no Madonna's voice is heard; the life
of the individual is protected from chance by prearranged order; the
fever of the new creates also a yearning for new conditions of life, new
circumstances, for a new God.

     L'esprit des campagnes était l'esprit de Dieu;
     Il eut la peur de la recherche et des révoltes,
     Il chut; et le voici qui meurt, sous les essieux
     Et sous les chars en feu des récoltes.[15]

If the country was the past, the town is the future. The country only
seeks to keep what it has, to preserve: its character, its beauty, its
God. But the town must first of all create, must make itself the new
beauty, the new faith, and the new God.

     Le rêve ancien est mort et le nouveau se forge.
     Il est fumant dans la pensée et la sueur
     Des bras fiers de travail, des fronts fiers de lueurs,
     Et la ville l'entend monter du fond des gorges
     De ceux qui le portent en eux
     Et le veulent crier et sangloter aux cieux.[16]

But we, Verhaeren thinks, must not belong to this world of the past,
this moribund world; no, we who live in towns must think with them, must
live with the new age, create in league with it, and find a new language
for its dumb yearning. A return to nature is no longer possible for us:
evolution cannot be screwed back again. If we have lost great values, we
must replace them by new; if our religious feeling for the old God is
cold and dead, we must create new ideals. We must find new aims that our
ancestors knew not of; in the new forms of the city we must find a new
beauty, in her noises a new rhythm, in her confusion an order, in her
energy an object, in her stammering a language.

If the towns have destroyed much, they will perhaps create still more.
In their melting-pot professions, races, religions, nations, languages
are blended:

      ...les Babels enfin réalisées
     Et les peuples fondus et la cité commune
     Et les langues se dissolvant en une.[17]

'The old order changeth, giving place to new'; and we must not ask
whether the new is better than the old; we must trust that it is so.
The feverish convulsions of the great cities, this unrest, this
screaming torment, cannot be in vain. For they, these pains and
convulsions, are only the birth-throes of the new. But he who has been
the first to feel, with a glad presentiment, this pain of the masses,
this fermentation, as joy, this unrest as hope, must himself be an
authentic new man, one of those who are called to give a poetic answer
to all the complaints and questions of our time.


[1] 'L'Âme de la Ville' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[2] Ibid. (_Ibid._).

[3] 'La Foule' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[4] 'Les Villes' (_Les Flambeaux Noirs_).

[5] 'L'Âme de la Ville' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[6] 'La Ville' (_Les Campagnes Hallucinées_).

[7] 'Les Spectacles' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[8] 'Les Promeneuses' (_Ibid_.).

[9] 'La Bourse' (_Ibid._).

[10] 'Le Bazar' (_Ibid._).

[11] 'Le Départ' (_Les Campagnes Hallucinées_).

[12] 'La Plaine' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[13] 'Le Port' (_Ibid._).

[14] 'La Plaine' (_Ibid._).

[15] 'Vers le Futur' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[16] 'L'Âme de la Ville' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[17] 'Le Port'(_Ibid._).


     Mets en accord ta force avec les destinées
     Que la foule, sans le savoir,
     Promulgue, en cette nuit d'angoisse illuminée.
                                     É.V., 'La Foule.'

That great event which is the modern city was at bottom only possible by
the organisation of the mighty multitudes of the people and the
distribution of their forces. To organise is to weld unlike forces
economically into an organism, to imitate something that has life and
soul, in which nothing is superfluous and everything is necessary; it is
to give a material its uniform strength, to give an idea the flesh and
bones of its shape and of its possibility. Now the town has smelted the
scattered forces of the country into a new material--into the multitude;
it has converted much that used to be individually active force into
mechanical force; it has humbled man to the condition of a handle, a
rolling wheel; it has everywhere tied up the individuality of the single
man in order to produce a new individuality, that of the crowd. For the
multitude as a fact is a new thing. For centuries it was only a symbol,
an idea. The inhabitants of whole countries were logically epitomised in
a number, but with no suggestion of thus comprehending their immediate
unity. Of course, in times past great armies have been known, hordes of
fighting men and nomad tribes; but these only represented a volatile
concentration, too unsettled, too inconstant to procreate an
individuality, an æsthetic and moral value. And even those armies whose
legendary greatness echoes down the centuries, the hordes of Tamerlaine,
the hosts of the Persians, the legions of Rome, how poor is their number
in comparison with the masses of human beings daily herded together in
New York or London or Paris! Only in our own days, only in Oppidomagnum,
has the multitude been welded together finally and for all time, been
hooked together with bands of steel like the wheels of an immense
machine; only recently has the crowd become a living being that grows
and multiplies like a forest. Democracy has given it new intellectual
forms, set a brain in the body, by making the multitude determinate,
subject only to itself. It is a creation of the nineteenth century; it
is a new value in our lives, and one that we must come to terms with; no
less a value for our evolution than the highest values of the past. Walt
Whitman, to whom one must constantly refer in dealing with Verhaeren's
work, although--let it be expressly stated here--Verhaeren quite
independently and unconsciously arrived at the same goal from the same
starting-point, once said: 'Modern science and democracy seemed to be
throwing out their challenge to poetry to put them in its statements in
contradistinction to the songs and myths of the past.'[1] And every
modern poet will have to come to terms with the masses of democracy,
will have to contemplate them synthetically as an individual living
being, as a man, or as a God. In his Utopian drama _Les Aubes_ Verhaeren
has ranged them among the dramatis personæ, and, to express his inner
vision, he has added this stage direction: 'Les groupes agissent comme
un seul personnage à faces multiples et antinomiques.' For, like the
images of Indian gods, they have a hundred arms, but their cry is in
unison; their will is simple; their energy is uniform; one and the same
is their heart, 'le cœur myriadaire et rouge de la foule.'[2] A
hundred years of life in communion, a hundred years of distress in
common, of hope in common, have welded them together into one unity,
into one new feeling. Sleepless and restless like a dangerous animal
lies the multitude in the monster cities; all the passions of individual
man are hers, vanity, hunger, anger; she has all vices and crimes in
common with her smallest member, man; only, everything in her is
intensified to unknown magnitudes. Everything in her passions is
stupendously superdimensional, beyond calculation, and, in a new sense,
divine. For just as the gods of old were formed after the image of man,
save that they represented man's strength and intelligence magnified to
the hundredth degree, the multitude is the synthesis of individual
forces, the most prolific accumulation of passion.

With the multitude the individual comes into being, and without her he
perishes. Consciously or unconsciously, every man is subject to her
power. For the modern man is no longer free from the influence of
others, as the tiller of the fields was in olden days, or the shepherd,
or the hunter, each of whom was dependent only on the anger of heaven,
the whims of the earth, on weather and hailstorms, on chance, which he
clad in the august image of his god. The modern man is in all his
feelings determined by the world around him, set in his place in the
ranks, and moved with the ranks like a shuttle to and fro; he is a
dependent in his instincts. We all feel socially; we cannot think away
the others who are round us and in front of us any more than we can
think away the air that nourishes us. We can flee from them, but we
cannot flee away from what has penetrated us from them. For the
multitude rules us like a force of nature, nourishes us with its
feelings. The unsocial man is a fiction. Just as little as in a great
city one can shut off one's room entirely from the noise, the rhythm of
the street, just so little can one think isolatedly, just so little can
the soul keep itself at a distance from the great intellectual
excitements of the multitude. Verhaeren himself made the attempt in the
days when he wrote the verses:

     Mon rêve, enfermons-nous dans ces choses lointaines
     Comme en de tragiques tombeaux.[3]

But the life of reality claimed him again; for society destroys him who
turns away from her, as one is destroyed who shuts himself out from the
fresh air. The poet, too, must involuntarily think with the multitude
and of the multitude. For to the same extent as democracy has exercised
its levelling influence, to the same extent as it has limited
individualities, enrolled the poet among the class of citizens,
diminished the contrasts of chance, it has at the same time matured new
forces in their multiplicity. In democracy the modern poet can find
everything for which the ancients felt constrained to discover gods,
those incalculable forces which bind the individual like enchantment.
The town, the multitude feeds his energy with its exhaustless abundance;
it multiplies his own strength. For everything the individual has lost
is stored in it, great heroism and ecstatic enthusiasm. It is the great
source of the unexpected and the incalculable in our days, the new thing
concerning which no one knows how great it will grow. To have seen in it
an enrichment, instead of a restriction, of the poetic instinct, is one
of the great merits of Verhaeren. For while the majority of
contemporary poets still maintain the fiction of the recluse in his
wistful loneliness, while they recoil from before the multitude as
though from men stricken with the plague, while they create for
themselves an artificial seclusion, and heedlessly go their way past
locomotives and telegraphs, banks and workshops, Verhaeren drinks
greedily from these sources of new strength.

       Comme une vague en des fleuves perdue,
       Comme une aile effacée, au fond de l'étendue,
       Mon cœur, en ces foules battant les capitales!
       Réunis tous ces courants
       Et prends
       Si large part à ces brusques métamorphoses
       D'hommes et de choses,
       Que tu sentes l'obscure et formidable loi
       Qui les domine et les opprime
     Soudainement, à coups d'éclairs, s'inscrire en toi.[4]

For she, 'la foule,' the multitude, is the great transposer of values in
our day. She takes into her bosom and transforms the men who come to her
from the country, from the four winds of heaven; none of us escapes her
levelling power. The most distant races are blended in the city's huge
melting-pot, are adapted to one another, and forthwith become a new
thing, a different thing, a new race, the new race of contemporary man,
who has made his peace with the atmosphere of the great city, who not
only painfully feels the depression of her walls and his divorce from
Nature, but creates himself a new strength and a new feeling of the
universe in this manifold human presence. The great feat of the
multitude is that it accelerates the process of changing values. The
individual elements perish in favour of this individuality of a new
community. Old communities lose their unity, new communities must arise.
America is the first example: here, in a hundred years, one single great
brotherhood, a new type, has been developed from the forces of a
thousand peoples; and in our capitals, in Paris, Berlin, and London,
people are already growing up who are not Frenchmen and not Germans, but
in the first place only Parisians and Berliners, who have a different
accent, a different way of thinking, whose native land is the great
city, the multitude. The inhabitant of the great city, the democratic
man of the multitude, is a sharply defined character. If he is a poet,
his poetry must be social; if he is a thinker, the intelligence of the
masses, the instinct of the many, must be his also. To have attempted
the psychology of this multitude for the first time in poetry is one of
the great feats of audacity for which we must be grateful to Verhaeren.

But these individual accumulations of men into a multitude, these
combinations of millions into towns, are not isolated. One bond holds
them all together: modern traffic. The distances of reality have
disappeared, and with them national divisions as well. By the side of
the problem of individual conglomerations which only slowly are
transformed into organisms, by the side of the individual races, the
individual masses, now arises a greater synthesis, the synthesis of the
European race. For the men of our continent are no longer so distant, so
strange to one another as they formerly were. Social democracy with its
organisation encompasses the masses from one end of Europe to the other.
To-day the same desires fire the men of Paris, London, St. Petersburg,
Vienna, and Rome. And already one common formula directs their
exertions: money.

     Races des vieux pays, forces désaccordées,
     Vous nouez vos destins épars, depuis le temps
     Que l'or met sous vos fronts le même espoir battant.[5]

Independently of the frontiers of countries, on a broad-based
foundation, a unified race, a new community, the European, is in process
of formation. Here desire and reality are near touching. Verhaeren sees
Europe already united by one great common energy. Europe is for him the
land of consciousness. While other continents, distant as though in a
dream, are still living a vegetative life, while Africa and India are
still dreaming as they dreamt in the darkness of primitive times, Europe
is 'la forge où se frappe l'idée,'[6] the great smithy in which all
differences, all individual observations, all results, are hammered and
moulded into a new intellectuality, into _European consciousness_. The
union is not yet inwardly complete; states are still hostile and
ignorant of their community; but already 'le monde entier est repensé
par leurs cervelles.'[7] Already they are working at the transvaluation
of all feeling in the European sense. For a new system of ethics, a new
system of æsthetics, will be required by the European, who, rich by the
past, strong in the feeling of the multitude, is now conscious of
drawing his strength from new masses. Here it is that Verhaeren's work
sings over into Utopia; and in _Les Aubes_, the epilogue to _Les Villes
Tentaculaires,_ this glittering rainbow rises over the visions of
reality to the new ideal; the prophetic dream of a better future rises
over the still struggling present.

This yearning for the European has been expressed for the first time in
poetry by Verhaeren, almost contemporaneously with Walt Whitman's
hailing of the American and Friedrich Nietzsche's prophecy of the
superman. It would be a tempting task, and full of interest, to set up
the Pan-European in antithesis to the Pan-American. But to say that
Verhaeren was the first of lyric poets to feel as consciously European
as Walt Whitman felt American, is to establish his rank among the most
considerable men of our time. Verhaeren is possibly the only lyric poet
who has felt in accordance with contemporary feeling. That epitomises
his whole claim to gratitude, for it sufficiently expresses the fact
that he has taken to his heart the problem of the multitude; the energy
of social innovations; the æsthetics of organisation; the grandeur of
mechanical production; in a word, the poetry of material things. It is
our own time, the new age, that speaks in his verse; and it speaks in
its new language. This rhythm which he has discovered is no literary
abstraction, but beats in perfect unison with the heart-beat of the
crowd; it is an echo of the panting of our monster cities, of the
clanking of trains, of the cry of the people; his language is new,
because it is no longer the voice of one man, but unites in itself the
many voices of the multitude. He has penetrated deeper than any other
man into the feeling of the masses, and their surf echoes more strongly
in his verse. The hollow rumbling, the bestial and tameless strength of
their voice, the surf of the multitude, has here become shape and music,
the highest identity. With pride one can say of Verhaeren what he
himself vaunts in his 'Captain': 'Il est la foule,'[8] he himself is the


[1] _A Backward Glance O'er Travelled Roads._

[2] 'La Conquête (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[3] 'Sous les Prétoriens' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[4] 'La Foule' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[5] 'La Conquête' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[6] _Ibid. (Ibid.)._

[7] 'La Conquête' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[8] 'Le Capitaine' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).


     Dites, les rythmes sourds dans l'univers entier!
     En définir la marche et la passante image
     En un soudain langage;
       .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
     Prendre et capter cet infini en un cerveau,
     Pour lui donner ainsi sa plus haute existence.
                                          É.V., 'Le Verbe'.

The rhythm of modern life is a rhythm of excitement. The city with its
multitudes is never completely at rest: even in its repose, in its
silence, there is a secret bubbling as of lava in the bowels of a
volcano, a waiting and watching, a nervous tension tinged with fever.
For the idea of energy in the myriad-headed monster city is so
concentrated, so intensified, that it never loses its rumbling activity.
Rest, a polar feeling, would be the inner negation, the annihilation, of
this new element. True, the city with her teeming masses is not always
in the fever-throes of those great eruptions of passion when through the
arteries of her streets the blood streams suddenly; when all her muscles
seem to contract; when cries and enthusiasm blaze up like a flame; but
always something seems to be expecting this fiery second, just as in
modern man there is always the whipped unrest that is avid of new
things, new experiences. Modern cities are in perpetual vibration; and
so is the multitude from man to man. Even if the individual is not
excited, if his nerves are not always stirring with his own vibration,
they are yet always vibrating in harmony with the obscure resonance of
the universe. The great city's rhythm beats in our very sleep; the new
rhythm, the rhythm of our life, is no longer the regular alternation of
relaxation and repose, it is the steady vibration of an unintermitted

Now, a modern poet who wishes to create in real harmony with
contemporary feeling must himself have something of the perpetual
excitement, the unremitting watchfulness, the restless and nervous
sensitiveness of our time; his heart must unconsciously beat in tact
with the rhythm of the world around him. But not only unrest must
flicker in him, not only must that excessive delicacy of feeling which
is almost morbid be in him, this neurasthenic sleeplessness--not only
the negative element of our epoch, but the grandiose as well, the
superdimensional, the spontaneity of the sudden discharge of forces held
in reserve, the overwhelming force of the great eruption. Like the
masses of our towns, he must be so fashioned that a trifle will
stimulate him to the greatest passion, must be so fashioned that he
cannot help being carried away by the intoxication of his own strength.
Just as the masses have, so to speak, organised themselves as a body,
so that there is no individual excitement in them, no irritation and
inflammation of any single part, but so that a reaction of the whole
body responds to every separate irritation, just in the same manner must
the excitement of a modern, a contemporary poet, a poet of a great town,
never be the excitement of a single sense, but, if it is to be strong,
it must quiver through the whole body like an electric shock. His poetic
rhythm must therefore be physically vital; it must envelop all his
feeling and thinking; it must respond to every individual irritation, to
every individual sensation, with the massed weight of feeling of all his
vital forces: the need of a rhythm strained to the full must be, as
Nietzsche has so wonderfully demonstrated in his _Ecce Homo_! a measure
for the strength of the inspiration, a sort of balancing, as it were, of
the pressure and tension of the inspiration. For the poet of to-day, if
he does not wish to remain the poet of the eternal yesterday, must, as a
microcosm, imitate in his passion the macrocosm of the multitude,
wherein also the excitement of the individual is trivial and aimless,
and only the ebullition of the whole fermenting mass is irresistible and

Then, in such poems, the _rhythm of modern life_ will break through. At
this moment we must remember what rhythm really means. The rhythm of a
being is in the last instance nothing but its breathing. Everything that
is alive, every organism, has breath, the interchange and resting-space
between giving and taking. And so breathes a poem too; and it is
worthless if it is not a living thing, if it is not an organism, a body
with a soul. Only in its rhythm does it become alive, as man does in his
breathing. But the diversity, the originality of the rhythm only arises
from the alternation of these drawn breaths. Breathing is different in
those who are calm, excited, joyous, nervous, oppressed, ecstatic. Every
sensation produces its corresponding rhythm. And since every poet in his
individuality represents a new form of inner passion, his poem too must
have this rhythm of his own, the rhythm which expresses his personal
poetic peculiarity just as characteristically as his speaking expresses
an individual accent and dialect. To understand Verhaeren's rhythm we
must remember this basic form of the poetic feeling at the heart of him;
we must compare it with the feeling at the heart of those who have gone
before him. In Victor Hugo there was the earnest, great, soaring rhythm
of the loud speaker, of the preacher who never addresses individuals but
always the whole nation; in Baudelaire there was the regular hymnic
rhythm of the priest of art; in Verlaine the irregular, sweet, and
gentle melody of one speaking in dreams. In Verhaeren, now, there is the
rhythm of a man hurrying, rushing, running; of a restless, passionate
man; the rhythm of the modern, of the Americanised man. It is often
irregular; you hear in it the panting of one who is hunted, who is
hurrying to his goal; you hear his impact with the obstacles he stumbles
against, the sudden standstill of intemperate effort exhausted. But with
him the rhythmic energy is never intellectual, never verbal, never
musical; it is purely emotional, physical. Not only the end of the nerve
vibrates and sounds; not only does the language shake the air; but out
of the whole organism, as though all the nerve-strings had suddenly
begun to sound the alarm, burst the terror and the ecstasy of fever. His
poem is never a state of repose--no more than the multitude is ever
quite repose--it is in a true sense rhythm, passion set in motion. You
feel the excitement of the man in it, motion, the covering of a
distance, activity; never contemplation comfortably resting, or dream
girt with sleep. And as a matter of fact, it is from motion in the
physical sense that nearly all his poems have arisen: Verhaeren has
never composed poetry at his writing-table, but while wandering over the
fields with a rhythmically moved body whose accelerated pace pulses to
the very heart of the poem, or while rushing along through the din and
bustle of streets in great cities. In these poems is that quicker
rolling of the blood that comes from exercise, that jerk of unrest and
passion tearing themselves away from repose. You feel that in this man
feeling is too strong, that he would fain free himself from it, run away
from it in his own body. The feeling is so strong that it turns to
pain, or rather pressure, and the poem is nothing else than the erection
that precedes relief, the throes that bring forth out of pregnancy. Just
as the multitude in revolt bursts the bonds of its excitement and
launches of a sudden all the passion dammed back for centuries, so
springs from the poet like a geyser the passionate assault of words
bursting from too long silence. These cries are a physical relief. These
'élans captifs dans le muscle et la chair '[1] are the relief of a
convulsion, the easy breathing after oppression. As a passionate man is
forced to relieve himself by gestures, or in a fit of rage, or in cries,
or in weeping, or in some other state opposed to rest, the poet
discharges his feeling in rhythmic words: 'L'homme à vous prononcer
respirait plus à l'aise'[2] he has said of the man who was the first to
force the excess of his feeling into speech.

_It is, then, a force positively physical which produces Verhaeren's
rhythm._ It is difficult to prove such an assertion, for the state of
creation is unconscious and unapproachable, although it may intuitively
be detected in those moments of recreation, in that second of a new
birth when a poet recites his work, when he feels, as it were, the
pressure of the feeling weighing upon him artificially in recollection,
when by the force of his imagination he relieves himself again as at the
birth of the poem. And any one who has once heard Verhaeren reciting
poetry will know how much with him the rhythm of body and poem is one
and indivisible, how the excitement that becomes rhythmical in the
vibrating word is at the same time converted into the identical gesture.
The calm eyes grow keen, they seem to pierce the near paper; the arm is
raised commandingly, and every finger of the hand is stretched out to
mark the cæsura as though with an electric shock; to hammer the verses;
and with the voice to eject the hurrying and almost screaming words into
the room. In his movements there is then that terrific effort of one who
would fain tear himself away from himself, that sublimest gesture of the
poet striving away from the earth, striving away from himself, from the
heavy gait of words to winged passion. Man coalesces with Nature in one
second of the most wonderful identity:

     Les os, le sang, les nerfs font alliance
     Avec on ne sait quoi de frémissant
     Dans l'air et dans le vent;
     On s'éprouve léger et clair dans l'espace,
     On est heureux à crier grâce,
     Les faits, les principes, les lois, on comprend tout;
     Le cœur tremble d'amour et l'esprit semble fou
     De l'ivresse de ses idées.[3]

Every time that Verhaeren reads his poetry, this re-birth of the first
creative state is renewed. _It is in the first place a deliverance from
pain, and in the second place it is pleasure_. Again and again the word
darts along like a beast let loose; in the wildest rhythm; in a rhythm
that begins slowly, cautiously; quickens; then grows wilder and wilder;
grows to an intoxicating monotony, an ever-increasing speed, a rattling
din that reminds one of an express whizzing along at full speed. Like a
locomotive--for in Verhaeren's case one has to think in images of this
kind, and not in outworn tropes as of Pegasus--the poem rushes on,
driven only by a measure which reminds one of the short explosions of an
automobile. And as a matter of fact the scansion of the locomotive, its
restless rattling, has often been the cause of the rhythmic velocity of
his verses. Verhaeren himself is fond of relating that he has often, and
with delight, written poems on railway journeys, and that the cadence of
his verse has then been fired by the regular rattle of the train. He
describes wonderfully the rapture of the speed poured into his blood by
the whizzing past of trains. The whistling of the wind in moaning trees,
the dashing of the foaming sea along the shore, the echo a thousand
times repeated of thunder in the mountains, all these strong sounds have
become rhythm in his poems; all noisy things, all violent, swift
emotions have made it brusque, angry, and excited:

     Oh! les rythmes fougueux de la nature entière
     Et les sentir et les darder à travers soi!
     Vivre les mouvements répandus dans les bois,
     Le sol, les vents, la mer et les tonnerres;
     Vouloir qu'en son cerveau tressaille l'univers;
     Et pour en condenser les frissons clairs
     En ardentes images,
     Aimer, aimer, surtout la foudre et les éclairs
     Dont les dévorateurs de l'espace et de l'air
     Incendient leur passage![4]

But this is the new thing in Verhaeren, that he has transformed into
rhythm not only the voice of Nature, but also the new noises, the
grumbling of the multitude, the raging of cities, the rumbling of
workshops. Often in his rhythm can be heard the beat of hammers; the
hard, edged, regular whizzing of wheels; the whirring of looms; the
hissing of locomotives; often the wild, restless tumult of streets; the
humming and rumbling of dense masses of the people. Poets before him
imitated in the harmony of their verse the monotony of sources and the
babbling of water over pebbles, or the soughing voice of the wind. But
he makes the voice of the new things speak; makes the rhythm of the
city, this rhythm of fever and of unrest, this nervous moving of the
crowd, this unquiet billowing of a new ocean, flow over into his new
poem. Hence this up and down in his verses; this suddenness and
unexpectedness; this incalculable element. _The new, the industrial
noises have here become the music of poetry_. Since he does not seek to
express his own individual sensation of life, but would himself only be
a voice for the multitude, the rhythm is more roaring and restless than
that of any individual being. Like the first poets, those of old time,
before whom there were no outworn and exhausted words; like the poets
whose feeling burst into flame at every word, every cry; who discovered
themselves 'en exaltant la souffrance, le mal, le plaisir, le bien';
like them when they

      ... confrontaient à chaque instant
     Leur âme étonnée et profonde
     Avec le monde,[5]

poets who would be modern must compare their own soul with that of their
time, must always regulate their rhythm according to the mutation of
their time. Their deepest yearning must be to find not only their own
personal expression, but over and above it the poetic and musical
representation of the highest identity between themselves and their
time. For poets are the inheritors of a great patrimony:

      ... En eux seuls survit, ample, intacte et profonde,
     Dont s'enivrait, devant la terre et sa splendeur,
     L'homme naïf et clair aux premiers temps du monde;
     C'est que le rythme universel traverse encor
     Comme aux temps primitifs leur corps.[6]

They must, in these days, only express themselves when they have first
adapted the rhythm of their own feeling to that of the universe, to the
rhythm of the cities they live in, to the rhythm of the multitude from
which they have grown, to the rhythm of temporal as of eternal things.
They must, like a vein in the heart of the world, reproduce every beat
of the great hammer, every excitement, quickening of pace and
obstruction of the feeling rolled round in the whole organism; they must
learn from life the rhythm which shall again achieve the great harmony
that was lost between the world and the work of art.


[1] 'Le Verbe' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[2] _Ibid._ (_Ibid._).

[3] 'Les Heures où l'on crée' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[4] 'L'En-Avant' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[5] 'Le Verbe' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[6] _Ibid._ (_Ibid._).


     Lassé des mots, lassé des livres.
       .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
     Je cherche, en ma fierté,
     L'acte qui sauve et qui délivre.
                      É.V., 'L'Action.'

The primitive poem, that which came into being long before writing or
print, was nothing but a modulated cry that was hardly language, a cry
won from joy or pain, mourning or despair, recollection or passionate
entreaty, but always from fulness of feeling. It was pathetic, because
it was produced by passion; pathetic, because its intention was to
produce passion. The poem of those great and distant men who were the
first to find word and speech in the darted cry of feeling, was an
invocation of the crowd; an exhortation; a fiery incitement; an ecstasy;
a direct electric discharge of feeling to feeling. The poet spoke to the
others, an individual to a circle. The auditors stood before him in
expectation--somewhat as Max Klinger in his new picture has gathered
them together in front of blind Homer--they waited, watched, listened,
surrendered themselves, let themselves be carried away; or they
resisted. That poem and the delivery of it were not something finished
and presented for approval; no vessel or ornament already hammered into
shape and perfectly chiselled; they were something in the process of
creation, something newly growing at that moment, a struggle with the
hearer, a wrestling with him for his passion.

Poets lost this close, glowing contact with the masses when writing was
invented. What the dissemination of the written word, and still more, in
after days, the infinite multiplication of printing, dowered them with;
all the new influence over spaces hitherto closed; the fact that their
words were henceforth alive in countries which they had never visited;
that men drew strength and inspiration and vital courage from their
words long after their own bodies had fallen into dust--this vast and
mighty effect had only been obtained by relinquishing that other and
perhaps not lesser effect--dialogue, that standing face to face with the
multitude. By slow degrees poets became something imaginary to the
public. When they spoke, they really only listened to themselves; more
and more their poem became a lonely colloquy with themselves; the
harangue became a monologue, more and more lyrical in a new sense and
less and less moving. More and more their poem travelled away from
speech; more and more it lost that mysterious, passionate fire that is
only fed by the moment, by standing face to face with an excited crowd,
by the magical influx of tension and stimulation out of the heart of
the hearer into the poet's own words. For, with his expectation, with
his eager eyes, his excitement, and his intractable impatience, every
listener does something for the speaker: he goads him; he forces
something of his expectant restlessness into the response that has not
yet been made. But the moment the poet no longer spoke to the crowd, no
longer to a circle, but fashioned his words for print and writing, a new
and peculiar sensation was developed in him. He accustomed himself to
speaking only for himself; to conceiving his own feeling as important,
irrespective of effect and force; to holding a conversation with none
but himself and silence. And his poem changed more and more. Now that
the poet no longer had the panting roar of the response, the cry of
passion, the exultation of enthusiasm, as the finale of his poetry--the
last accord, as it were, belonging to his own music--he sought to
complete the harmony in the verse by means of itself. He rounded his
poem with an artist's care, as though it were an earthenware vessel;
illumined it with colours like a picture; rilled it with music; more and
more he relinquished the idea of persuading, of convincing,.of
inspiring. He was content that the poem should have no feeling for other
men, and gave it only the life and the mood of his own world. In that
period of transition, we may suppose, 'poetic' diction first came into
being, that language by the side of the living language which petrified
more and more as time went on into a dialect hostile to the world, into
bloodless marble. Of old, the poetic language was not one that existed
side by side with the real language; it was only the last
intensification of the real language. By the rhythm of higher passion,
by the fire of harangue, it became a sacred fire, a blest intoxication,
a festivity in the work-a-day world. Thus, as intensified vitality,
language could be different without ever being unintelligible, could
remain with and yet above the people, while the lyric poetry of to-day
has become, for the most part, strange and worthless to active men who
live in the midst of realities, to the artisan and the toiler.

Nevertheless in our own days there seem to be signs of a return to this
primitive close contact between the poet and his audience; a new pathos
is at its birth. The stage was the first bridge between the poet and the
multitude. But here the actor was still the intermediary of the spoken
word; the purely lyrical emotion was not an aim in itself, but only, for
three or four hours, a help in the illusion. However, the time of the
isolation of the poet from the crowd, which was formerly rendered
necessary by the great distances between nation and nation, seems now to
have been overcome by the shortening of space and by the
industrialisation of cities. To-day poets once again recite their verse
in lecture-halls, in the popular universities of America; nay, in
churches Walt Whitman's lines ring out into the American consciousness,
and what used to be created only by the seething seconds of political
crises--one might instance Petöfi declaiming his national anthem 'Talpra
Magyar' from the steps of the university to the revolutionary
crowd--occurs almost every day. Now again as of old the lyric poet seems
entitled to be, if not the intellectual leader of the time, at least he
who must excite and quell the passions of the time; the rhapsodist who
hails, kindles, and fans that holy fire, energy. The world seems to be
waiting for Him who shall concentrate all life in a flash of lightning
to light up all the deeps of darkness:

     Il monte--et l'on croirait que le monde l'attend,
     Si large est la clameur des cœurs battant
     À l'unisson de ses paroles souveraines.
     Il est effroi, danger, affre, fureur et haine;
     Il est ordre, silence, amour et volonté;
     Il scelle en lui toutes les violences lyriques.[1]

Certainly the poem which would speak to the multitude must be different
to the kind of poem that pleased our fathers. Above all, it must itself
be a will, an aim, an energy, an evocation. All the technical
excellence, the sweet music, the craft of vibrating rhythms, suppleness
and flexibility of language, must, in the new poem, no longer be an aim
in themselves, but only a means to kindle enthusiasm. Such a poem must
no longer be a sentimental dialogue between a hermit and some other
hermit, a stranger somewhere far away; it must no longer be the short,
hurriedly trembling voice which is silenced ere the word's flame has
blazed up in it; no, this new poem must be strongly exulting, richly
inspired, with a far horizon for its goal, and rushing on with
irresistible impetuosity. It is not written for gentle moods, but for
loud, resonant words. He who would quell the crowd must have the rhythm
of their own new and restless life in him; he who speaks to the crowd
must be inspired by the new pathos. And this new pathos, this 'pathos
which most of all accepts the world as it is' (in Nietzsche's sense),
is, above all, zest, is the strength and the will to create ecstasy.
This poem must not be sensitive and woebegone; it must not express a
personal grief that seeks to enlist the sympathies of others; no, it
must be inspired by a fulness of joy, by the will to create from joy
itself passion that cannot be held down. Only great feelings bear the
message to the crowd; small feelings, which can only in silence, as in
motionless air, rise above the ground, are dashed down again. _The new
pathos must contain the will, not to set souls in vibration, not to
provide a delicate, æsthetic sense of pleasure, but to fire to a deed._
It must carry the hearer along with it; it must once again collect in
itself the scattered forces of the poet of old time; it must in the poet
recreate, for an hour, the demagogue, the musician, the actor, the
orator; it must snatch the word again off the paper into the air; it
must carefully entrust feeling as a secret treasure to the individual;
it must hurl this treasure into the surf of a multitude. Poems with such
a new pathos cannot be created by feeble, passive men, whose mood can be
changed at any minute by the world around them, but only by fighting
natures, who are governed by an idea, by the thought of a duty; who seek
to force their feeling on others; who elevate their inspiration to the
inspiration of the whole world.

This new lyric pathos is in our days growing lustily into life again.
For centuries rhetoricians have been mocked at. The change of estimation
in Schiller's case from worship to sufferance is a lasting proof. And
let us remember that Nietzsche, the only German who in recent years has
influenced the world, was only able to do so by creating a new
rhetorical style--'I am the inventor of the dithyramb'--only by making
his _Zarathustra_ a preacher's book which insistently requires a loud,
resonant voice. In France it was Victor Hugo who first recognised the
necessity of direct address. But he, who, as it happens, stands on that
narrowest boundary-line which separates genius from talent, he of whom
one can say that he was either the least of the eternal, monumental
poets or the greatest of the minor, the derivative poets, he confined
himself to France, he never thought of any but the French nation--as
Walt Whitman never thought of any but the American nation--and, above
all, he had not the high place whence to speak to his nation. He would
have been greater if he had really had the tribune whence his thunder
and lightning might have reached the multitude, instead of being always
only a sinister grumbling from the background of exile. Of all the
hundred volumes of his work perhaps nothing will remain except that
commanding gesture of an orator which Rodin has perpetuated in his
statue, and which is nothing else than the will to move to passion. He
has created this will to pathos, but not the pathos itself; still, even
the effort is a great and memorable achievement.

Victor Hugo's inheritance, which was ill administered by chatterers and
chauvinists, by Déroulède and such poets with their big drums and their
trumpet-flourishes, has been taken over in France by Verhaeren. And he
is the first whose voice again reaches the crowd, the first French
realisation of a pathos which has absolutely the effect of art and
poetry. He more than any other, he whose deepest delight it is to quell
a grandiose resistance, he the _évocateur prodigieux_, as Bersaucourt[2]
has called him, was entitled to the mastery of the living word. Whenever
I read a poem by Verhaeren, I am time after time astonished to find
myself, when I have begun by reading it to myself, suddenly forced to
read the words aloud; surprised to find myself reading them louder and
louder; surprised to find in my hand, in my whole body, the urgent need
awakening of the gesture that hails and kindles an audience. For so
strong is the passionateness of the original feeling, the inner cry and
appeal in the words, that it forces its way through the reproduction,
rings out loudly even from the dead letters. _All the great poems of
Verhaeren are filled with the yearning to be spoken aloud, vehemently,
in the zest and glow of passion_. If they are recited softly, they seem
to be quite without melody; if they are read calmly and stolidly, they
often seem hard, uneven, and abrupt. Many images recur with a certain
regularity, many adjectives are repeated as petrified ideas--the trick
of an orator who emphasises what is important by standing
expressions--but the moment the poem is read aloud it is all alive
again, the repetitions are suddenly revealed as superb instances of
excitement reaching its mark, the recurring images take their place as
regular milestones along a road rushing along wildly to the infinite.
Verhaeren's poetry is the communication of an ecstasy, communication not
in the sense of a secret to an individual, but of fire cast to kindle a
crowd. His poems never seem to be quite completed, but to have been
first created while being read, just as every good and fiery speech
gives the impression of being improvised; they are always the unfolding
of a state, a passionate analysis that acts like a discovery. They are
moving, not harmonious. Just as an orator does not shock his audience at
the very first with the conclusion of his reasoning, but pays out the
chain of his arguments slowly and logically, Verhaeren builds his poems
from visions, first in repose, then in the excitement that intensifies,
and then with burning horizons foaming over more and more wildly in
images. And these images again are rhetorical; they are not similes
which can only be understood in their totality by the roundabout way of
reflection; they are glaring flashes of lightning. A poem that would
move those who hear it has need of metaphors which not only hit the mark
of feeling, but which hit it immediately with deadly effect. They must
be glaring, because they have to force the whole feeling in the
expression of one second as quick as lightning. In this way the pathetic
poem produces a new form of sensuous expression, and in this way too it
creates itself a new rhythm of intensification. First of all, with the
lightnings of his metaphors Verhaeren illuminates the vast landscape of
visions; then, by a certain monotony of rhythm, he intensifies the
astonishment and excitement to the highest ecstasy. Repeatedly, at the
breathing-spaces of his great poems, you think you have reached the
summit, only to be whipped to a higher leap, to a higher outlook. 'Il
faut en tes élans te dépasser sans cesse';[3] this, his moral
commandment, is for him the highest poetical law as well. The deepest
will of his pathetic poem is to whip up, to set running, to snatch his
hearer along with him. 'Dites!' this summons which is like a gesture,
the urgent 'encore, encore!' are appeals which in his poems are
petrified into cries, just as every horseman has certain words to lure
the last strength from his horse. _Such words are nothing but transposed
oratorical gestures_. The hollow 'oh!' is the gesture of appeal; the
short 'qu'importe!' the gesture as of one who casts away a burden grown
too heavy; the slow, curving, far-sweeping 'immensément' is the heaping
up of all infinity. These poems are lashed into fever heat. For not only
do they themselves seek to fly like those other, the harmonious, the
really lyric poems, which with wings outspread seem to hover near the
clouds, they also seek to snatch up by force the whole heavy mass of the
audience. This is the explanation of the constant repetitions in the
poems, which are often very long, as though some last doubter were yet
to be convinced, as though fire were to be darted into the blood of some
last one yet immune. Everything strives forwards, forwards, dragging the
resister along with ecstatic power.

And here are seen the dangers of pathos. The first danger, that into
which, for instance, Victor Hugo fell, was the emptiness, the hollowness
of the feeling, the covering over of a void by a mighty gesture;
enthusiasm resulting from a deliberate method, and not forced by inner
feeling. Empty phrasing is and remains the first danger of the pathetic
poem. The triteness of words 'plus sonores que solides'[4] is the
second. Here, however, in this new pathos, there is another and a new
peril, that of the over-heating of feeling, that of excessive, unhealthy
exaltation, which must then of necessity yield to exhaustion. No man can
be in a constant fever of excitement, in an unremitting state of
exaltation. And in these poems there is the will to unceasing ecstasy.
By the pathos, too, the purely lyrical values of the poem often fall
into danger. The will to be clear often forces the poet to a triteness
of wording; the terseness necessitates frequent repetition; the impulse
to build up an organic ecstasy often leads to excessive length. Owing to
its glaring, clear colours the language loses that mystical element of
lyric verse--the incommensurable, as Goethe called it--that magic hint
of a secret thing fleeing from the crowd and the light of day. But at
the same time this pathos signifies an immense enrichment of lyric
resources, a transvaluation of the word, by the very fact that it is not
exclusively intended for print but for declamation as well. The pathetic
poem is not, like the lyric poem, a crystallised impression; it is not
at the same time question and answer to itself; it is the expectation of
an answer. The great pathos, therefore, grows with success, and
involuntarily mingles in the poem the craving and the answer of the
poet's time. The voice of the poet is always as strong as the call that
goes out to him. Verhaeren found this new pathos in the course of his
development, because he no longer felt the voice of the crowd, of
cities, and of all the new things as a hindrance to his lyric poetry,
but as a challenge, as a rhetorical exhortation. And the more the world
around us becomes ponderous, grandiose, and passionate--the more it
becomes heroic in the concentration of its strength (heroic in that new
strength that Emerson preached)--so much the more, too, must lyric
poetry in the new sense, perhaps in Verhaeren's sense, be pathetic.
Gigantic impressions cannot be forced into petty impressions; vast
conceptions cannot be split up into mean fragments; a loud appeal needs
a loud answer. All art is more dependent than we are aware on its epoch.
The same secret dependence between demand and production seems to exist
in the sphere of art as exists in commerce. Laws that escape our
knowledge and cannot be prisoned in formulae can sometimes be glimpsed,
hazy as a presentiment, in fugitive intuition.


[1] 'Le Tribun' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[2] Albert de Bersaucourt, _Conférence sur Emile Verhaeren._

[3] 'L'Impossible' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[4] Albert Mockel, _Émile Verhaeren._


     Je suis celle des surprises fécondes.
                          É.V., 'Celle des Voyages.'

A real poem must not exhibit an artificial structure of parts, a
mechanism; it must, like man himself, be organic, an indissoluble union
of soul and body. It must have a living body of flesh, the substance of
the word, the colour of the metaphors, the mechanism of the motion, the
skeleton of the thought; but over and above all that it must possess
that inexpressible something, the soul, which alone makes it organic;
the breath, the rhythm, that inseparable essence which is no longer
perceptible to intelligence, but only to feeling. It is not first in
this transcendental element, however, that the poet's personality is
revealed: the poetry of a great poet must be characteristic in its very
physis, in its very material. Side by side with that magic vibration,
that intangible element of feeling, the materiality too, the weaving of
the word, that net of expression in which the fugitive feeling is caught
in the waters of the hidden life and lifted into the light, these too
must be alone of their kind if they are to characterise the poet's race,
environment, and personality. This purely material organism of the poet
too is, like every living thing, subject to growth, to the change of
maturity and age. The structure of the poem, like every human face, must
gradually, in the revolution of the years, work its way to character
from the shifting features of childhood and the indistinctness of the
general type, must in its sensuous externals, in the physiognomy of the
material, show all psychic changes to the last acquisition of
personality. In a real poet the technical aspect, the handicraft, the
external element has a development that runs parallel to the
intellectual and poetic contents. In form, too, the poem must at first
represent a tradition, something that has been taken over; only in the
revolt of youth will it achieve a personal form, and this itself will
later, as it gradually grows cold and petrifies, represent an immutable

Verhaeren's poetry has its evolution and its history in this purely
formal sense. Even this poetry of Verhaeren's, which to-day looms so
immensely isolated and so victoriously characteristic in French
literature that a connoisseur can, without a shadow of doubt, recognise
the creator from a single stanza, has grown from a tradition, is the
climax of a certain culture, and is at the same time related to a
contemporary movement. When Verhaeren began to write, Victor Hugo, the
crowned king of French lyric poetry, was dead; Baudelaire was forgotten;
Paul Verlaine was still almost unknown. Victor Hugo's heirs, who
divided his kingdom as once the diadochi divided the kingdom of
Alexander the Great, were only able to preserve the trappings of the
glory gone, and the grandiloquence of their words contrasted ill with
their thin voices and artificial feelings. Against this circle, against
François Coppée, Catulle Mendès, Théodore de Banville and the rest of
them, rose up a new school of young men who called themselves 'decadents
and symbolists.' Here I must frankly admit that I am really unable to
explain this idea, perhaps for the very reason that I have read so many
varying definitions of it. The only thing that is certain is, that at
that time a group of young writers rose up in concert against a
tradition, and, in the most diverse experiments, sought a new lyrical
expression. What this new thing consisted in would be hard to say. The
truth is perhaps that all these poets were not French; that each of them
brought some new element from his own country, his own race, his own
past; that none of them felt that respect for the French tradition which
was in the blood of the native poets as an inward barrier, and thus were
able unconsciously to get nearer to their own artistic instinct. One
only needs to look at the names, which often at the first glance betray
the foreigner, the Americans Vielé-Griffin and Stuart Merrill, the
Belgians Verhaeren, Maeterlinck, and Mockel, or which, as in the case of
Jean Moréas, cover a complicated Greek name with a French pseudonym.
The only indisputable exploit of this group really was that about 1885
they quickened the pace of French lyric poetry with a new unrest.
Mallarmé plunged his verses into a secret darkness of symbols, until the
words with their subterranean meaning almost became unintelligible,
while Verlaine gave his lines the dream-rapt lightsomeness of a music
never heard before. Gustave Kalm and Jules Laforgue were the first who
did away, the one with rhyme and the other with the Alexandrine, and
introduced the apparent irregularities of the _vers libre._ Each one did
his best on his own account to find something new, and all of them had
in common the same fiery eagerness to attack the idols of a derivative
poetry, the same ardent longing for a new form of expression. True,
their talent was soon choked up with sand, but that was because they
over-estimated the technical side of the innovations they introduced and
spent themselves in the investigation of theories, instead of developing
their own personalities. As time went on their paths diverged widely.
Many of them foundered in the sea of journalism; others are still, after
a lapse of twenty years, walking round in a circle in the footsteps of
their youth; and of the symbolists and decadents nothing is left but a
page or so of literary history, a faded sign-board marking an empty
shop. Verhaeren too was classed with them, although in my view he was
never essentially influenced by this school. A man of such sturdy
originality could not be more than stimulated by others, could not be
more than confirmed in his natural tendency to revolt. His attitude with
regard to the _vers libre_ was by no means due to this influence. For it
was not by suggestion from others, not by the instinct of imitation, but
by inward necessity, that he discovered his new form. It was not the
example of others that freed him from the fetters of tradition; he was
forced to free himself from them of his own accord. This inner
compulsion is alone of importance; for it is a matter of complete
indifference whether a poet writes by chance in regular verse or in
_vers libres_; the phenomenon can only be significant when a poet is of
necessity and by inner pressure forced to free himself from tradition
and to achieve a personal form.

It was as a Parnassian that Verhaeren began. His first poetical
attempts, which he has never published, the verses he wrote at school
and in his first years at the university, showed him hypnotised by the
style of Lamartine and Victor Hugo. And even in the first two books he
published, in _Les Flamandes_ and _Les Moines_, there is not a single
poem in which Verhaeren has gone beyond his models. His poem is indeed
somewhat more mobile than the strict pattern of school exercises; it
already shows slight traces of the cracks which at a later day will
break the vessel to pieces. But this hint of insubordination was at
that time necessitated more by the harshness and rebelliousness of the
subject itself, by some stiffness or other in the turn of the phrase,
which can only be explained by the fact of the poet's alien race. Even a
foreigner can recognise that the verse is not rounded off, that the
rhythm is not balanced with the natural inevitable sense of form that a
man of Latin race would have, but that here a forceful will is with
difficulty constraining a barbaric temperament to harmony. Through his
French one can hear the massive language of his race, something of the
unwieldy strength we have in our old German ballads. And what his name
at the first glance betrayed--the foreigner--was to the finer ear of a
native easily perceptible from his French alone.

The farther Verhaeren proceeded in his development--the nearer he got to
his real nature--the more the inheritance of his race in him revolted
against the shackles of tradition--so much the more intensive became the
impression of the Teutonic element in his verse. After all, development
is in most cases nothing more than the awakening in us of our buried
past. The highest demand of the Parnassian school, _impassibilité,_ an
immovableness as of bronze, is the antithesis of his stormy temperament,
which drives him along to a wild rhythm, not to harmony. Deep, guttural
notes vibrate in his verses, and make the song of his vowels rough; the
angularity, the masculinity, abruptness, and hardness of his peasant's
nature peer through everywhere. In addition to this, there is now the
inner transformation. So long as Verhaeren's poetic tendency was merely
pictorial, one that calmly and without excitement aimed at painting the
passion of the Flemish people, the earnestness of monasteries, just so
long did the Alexandrine best serve to divide the rhythmic waves of his
inspiration and roll them along. But when his personal sympathy began to
confuse the inner indifference of his first work, his verse became
uneasy. The cracks in the Alexandrine became more and more perceptible;
greater and greater in the poet grew his impatience of it and his desire
to smash it. He is no longer satisfied with the _vers ternaire_, the
verse of the Romanticists with its two cæsuras dividing the line into
three parts of perfectly equal rhythm and weight; he takes the free
Alexandrine introduced by Victor Hugo and develops it still further,
makes it still more irregular. He gives the syllables a different
quantity, a different sonority; they no longer rest, they rock to and
fro. And gradually the earnest, immovable uniformity of accentuation is
changed into a more billowing, rhythmic fluidity. But ere long this
concession too becomes too trivial for him. A temperament so impetuous
as his will endure no outward fetter whatever. For it is not repose that
this fiery singer would describe, but his own excited state--the
quivering and vibrating of his emotion, his febrile unrest. His great
manifold feeling, which is nothing else than a modulated cry, cannot
storm itself out in regular verse; it needs unquiet gestures, motion,
freedom, the _vers libre_. The fact that at this time other poets in
France were using the free verse, the fact that it was at that
time--several dispute the priority--'invented' for poets, is of no
consequence to us here. Such contemporaneous incidences never express a
chance, but always a latent necessity. Free verse was nothing else than
the inevitable reflex action of modern feeling, the poetic breaking free
of the unrest which lay in the time. Whether or not Verhaeren at that
time had models is of no importance. What has been taken over can never
become organic, only what comes from personal experience is a real gain.
And at that time it lay quite in the line of his development that by
inner necessity he was forced to break his old instrument and create
himself a new one. For the nervous unrest, the passionate agitation of
Verhaeren's later poems is unthinkable in regular verse. If verse is to
describe in its own inner passion the immense multiplicity of modern
impressions--their haste, their fire, their precipitous revulsion, their
unexpectedness, their gloomy melancholy, and the overwhelming vastness
of their dimensions--it must be strong and yet flexible, like a rapier.
Such poems must be emancipated from rules: they must stride along like a
real crowd, noisily seething; they must not walk in step, like soldiers
on the march. And if they are to be spoken, they must not be recited in
the stiff, cold, pathetically vibrating, self-conscious declamation of
the Comédie Française; they must be spoken as though to a crowd; they
must cry out, they must hail; and this-whipping up of an audience cannot
be harmonious. These poems must be spontaneous and impulsive.

Manifold is the diversity which Verhaeren's poetry has achieved by its
deliverance from the monotony of the Alexandrine. Now and now only can
the verse reproduce the plastic side of an impression and the inward
agitation of it; not only by a pictorial description, but in a purely
external manner too; by the sound, by the music of the rhythm. The
lines, sometimes darting far beyond the margin, sometimes, like an
arrow, sharpened to a single word, have the whole key-board of feeling.
They can pace with a grave step like long black funeral processions, if
haply they would express the monotony of solitude, 'Mes jours toujours
plus lourds s'en vont roulant leur cours';[1] they can dart up like a
falcon, white and glittering, soaring to the exulting cry 'la joie,'
swift and as high as heaven over all the sad heaviness of earth. All the
voices of day and night can now be represented onomato-poetically: all
that is brusque and sudden by brevity; all that is ponderous and
grandiose by a vast sweep of fulness; an unexpected thing by sudden
harshness; haste in a feverishly accelerated movement; savagery by a
precipitous change of velocity. Every line can now express the feeling
by its rhythm alone. And one might without knowing French recognise the
poetical intention of many of these poems merely by listening to their
consonantal music, nay, often by looking at their typographical

For this reason I should be tempted to call these poems with their vast
range _symphonic_ poems. They seem to have been conceived for an
orchestra. They are not, like the poetry of a past generation, chamber
music; they are not solitary violin _soli_; they are an inspired
blending of all instruments; they are graded in individual sections
which have a different _tempo_ and the pauses of the transitions. In
Verhaeren's poetry the lyric exceeds the bounds of its domain and
impinges on the dramatic and the epic. For his poem seeks not only to
describe a mood, like a purely lyrical poem, it describes at the same
time the birth of this mood. And this first part of the construction is
epic; it is descriptive; it leads up from a lowly beginning to a great
discharge of force. And, in the second place, the transitions are
dramatic, those bursts of temperament from section to section, those
precipitous falls and steep ascents which only at the end lead to a
harmonious solution. From a purely external point of view Verhaeren's
poem is more extensive, longer, of a greater range than any other
contemporary poetry; it shoots out farther beyond the limit of lyric
poetry; and, careless of the boundary-line of æsthetics, it derives
strength and nourishment from neighbouring domains. It comes nearer to
rhetoric, nearer to epic poetry, nearer to the drama, nearer to
philosophy than any other poetry of our day; it is more independent of
set rules than poetry had been hitherto. And independent of rules--or
obeying only a new inner rule--is Verhaeren's form. Now, since the page
no longer holds the fettered lines together in equal columns, the poet
can write out his wild, overflowing feelings in their own wild, boldly
curving lines. Verhaeren's poem at this time--and that which is achieved
in the years of maturity remains inalienable--has its own inner
architectonics. But it can hardly be compared to a piece of
architecture, a structure built with hands; it is rather like a
manifestation of nature. It is elementary like every feeling; it
discharges itself like a storm. First a vision moves up like a cloud;
more and more densely it compresses itself; more and more sultrily, more
and more oppressively it weighs on the feeling; higher and higher,
hotter and hotter grows the inner tension, until at last in the
lightning of the images, in the rolling of the rhythm, all the garnered
strength discharges itself rhythmically. The andante always grows to a
furioso; and only the last section shows again the clear, cleansed sky
of calm, in an intellectual synthesis of the state of chaos. This
structure of Verhaeren's poem is almost invariable. It may be seen, for
instance, in two parallel examples: in the poems 'La Foule' and 'Vers la
Mer' in the book _Les Visages de la Vie_. Both set in with an
adjuration, a vision. Here the crowd, its confusion, its strength; there
a sensitive picture of the morning sea whose transparent tones remind
one of Turner. Now the poet fires this still vision with his own
passionateness. You see the crowd moving more and more restlessly, the
waves surging more and more passionately; and ecstasy breaks out the
moment the poet surrenders himself to these things, places himself among
the crowd, sinks his feeling, his body in the sea. Then in the finale
bursts forth the great cry of identity, in the one case the yearning to
be all the crowd, in both that ecstatic gesture of the individual
yearning for infinity. The first picture, which was only sensuously
seen, grows at the end of the poem into a great ethic inspiration; from
the vision is unfolded an unconquerable moral and metaphysical need.
This form of intensification from individual feeling to universal
feeling is the basic form of Verhaeren's poem. It might be best, in
order to convey a clear idea of its form, to use a geometrical term and
say that these poems are, to a certain extent, _poems in the form of a
parabola._ While the lyric in the current sense mostly represents a
symmetrical and harmonious form, a return to itself, a circle,
Verhaeren's poem has the form of a parabola, apparently irregular but
really equally governed by a law. His poems soar in a swift sustained
flight, soar from the earth up into the clouds, from the real to the
unreal, and then from a sudden zenith fling themselves back to the
earth. The inspiration drives the feeling away from the pictorial, from
passionless contemplation to this utmost height of possibility, far away
from all sensuous perceptions high into the metaphysical, in order then,
suddenly and unexpectedly, to bring it back to the _terra firma_ of
reality. And indeed, in the music of these poems there is something as
of a darting upwards, something of the hissing and whizzing of a stone
well thrown and of its sudden falling down. In their rhythm too is this
increasing velocity, this catching of the breath and this return to the
starting-point, this bethinking itself of gravity when it returns to the

Something may now be said as to the means with which Verhaeren attains
his vision, with which he seeks to represent the inner passionateness of
things, with which he evokes enthusiasm. Let us first of all try to
establish whether Verhaeren is what is called a master of language.
Verhaeren's command of language is not by any means unlimited. Both in
his words and in his rhymes there is constant repetition which sometimes
borders on monotony; but on the other hand there is a strangeness, a
newness, an unexpectedness of wording which is almost unexampled in
French lyric poetry. An enrichment of the language, however, does not
proceed from neologisms alone; a word may become alive by the
unexpectedness of a new application, by a transposition of the meaning,
as Rainer Maria Rilke, for instance, has often done in the German lyric.
To redeem 'die armen Worte, die im Alltag darben,'[2] and consecrate
them anew to poetry, is perhaps a higher merit than creating new words.
Now Verhaeren has above all, by the Flemish sense of language which he
inherited, imported a certain Belgian timbre into French lyric poetry.
Personally, it is true, he is almost ignorant of Flemish; nevertheless,
by the vague music familiar to him from his childhood's days, by a
certain guttural tone, he has imported a nuance which is perhaps less?
perceptible to the foreigner than to a Frenchman. At this point I should
like to call Maurice Gauchez as a witness and borrow the most salient
examples from his extraordinarily interesting monograph. Among the
neologisms for which Gauchez suggests a foreign origin he quotes the
following: les baisers rouges, les plumes majuscules, les malades
hiératiques, la statue textuelle, les automnes prismatiques, le soir
tourbillonaire, les solitudes océans, le ciel dédalien, le cœur
myriadaire de la foule, les automnes apostumes, les vents vermeils, les
navires cavalcadeurs, les gloires médusaires. And he rightly points out
how much certain of Verhaeren's verbs might enrich the French language:
enturquoiser, rauquer, vacarmer, béquiller, s'enténébrer, se futiliser,
se mesquiniser, larmer. But I for my part cannot look upon the
enrichment here accruing from racial instinct as the essential thing in
his verbal art: it only gives it a local colour, without really
explaining what is astonishingly modern in his diction. Verhaeren has
been a great creator of new things for the French lyric, above all by
his extension of its range of subjects, by his renewal of poetic
reality, by recruiting new forces for poetry in the domain of technical
science. _The great part of the new blood for his language came not so
much from Flemish as from science_. A man who writes poems on the
Exchange, on the theatre, on science, who sings factories and railway
stations, cannot ignore their terminology. He must borrow certain
technical expressions from the vocabulary of science, certain
pathological terms from medicine; he must extend the glossary of the
poetic by the extension of the poetic itself. There are geographical
surprises of rhyme to be found in Verhaeren: Berlin and Sakhalin,
Moscow, the Balearic and other distant islands whose names have never
previously lived in rhyme. And since science is by its own progress
compelled to invent new names every day, since new machines demand new
words for their necessities, here for the first time an inexhaustible
source has been discovered for replenishing the French language.

This immense wealth, on the other hand, is jeopardised by something that
might be called not so much poverty or restriction as fascination. Every
one-sidedness of feeling produces, with its advantages, certain defects,
and thus the constant passionateness which brought Verhaeren's poetry
near to oratory, to preaching, is at the same time responsible for a
certain monotony of the metaphors. Verhaeren is hallucinated by certain
words, images, adjectives, phrases. He repeats them incessantly through
all his work. All things in which a many-headed passion is united he
compares with a 'brasier'; 'carrefour' is his symbol for indecision;
'l'essor' is for him the last straining of effort; many cries and words
by which he hails his audience are repeated almost from page to page.
The adjectives too are often monotonous; often indeed, with the cold
'iques' at the end of them, they are schematic; and even in the
metaphors that phenomenon is unmistakable which in science is called
pseudoanæsthesia, that is, the memory of a fixed feeling from the domain
of some other sense is always individually associated with a certain
colour or sound. For him 'red' expresses all that is passionate; 'gold'
all greatness and pomp; 'white' all that is gentle; 'black' all enmity.
His images have thus something abrupt and absolute; there is always in
them, as Albert Mockel has demonstrated in his masterly study, the
decisive, the sudden excitement, which overwhelms our astonishment. His
images are as violent as his colours, as his rhythm. They have the
suddenness of a cannon-ball which darts through space and is only
perceptible to our vision when it reaches its aim and smashes the
target. Possibly the inmost reason of this lies in the fact that these
poems are intended to be spoken. A placard that is to have effect at
some distance must be in glaring colours; pathos calls for images that
hallucinate. Such images have indeed been found by Verhaeren, and by
Verhaeren only. He hardly seems to know nuances. With the brutal
instinct of a strong man he loves all that is glaring, all that is
untrammelled. 'La couleur, elle est dans ses œuvres une surprise de
métaux et d'images.'[3] But in this material they blaze, and with their
lightnings they light up even the most distant horizon. I will only
remind the reader of his 'beffrois immensément vêtus de nuit' or 'la
façade paraît pleurer des lettres d'or,' or his 'les gestes de lumière
des phares.' By the intensity of such images Verhaeren attains to quite
an incomparable clearness of the feeling. 'Personne, je crois, ne
possède à l'égal de Verhaeren le don des lumières et des ombres, non
point fondues, mais enchevêtrées, des noirs absolus coupés de blanches

One-sidedness of temperament here produces a one-sided advantage with
all its artistic restrictions. So that Verhaeren is not a verbal artist
in the unrestricted sense of one who always hits upon the only, the
inevitable comparison for a thing; of one who flashes a bold word on the
attention once and never retails it till it palls, who seems to use
every word for the first time. His poetic vocabulary is rich, but by no
means infinite; his sensibility is strong, but it has its restrictions.
For, as is the case with every passionate poet, certain feelings at the
last white-heat of excitement appear to him identical, seem to him to be
capable of comparison only with the quite elementary things of Nature,
with fire, the sea, the wind, thunder and lightning. To make the point
clear, Verhaeren is not a verbal artist in Goethe's sense, but rather in
Schiller's sense. With the latter, too, he has the gift in common of
definitely expressing certain perceptions in one lyric line. He has
discovered essences of the lyric feeling of life, lines that are now
household words, or which at all events will be so. It will be
sufficient to mention word formations such as 'les villes
tentaculaires,' which in France have already become common-places, or
such maxims as 'La vie est à monter et non à descendre,' or 'Toute la
vie est dans l'essor.' In lines like these the lyric ecstasy is
compressed as in a coin, and perpetuated in the current riches of the

This hardness and brutality, these abrupt transitions, constitute the
individuality of Verhaeren's poetry. At bottom it is nothing else than
an accentuated masculinity. The voice, the music, is guttural, deep,
raucous, masculine; the body of his poem has, like a man's body, the
beautiful movement of strength, but in repose gestures that are often
hard and which only in passion regain their compelling beauty. Whereas
French lyric poetry, so to speak, had imitated the female body, the
delicate grace of its soft yielding lines; whereas its first concern was
harmony; Verhaeren's poem strove only for the rhythm of movement, only
for the proud and vigorously ringing stride of a man, his leaping and
running, the fighting display of his strength. This is not the only
reason why the French have so long repudiated him. For where we delight
in an echo from the German in his language, they feel the harshness of
the Teutonic undertone; where we find a consonance with the German
ballad, a re-birth of the German ballad as though it were awakening from
the dreams of childhood, they see an opposition to the native tradition.
And in fact, the farther Verhaeren has proceeded in his development,
both in his personality and in his verse, the more the French varnish
has peeled off his Teutonic perception. It was only in the time of his
first dependence on tradition that his poetry was hardly to be
distinguished from that of other writers in French. The farther he
receded from the French standpoint, the more he unconsciously approached
German art. To-day, perhaps, a return to classicism is perceptible in
his poetry. The neologisms are not so audacious; the images are more
schematic; the whole poem is calmer and more clarified. This, however,
is by no means a cowardly compromise with a shattered tradition, no
repentant return to the fold; it is the same phenomenon we meet in a
similar manner in the late poems of Goethe, Schiller, Hugo, and
Swinburne; the effect of the cooling of the blood in age; the yielding
of sensuous perception to intellectual ideas. The victor has lost the
fighter's brutality; the man in his maturity no longer needs revolt but
a conception of the world--harmony. Here, as in Verhaeren's whole
evolution, his verse is the most delicately sensitive indicator of the
psychic revulsion, the perfect proof of a poetic and organic development
which is really inward and dependent only on the laws of his blood.


[1] 'L'Heure Mauvaise' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[2] 'Poor words a-hungered in the working day.'--Rainer Maria Rilke,
_Mir sur Feier._

[3] Albert Mockel, _Émile Verhaeren_.

[4] _Ibid._ (_Ibid._).


     Toute la vie est dans l'essor.
                      É.V., _Les Forces Tumultueuses._

Émile Verhaeren's dramas seem to stand outside his work. Verhaeren is
essentially a lyric poet. His whole feeling springs from lyric
enthusiasm, and all neighbouring domains are merely sources whose
strength flows into and feeds this one vital instinct. Verhaeren has
almost always used the dramatic and the epic only as a means, never as
an end in themselves: from the epic he has taken over into the vast
sweep of his dithyrambic poems its broad, calm development, and from the
drama the swift, abrupt contrast of transitions. The dramatic and the
epic only serve him as a tonic, as a means to strengthen the blood of
his lyric art. Although Verhaeren beside his lyric work has written
dramas--four up to the present--these, in the edifice of his complete
production, must be appreciated from a different point of view: from an
architectural point of view. For the dramas are to him, in a certain
sense, only a survey, a concentration of individual lyric crises, a
synopsis of certain ideal complexes which have occupied some moment of
his past; they are final settlements; the last point in lines of
development; milestones of individual epochs. All that in the lyric
poems, which never systematically bounded a domain, fell apart, is here
made to converge to the focus of a programme. The lyric juxtaposition is
fused into an inner relationship, the circle of ideas is co-ordinated
like a picture in the frame of a play. Verhaeren's four tragedies
represent four spheres of a conception of the universe: the religious,
the social, the national, and the ethical. _Le Cloître_ is a re-creation
of the book of verse _Les Moines_, is the tragedy of Catholicism; _Les
Aubes_ is a condensation of the sociological trilogy _Les Villes
Tentaculaires, Les Campagnes Hallucinées, Les Villages Illusoires.
Philip II._ shapes the tragedy of the Antichrist, the contrast of Spain
and Belgium, of sensuality and asceticism. And _Hélène de Sparte_, which
in its outward form manifests a return to classicism, handles purely
moral, eternal problems. As far as their contents are concerned,
Verhaeren's dramas show no deviation, no change of the inner centre of
gravity, and his new dramatic style is in perfect harmony with his new
lyric style. For just as on the one hand he has used the dramatic
element as a substance of his lyric work, here in his dramas he has
transmuted the lyric element to a dramatic element. Here, too, we have
nothing but visions intensified into exaltation. Here, as everywhere
else, Verhaeren can only create by enthusiasm. What goads him on is the
lyric moment in his enthusiasm, that second of the highest tension when
passion, if it is not to shatter the frame of its generator, must have
explosive words. The characters of his dramas are never anything but
symbols of great passions, the bridge for this ascension of the
exaltation. To him the action is no more than the way to the crises, to
those seconds when some mighty force seizes on these characters and
forces them to cry out. Whole scenes seem to be only awaiting for the
moment when some one shall rise and turn to the crowd, wrestle with it
and overthrow it, or be himself dashed to pieces.

The style of Verhaeren's dramas is purely lyrical; the pace is
throughout passionate and feverish; and this method, which runs counter
to all dramatic canons, was bound organically to create a new technique.
The French drama had hitherto known only the rhymed Alexandrine or
prose. In Verhaeren's dramas--for the first time to my knowledge--prose
and verse (verse which is 'free' both as regards rhythm and rhyme) are
throughout promiscuously mixed. Mixed, but not as in Shakespeare, in
whose plays verse and prose alternate in individual scenes and
establish, so to speak, a social stratification, serving-men speaking in
prose and their masters in verse: in Verhaeren the prose passages are
the broad, resting foundations of the action; the curved bowls, so to
speak, from which the holy fire of the exaltation flames. His
characters express their calm in prose, pass from calm to excitement,
and in this intensification speak a language which imperceptibly merges
into a poem. Not till their passion breaks out do they speak in verse,
in those seconds, as it were, when their soul begins to vibrate; and in
these passages one cannot help thinking of an aeroplane which is first
driven along the ground and moves with ever greater speed till suddenly
it soars aloft. In Verhaeren's drama the characters speak an ever purer
language the more poetical they become; music breaks with their passion
from their souls; just as many people who behave coarsely and awkwardly
in ordinary life, in great moments suddenly achieve a bearing of heroic
beauty. This embodies the idea that in enthusiasm a man discovers in
himself another and a purer language; that passion and the yearning to
free oneself from an immeasurable and intolerable earthly burden make a
poet of any man. This idea is in harmony with Verhaeren's whole
conception of the universe, his idea that the man swept away by passion
and enthusiasm is on a higher plane than the critic with his lack of hot
feeling; that receptivity for great sensations constitutes, so to speak,
a scale of moral values. And the stage performances have shown that this
new style is justified, that the transition from prose to verse,
occurring as it does contemporaneously with the ascension from calm to
passion, passes practically unnoticed by the audience, which is
equivalent to saying that when put to the test the method was recognised
as necessary.

And it is by passion, this innermost flame of Verhaeren's poetry, that
his dramas live too. Their qualities are those of the lyrics; they have,
above all, that vast power of vision which sets _Philip II_. against the
tragic landscape of Spain; over the drama of Helen arches the heaven of
Greece, blue, and mild, and open like a flower; and behind the tragedy
of modern cities unrolls the inflamed scenery of the sky with the black
arms of chimneys. And then the immense fervour of the ecstasy which, not
in a slow, regular progression, but in savage, convulsive thrusts,
whirls the action onward to the moments of the solution.

Thus Verhaeren's first drama derives its strength from the lyric source
of a man's accusation of himself. _Le Cloître_ is a paraphrase of _Les
Moines_, the book of the monks. Here again all the characters are
gathered together in the cool corridors of a monastery--the gentle, the
wild, the feudal, the wrathful, the childlike, the learned monk; here,
however, they do not act in isolation, but with all their strength the
one against the other. They fight for the prior's chair, which is really
the symbol of something higher. For just as in _Les Moines_ every
individual monk expressed symbolically some virtue of Catholicism and a
distinct idea of God, here the prior's chair decides the question who is
the most deserving of God. For his successor the old prior has
designated Balthasar, a nobleman whom the monastery has sheltered for
years. But he had only taken refuge there because he had killed his own
father, thus escaping secular justice, and now he feels the
consciousness of his guilt burning, feels the exasperated struggle
between his own conscience and the lighter conscience of the others, who
have long since forgiven him. And he cannot feel himself free before he
has made his confession before the assembled monks, and even then only
when he has repeated the confession, against the will of the monastery,
to the people, and surrendered himself to the secular judges. The Roman
Catholic idea of confession is here wonderfully in agreement with
Dostoieffsky's conception of salvation by confession, of deliverance by
suffering self-imposed. In three climaxes of equal force at the end of
each of the three acts the tragic confession bursts into flame--first
born of fear, then of a sense of justice, and at the last positively
conceived as a pleasure; and here in these superb lyric ecstasies rest
the strong pinions which bear the tragedy.

In the second, the social tragedy _Les Aubes,_ the scenario is the
present time. It has the purple scenery of _Les Villes Tentaculaires_,
of the cities with the arms of polypi, which drain the blood of the poor
dying country. Beggars, paupers, those who are starving, those who have
been evicted, march to Oppidomagnum, the modern industrial city, and
besiege it. It is the past once again storming the future. In the
lyrical trilogy this struggle had been shaped in a hundred visionary
instances; here, however, the bright sky of reconciliation is arched
above the battle-field, over the realities hovers the dream. For here
the future joins hands with the present. The great tribune, Hérénien,
breaks the backbone of this battle and shows himself the hero of a new
morality by secretly admitting the enemy into the city--in the old sense
the action of a traitor--by yielding and thus transforming the struggle
into a reconciliation. He is the tragic bearer of the moral idea that
enmity may be overcome by goodness, and he falls as the first martyr of
his faith. Verhaeren's social conception, his superb description of
realities, here merge slowly in a Utopia; the dawns of the new days
begin to shine above the pasts that are dead; the din of rebellion fades
away in harmony. This drama, like the others, is far remote from the
possibilities of the majority of theatres, because of the fact that here
too an ethical idea is expressed with all the glow and ecstasy which as
a rule in modern dramas is only found in the utterance of erotic desire.

The third tragedy, _Philip II_., is a national drama, although its scene
is not laid in Flanders. Much as Charles de Coster in his _Thyl
Ulenspiegel_ had, with a Fleming's deadly hatred, seen in Philip II. the
hereditary enemy of liberty, Verhaeren, who with the lyric poetry of
his _Toute la Flandre_ became the representative singer of his native
land, painted this gloomy figure with hatred. Philip II. is here, as in
_Thyl Ulenspiegel,_ the hard, inflexible king who would fain put life
out because it burns too red for him, who wishes to have the world as
cool and marble-like as the chambers of the Escorial. Here of a sudden
the reverse side of Roman Catholicism, whose passion was immortalised in
_Le Cloître_, is rent open; its pitilessness and asceticism; its
obstinate effort to overthrow the irrefragable joy of life. Don Carlos,
however, is the fervent friend of the people, the friend of Flanders; he
is the will to enjoyment, to merry moods, to passion. And this struggle
between the 'yes' and the 'no' of life, this fight of Verhaeren's own
lyric crisis, this fight between the denial and the passionate approval
of enjoyment--at bottom, toe, the deepest cause of the war between Spain
and the Netherlands--is here symbolised in characters. Of course, any
comparison with Schiller's _Don Carlos_ must tell against Verhaeren, for
the German drama is far more dramatic and conceived on a scale of
greater magnificence; but Verhaeren did not aim at a complete rounding
off, at a plenitude of characters; all that he wanted was to show these
two feelings in their struggle with each other, the enthusiasm of life
and its suppression by force. A comparison with Schiller's drama best
shows Verhaeren's disregard of dramatic canons, and at the same time
the immense new lyric power of the play. For Spain is here seen with a
strength and intensity of vision which is probably without a parallel in
tragedy. The cold, hypocritical atmosphere can be felt; and better than
from words the character of Philip can be perceived in that one silent
scene in which he suddenly appears stealthily creeping to watch his son
in the arms of the countess, and then, without a gleam in his rigid
eyes, without the slightest movement of anger, vanishes again into the
dark. Behind him, however, behind the spy and the eavesdropper, glides
another shadow, the monk of the Inquisition: the eavesdropper is himself
shadowed, the ruler is himself ruled. Visions like these, with the
ecstasy of certain scenes, are the strongest motive power in Verhaeren's
poetic construction. His dramatic art, like the art of his lyrics, does
not rise in a steady ascent, but in sudden wild leaps and starts.

Only in his last drama, _Hélène de Sparte_, has Verhaeren come nearer to
the accepted conception of the dramatic. That is characteristic of his
organic development. For now that he is in the years when passion of
necessity cools, harmony grows dear to him; and he who through all the
years of his youth and prime was a revolutionary, now recognises the
necessity of inner laws. By its mere intellectual substance this tragedy
expresses the veering round: it is nothing else than the longing from
passion to harmony, Helen's flight from adventures to repose. And the
return is to be found again in the verse, for Verhaeren here for the
first time takes up the traditional French metre; his form, though yet
free, approaches the Alexandrine. The tragedy of Helen is the tragedy of
beauty. Helen is one of those antique characters who in Greek literature
were only sketched in fleeting lines, characters whom a modern poet is
now entitled to fill in with his own fate. For from the Greek sources we
really knew nothing about her personal fate; we only knew the effect she
exercised, only the reflection of her personality on others, not that of
others on her. She was the queen who inflamed all men; who was the cause
of great wars; the woman for whose sake murder on murder was committed;
who was snatched from one bed to another; for love of whom Achilles
arose from the dead; who passed her life circled by disastrous passion.
But whether she herself shared these passions, whether she grew by them
or suffered by them, the poets tell us nothing. Verhaeren in his drama
has now attempted to depict the tragedy of the woman who endures fearful
suffering because she is always desired in lust and no more; who is
consumed by the torture of being ever robbed from lover by lover; of
never knowing the look of pure eyes, calm converse, quiet breathing; who
is cursed always to stand at the pyre of passion, with the flames of
men always blazing round her. Whoever looks at her at once desires her,
snatches her; none waits and asks whether he serves her will; she is
robbed like a chattel; she glides from hand to hand. In Verhaeren's
drama Helen has returned home, a woman tired, tired of all unrest, of
all her triumphs, tired of love; a woman hating her own beauty because
it creates unrest, longing for nothing but old age, when none shall
desire her more and her days shall be calm. Menelaus has brought her
home, rescued her from all that stifling steam of criminal passion; now
she would breathe quietly, live calm days, and be faithful to him. She
desires no more than this. No passion can tempt her more. 'I have seen
the flaring of so many flames that now I love only the hearth's glow and
the lamp' is the expression of her poignant resignation. But fate will
not yet let her go. Verhaeren has here seized on the great idea of the
Greeks that everything that is superhuman on earth, every excessive
gift, even that of beauty, is pursued as a hybrid by the envy of the
gods, and must be paid for with pain. Too great beauty is no profit, but
a tragic gift. And hardly has Helen returned, to rest and be happy, to
be like everybody else, than new clouds roll themselves up above her
head. Her own brother desires her; her enemy Electra desires her; her
husband is murdered for her sake; and the old fearful battle threatens
to break out anew for the possession of her body. Now she flees, away
from men, out into nature. And here again, with the vision of genius,
Verhaeren approaches Greek feeling. The forest is not dead to him, but
animate; life does not stop at human beings; fauns emerge from the
bushes, naiads from the rivers, bacchantes from the mountains, and all
swarm round Helen in her despair, luring her to their lust, till she
flees to Zeus in death.

It is characteristic of Verhaeren that he has made even this tragedy,
the tragedy of Helen, anerotic, or better anti-erotic. Perhaps the
slight interest which has hitherto been manifested in Verhaeren's
dramas, and indeed partly in his whole work, may be ascribed to the fact
that, in comparison with the other poets of his day, he has held himself
aloof from erotic subjects, that the problem of love has only recently,
in the years of his maturity, begun to interest him as a theme for his
art. From the first Verhaeren concentrated all the passion which others
lavished on the erotic in purely intellectual things, in enthusiasm, in
admiration. In his dramas woman plays an almost subordinate rôle, and
_Le Cloître_ is perhaps the only important drama of our days which does
not show a single woman among its characters and in its inner circle of
problems. By this fact alone his dramatic aim strays too far from the
interests of our public. For it is from a purely intellectual conflict
that Verhaeren seeks to disengage that height and heat of passion which
hitherto was known only in erotic themes; and therefore the exaltation
strikes the majority of an audience as strange, and leaves them unmoved.
All our contemporaries who seek art only in the theatre are too
indifferent and timid to be snatched up, for a purely ethical problem,
into an ecstasy so burning, so persistently lit with convulsive
lightnings. This is the only explanation I can find for the opposition
to Verhaeren's dramas, which are so full of beauty and of living,
dramatic, passionate situations, and which, above all, contain something
new, a new dramatic style. This very kindling of prose to verse was a
revelation. But the whole dramatic aim is different in Verhaeren to that
which obtains on the stage of to-day. His aim is not to excite interest,
not to produce fear and compassion, but enthusiasm. He does not wish to
occupy the minds of his audience, but to carry them away into his
rhythm. He wishes to make them drunk with his great excitement, because
only he who gazes in enthusiasm is capable of recognising these supreme
passions; he wishes to make the spectators as feverish as the characters
they see before them on the stage; he wishes to make their blood fiery;
wishes to raise them above all cool, calm, and critical contemplation.
His whole temperament, which drives along in the direction of
superabundance; his art, which only fulfils its purpose in ecstasy;
require impassioned actors and an impassioned audience. To create the
ideal atmosphere which Verhaeren demands for his dramas would require an
actor of kindred genius who should have no fear of being called
emotional, and who would hurl the verses down like cataracts,
emphasising like a demagogue and at the same time unfolding all the
magnificence of the rhythm. For the poet asks for nothing save a feeling
of enthusiasm corresponding to that which first created the poem in him.
His intention is not to convince by logic, not to dazzle by pictures,
but to whip up and carry along with him into that ultimate dizzy feeling
which to him is alone identical with the highest form of the feeling of
life--into passion.

In Germany _Le Cloître_,[1] as staged by Max Reinhardt, and again in the
Deutsches Volkstheater in Vienna, has conquered the interest of a
literary public and triumphed unreservedly over the obstacle of its own
strangeness. There has been an exemplary production of _Philip II._ in
the Munich Künstlertheater; _Hélène de Sparte_ on the other hand has not
yet found the setting it demands. As bodied forth in Paris by Ida
Rubinstein, with decorations of a grandiose barbarism by Bakst, with a
ground-colouring of music, it was effective more by the external
magnificence of this somewhat sensationally advertised _mise en scène_
than by its poetic qualities, smothered as they were by the
accessories. A production which shall do justice to the play, leaving
its pure lyric line unbedizened with glaring arabesques, is still
waiting as a task for some actor-manager of genius who possesses that
highest and rarest quality of being able to subordinate himself to the
utterance, who is anxious not to ruin a noble simplicity by a spurious


[1] A version of _Le Cloître_, by Mr. Osman Edwards, was successfully
produced by Miss Horniman at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester in 1910.






                     ... Les vols
     Vers la beauté toujours plus claire et plus certaine.
                                        É.V., 'Les Spectacles.'

The poetic conquest of life represents, as it were, a process of
combustion. Every poet feeds the flame of his inner being, his artistic
passion, with the things of the world around him, transmutes them into
flame, and himself shoots on high and dies down with them. The more the
flame cools with the feebler circulation of the blood, the weaker grows
this fire, and gradually the pure crystals, the residue from this battle
of the inner flame with the things of reality, are separated from this
process of combustion. Verhaeren's work was in his youth and prime a
flame exceedingly hot, lawless, free, and flaring like the very years of
his youth and prime. Now, however, in the work of his fifties, now that
passion has cooled, the yearning is revealed to find the goal of this
passion, the inherent lawfulness of this unrest. Enthusiasm for the
present, poetic consumption of the world in visions without the residue
of philosophy and logical knowledge, no longer suffice him. For all
deeper contemplation of the present is unthinkable without an exceeding
of its limits: all that is, is at the same time something that has been
and something that will be. Nothing is so entirely the present that it
is not intimately connected with the past and the future. The eternal
and the permanent is the inward side of all phenomena. And the more the
poet turns his visions from the exterior, from the pictorial, to the
inner world, to psychology, the more he descends from external phenomena
to the roots of forces, the more he must apprehend the permanent behind
the transitoriness of things. No perception of a contemporary state is
fertile unless it is impregnated with the perception of laws that are
independent of time, unless the changing phenomena are recognised as
transformations of the unchangeable primordial phenomenon. This
transition from maturity to age, from contemplation to knowledge,
corresponds to a new artistic transition in the incomparably organic
development of this poet. A transition: no longer a re-formation, but a
formation which moves both forwards and backwards, which is at the same
time an evolution and a retrogression, just as the poetic form of
Verhaeren's poetry no longer undergoes a transformation, but is
petrified. What a man has acquired in the years of his prime is an
inalienable possession; its value can be further increased only by
knowledge, by the appraising of the possession. It may be said that a
man who has passed his prime experiences nothing new: the static
equilibrium is realised; what has been experienced is only the better
understood. The experience is no longer a struggle, no longer a state of
unrest, something that slips away; it is a possession. What passion has
fought for and won with a leap is now set in order and appraised at its
true value, by calm. This transition from youth to age is in Verhaeren,
to use Nietzsche's phrase, a transition from the Dionysiac to the
Apollinarian, from a plethora to harmony. His yearning is now _vivre
ardent et clair_, to live passionately, but at the same time clearly to
preserve his inner fire, but at the same time to lose his unrest.
Verhaeren's books in these years grow more and more crystalline; the
fire in them no longer blazes openly like a flaring pyre, but glitters
and sparkles as with the thousand facets of a precious stone. The smoke
and the unrest of the fire die down, and now the pure residues are
clarified. Visions have become ideas, the wrestling earthly energies are
now eternal immutable laws.

The will of these last years, of these last works, is the will to
realise a cosmic poem. In the trilogy of the cities Verhaeren had laid
hold on the universe as it lies around us to-day; he had snatched it to
him and overcome it. In passionate visions he had shaped its image,
achieved its form, and now it stood beside the actual world as his own.
But a poet who would create the whole world for himself, the whole
infinite vista of its possibilities by the side of its actualities, must
give it everything: not only its form, not only its face, but its soul
as well, its organism, its origin, and its evolution. He must not merely
apprehend its pictorial aspect and its mechanical energy, he must give
it an encyclopædic form. He must create a mythology for it, a new
morality, a new history, a new system of dynamics, a new system of
ethics. Above it or in it he must place a God who acts and transforms.
He must fashion it in his poetry not only as something that is, not only
as something in the present, but as something that has been and is
becoming, something that is part and parcel of the past and of the
future too. It must ring out the old and ring in the new. And this will
to create a cosmic poem is to be found in Verhaeren's new and most
precious books--_Les Visages de la Vie, Les Forces Tumultueuses, La
Multiple Splendeur, Les Rythmes Souverains_---books which by their mere
title announce the effort to include the dome of heaven in their vast
embrace. They are the pillars of a mighty structure, the great stanzas
of the cosmic poem. They are no longer a conversation of the poet with
himself and contemporary feeling; they are a pronouncement addressed to
all the ages. _S'élancer vers l'avenir_ is the longing they express: a
turning away from all the pasts to speak to the future. The lyric
element in them steps beyond the boundary-line of poetry. It kindles the
neighbouring domains of philosophy and religion, kindles them to new
possibilities. For not only æsthetically would Verhaeren come to an
understanding with realities; not by poetry only would he overcome the
new possibilities; he would fain master them morally and religiously as
well. The task of these last and most important books of verse is no
longer to apprehend the universe in individual phenomena, but to impress
its new form on a new law. In _Les Visages de la Vie_ Verhaeren has in
individual poems glorified the eternal forces, gentleness, joy,
strength, activity, enthusiasm; in _Les Forces Tumultueuses_ the
mysterious dynamics of union shining through all forms of the real; in
_La Multiple Splendeur_ the ethics of admiration, the joyous
relationship of man with things and with himself; and in _Les Rythmes
Souverains_ he has celebrated the most illustrious heroes of his ideals.
For life has long since ceased to be for him mere gazing and

     Car vivre, c'est prendre et donner avec liesse
     ...................avide et haletant
     Devant la vie intense et sa rouge sagesse![1]

Description, poetic analysis, has gradually grown into a hymn, into
'laudi del cielo, del mare, del mondo,' into songs of the whole world
and of the ego, and of the harmony of the world's beauty in its union
with the ego. The lyrical has here become cosmic feeling, knowledge has
become ecstasy. Over and above the knowledge that there cannot be
anything isolated, that everything is arranged and obeys the last
uniform law of the universe, over and above this knowledge rises
something still higher--over the contemplation of the world rises faith
in the feeling of the world. The glorious optimism of these works ends
in the religious confidence that all contrasts will be harmonised; that
man will more and more be conscious of the earth; that every individual
must discover his own law of the world in himself, the law that makes it
possible for him to apprehend everything lyrically, with enthusiasm,
with joy.

Here Verhaeren's poetry far exceeds the boundary-line of literature; it
becomes philosophy and it becomes religion. Verhaeren was from the very
first an eminently religious man. In his childhood Catholicism was the
deepest feeling of his life, but this Catholicism had perished in the
crises of his adolescence, his religious feeling had given way to the
rapt contemplation of all new things, to ecstasy inspired by the aspect
of life. But now, when Verhaeren returns to the metaphysical, the old
yearning is reawakened. The old gods are dead for him; Pan is dead, and
Christ too. Now he feels the need of finding a new faith, a new
certainty, a new God for the new sensation, this identity of I and
world. The new conflicts have created a longing in him for a new
equilibrium; his stormily religious feeling, determined to believe,
needs new cognition. The image of the world would be incomplete without
the God who rules it. All his yearning goes out to this God, and it
finds its fulfilment. And this knowledge gives him the highest joy life
can have, the loftiest pride life can bestow:

      Voici l'heure qui bout de sang et de jeunesse.
             *       *       *       *       *
      Un vaste espoir, venu de l'inconnu, déplace
      L'équilibre ancien dont les âmes sont lasses;
             La nature paraît sculpter
           Un visage nouveau à son éternité.[2]

To chisel this new face of God is the aim of his last and most mature
works, in which the obstinate 'no' of his youth has become the loud
exulting 'yes' of life, in which the great possibilities of old have
become an unsuspected opulent reality.


[1] 'Un Soir' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[2] 'La Foule' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).


     Il faut aimer, pour découvrir avec génie.
                                        É.V., 'Un Soir.'

If one is to understand Verhaeren's lyric work as a work of art, it must
be kept in mind that he is a lyric poet, and a lyric poet only. A lyric
poet only, not, however, in the limited sense of one who confines
himself to the writing of lyric poems, but of one who, in a lofty and
more extensive meaning of the term, transforms everything into emotion,
who stands in a lyric relationship with all things, with the whole
world. And since the innermost constitution of a man's talent
unconsciously acts as the driving tendency, the direction of the aim of
his life, his very fate and his conception of the world, since all this
is so, the lyric poet that Verhaeren is must of necessity have a lyrical
conception of the world, his cosmic feeling _must_ be lyrical. To say
that he has confined himself to the lyric style would be to diminish his
stature. It is true that in all Verhaeren's imaginative work--and it is
of considerable volume--there is no prose. A very thin volume of short
stories did indeed appear many years ago and has long been out of print;
but how tentative and provisional it was in scope may be seen from the
fact that Verhaeren later on turned one of the stories, that of the
bell-ringer in the burning tower, into a poem. And I might mention a
whole series of poems which at bottom are nothing but short stories, and
others again which are saturated with dramatic excitement, quite
unlyrical problems, but all of them lyrically conceived. And even in his
criticism of art and in that penetrating and beautiful book of his on
Rembrandt, in which he represents the organic connection of the artist
with his native province almost as a personal experience, the
outstanding passages live by their lyric enthusiasm. Many of the poems
again are spiritualised theories of art. The origin of language or the
sociological problem of emigration, the economic contrast of agrarianism
and industrialism: in an essay such things might be calmly treated,
coldly passed in review. But this is characteristic of Verhaeren, that
he is unable to take a cold, faint interest in anything: consciously or
unconsciously he must be carried away by enthusiasm for the things he
contemplates. The ecstasy of his excitement involuntarily whips him out
of a slow trot into lyric fervour. Poetry is to him, like his
philosophy, like his ethics, a lyrical soaring. It is characteristic of
the great lyric poets, of Walt Whitman, Dehmel, Carducci, Rilke, Stefan
George, that at a certain height of their artistry they renounce all
other than lyric forms. Here, as elsewhere, great things only seem
possible of attainment by concentration, only by the poet's freeing
himself from the trammels of all other experiments. Great lyric poetry
as the art of a life only accrues from the renunciation of all other
forms of poetry.

Infinite enthusiasm, _le lyrisme universel_, a rapt visionary sensation
of the earth rolling as it were in an eternal vibration through the
cosmos, is the aim of Verhaeren's work. Not to describe the world in
isolated poems, not to break it up in impressions, but to feel it as
itself a flaring, flaming poem, _not to be one who contemplates the
world, but one who feels it_, this is his highest yearning. A lyric art
can only grow to such intentions as these from emotions not felt by
other lyrists. It is not, as with most poets, from gentle crepuscular
feelings, from vague states of melancholy, that such an impulse is
crystallised to lyrical expression; here it is an overflowing fulness of
feeling, a bright joy in life, that engenders his poem; an explosion
which in the days of his debility was a paroxysm, which as time went on
changed to a pure enthusiasm, but which was always an eruption of
strength. Lyric art is here a discharge of the whole feeling of life.
With Verhaeren the excitement does not sting the individual nerve; it
spreads electrically, inflames the blood, contracts the muscles,
produces an immense pressure, and then discharges the whole energy of a
body saturated with health and strength. _The will to discharge strength
is the basic form of Verhaeren's lyric emotion_. His aim is to instil
inspiration--first of all into himself (since inspiration always
represents a higher state of ecstasy), and then into others. His lyric
art is above all a launching of himself into exaltation, 'le pouvoir
magique de s'hypnotiser soi-même.'[1] He talks himself into passion,
gives himself that impulsion which then bears others along with him. It
is not a lack, a privation, not a complaint or a wish that his work
expresses; it is a plethora, a superfluity of riches, a pressure. It is
not a warding off of life but an eternal leaping at it. His poetry has
not the modest longing of music to lure to reveries; it does not, like
painting, seek to represent something: it would act like fiery wine; it
would make all feelings strong and glowing, sink all hindrances, produce
that sensation of lightness, of blessedness, that quivering intoxication
which conquers all the heaviness of earth. His intention is to produce
this state of drunkenness, 'non seulement la glorification de la nature
mais la glorification même d'une vision intérieure.' And his attitude is
not plaintive or defensive, it is the great spirited attitude of a hand
raised and pointing out, 'regardez!' the adjuring attitude, 'dites!' or
one that fires and animates, 'en avant!' but it is always a gesture from
the poet's self towards something, always a swinging of his arms away
from himself into the universe, always a pressing forward, a snatching
away of himself from matter. And any one who really feels these poems
feels, when the last line is read, that his blood is beating faster,
feels that his body calls for exercise, feels the inspiration impelling
him to action. _And this is the highest intention of Verhaeren's lyrical
poetry, to animate, to quicken the blood, to fire the heart, to
intensify vitality, to increase tenfold the sensation of life_.

But not only in this basic emotion is Verhaeren sundered from all those
other poets who fashion their verses from sadness, sickly longing,
amorousness, and melancholy. Verhaeren's lyric poetry breathes in other
realms, in another atmosphere. Verhaeren is what I should like to call a
poet of the daylight, of the open air. If you peruse the lyric works of
contemporary poets you will find that their moods mostly arise from
states of dusk and darkness. Since they have only the power of
reproducing blurred outlines, they are fond of landscapes softened by
twilight; of night, when there is no hardness in things, when what they
see meets them half-way, already shaping itself into verse. Like
Tristan, they hate the day as the destroyer of poetry, and swathe
themselves in the trembling chiaroscuro of twilight. But the really
great lyric poets have always been poets of the daylight; poets of the
day and of the light, as the Greeks were, to whom all things that were
bathed in sun spoke of beauty and cheerfulness; poets of the day, as
Walt Whitman was, the American; as all strong men have been who were
filled with the zest of life. In Germany we have Dehmel to love, one of
the few who have the courage to look right into the shining face of
things without the fear of being blinded. But Verhaeren loves things the
more the more intensive and decided they are, the more dazzling they
are, the more their glaring colours clash. He does not surprise things
when they are asleep, when they are resting and are helpless and at the
mercy of poetry; he pounces on them when they are wideawake and can
defend themselves with all their hardness from the attacks of their
lyric lover. He loves the day, which places things side by side in harsh
contrast; he loves the light, because it stimulates the blood; the rain
that lashes the body; the wind that whips the skin; cold, noise, he
loves everything that really and vehemently forces in upon him,
everything that forces him to fight. He loves hard things more than soft
and rounded things; loves that characteristic, black, and gloomy city
Toledo more than golden, dreamy Florence; he loves the wind and the
weather of frowning, tragic landscapes; he even loves noisy and
thunderous cities pregnant with smoke and choking air. His nerves are
not so morbidly sensitive that they respond to the least suggestion, the
feeblest touch, and then stand impotent, fainting, when they are faced
by the impetuous stimulants of robust life; his nerves are--not dull,
but healthy. They respond strongly to whatever lays hold of them
strongly. If the other poets are like supersensitive beings who are
excited by every trifle and lose their self-control when really great
demands are made upon them, Verhaeren is like one who is hard to
irritate, but who, if he is really stung, strikes out with his fists.
_And Verhaeren does not love the poetical things that come to meet one
already clothed in beauty; he loves those that have first to be wrestled
with and overcome. Herein lies the exceeding masculinity of his art_. No
one could ever surmise, in reading a poem of Verhaeren's, that it was
the work of a woman. And as a matter of fact Verhaeren has not yet found
an audience among women. For he is not one who moans and begs for pity;
he is no passive poet, but a fighter, one who wrestles with all strong,
wild, and living things until they yield up to him their innermost

And this struggle for the lyric mastery of individual sensations
gradually becomes a struggle for all things, for the whole world. For
Verhaeren does not wish to conceive of anything as unlyrical; does not
wish to blow lyric fragments off the immense mass of reality; he wishes
to sculpture it into a new shape; wishes to chisel the whole world into
a lyric. And this is the secret of his lyric work; _this_ is his work,
his task. Of a sudden we feel the distance between him and the majority
of lyric poets. _They_ have the feelings of people who receive gifts;
they regard the sensations which come fluttering towards them as so many
gay butterflies, capture them, and pin them down. Verhaeren, however, is
the fighter, the worker, who is constrained to conquer everything, to
shape the whole world anew, to rebuild it nearer to his heart's
enthusiasm. He is the lyric poet pictured by Carducci in an imperishable
poem--not the idler gazing into empty space; not the gardener decking
the paths that his lady's feet must tread, and gathering frail violets
for her bosom.

     Il poeta è un grande artiere,
     Che al mestiere
     Fece i muscoli d'acciaio,
     Capo ha fier, collo robusto,
     Nudo il busto,
     Duro il braccio, e l'occhio gaio.

And that 'picchia, picchia,' that rhythm of Carducci's, that beat of the
bronze hammer of toil, rings in the measure of his verses. All his poems
have been toiled for, fought for; they are a trophy, a meed of victory;
nothing is a lucky gift. Verhaeren's manuscripts look like a
battlefield. For he is not a poet who, in Goethe's sense, composes poems
for particular occasions; he is never overpowered by a sudden chance
idea: he transforms a problem of life, an actuality, or an intellectual
phase into a lyric mood. After he has molten the poetic idea in his
passion to a white heat, he hammers it into a poem by his rhythm. His
works are complexes: individual ideas attract him; he sets a hedge round
their poetical field, ploughs it, scatters the seed in it, and never
returns to the scene. What he has once achieved has no longer any
attraction for him. To him poetry is always a fight, always work, always
a plan. The layman who would fain look upon a lyric poem as a gift
fallen from heaven will perhaps have no liking for this conscious
method; an artist, on the other hand, will recognise in it the strength
of a wise restraint, concentration on one aim, the will to compose not a
lyric poem but a lyric work. A poetic work like that of Verhaeren, the
work of a life, is not created by chance feeling alone, and not by
enthusiasm. Such a work of art has, like a drama, its intellectual laws,
the conquering and distributing powers of the intelligence, instinct,
and above all that unifying will which suffers no dead points, no gaps,
no stains in the work. And it is from such a vast lyric will that this
work has arisen. Verhaeren is no favoured child of fortune, dowered with
art in his cradle; his blood is heavy, Teutonic blood; and, fortunately,
that ease and suppleness of the artisan which in all departments of
labour produces a ready mediocrity was as much wanting in him as all
physical skill. Verhaeren's poetic work, his form, his rhythm, his idea,
his philosophy, his architectonics, all this is something he has
acquired by labour, something he has painfully produced by passion and
an obstinate will; but for that very reason it is something organic.
For Verhaeren is one of those who learn slowly, persistently, and
surely, only from their own experience and never from others, but who
never forget and lose what they have once acquired; one of those who
grow as the things of Nature do, as trees grow into their strength ring
by ring, and rise year by year higher above the earth to gaze farther
and farther out beyond the horizons and nearer and nearer into the

And just for this reason, because this evolution was so persistent,
because it was so wholly based upon experience, is the ascending line in
his work so harmonious and so organic. No other lyric work of our days
is so much a symbol of the seasons, so much a mirror of human
periodicity. The revolt of spring, the sultriness of summer, the
fruitage of autumn, and the cool clearness of winter gently merge in it,
the one into the other. In his first books, at an age when many
precocious poets have finished their development, he was still wrestling
for his new form, for his expression. Nor did he at that time soon
arrive at the heart of things; he remained for a long time absorbed in
the purely picturesque contemplation of their external aspects. Then he
attempted experiments, and freed himself in revolution. But in his
beginnings he was always a student, an experimenter. In his second
period, having really penetrated below the surface, he found his own
form, like every master, and subdued the internal with the external. But
now that material is conquered, he that was a student and is now a
master will of necessity be a teacher, and feel impelled to deduce
forces from phenomena, laws from forces, the eternal from the earthly.
From vacant contemplation he had risen to passionate creation, to active
creation of art. The supreme creation of art has ever been the
converting of the unconscious into consciousness, the recognition and
knowledge of the laws of art; from the real the path proceeds to that
which transcends reality, to faith and to religion. Like every really
organic poet, Verhaeren has had to repeat the ascent of universal
history in his own evolution.


[1] Albert Mockel, _Emile Verhaeren_.


     Réunir notre esprit et le monde
     Dans les deux mains d'une très simple loi profonde.
                                       É.V., 'L'Attente.'

After the great visions of the cities, after the wonderful
interpretations of democracy, there was a moment of appeasement in
Verhaeren's work--a lyrical intermezzo of little books: an almanac of
the months unfolding in short poems, the cosy happiness of wedded love
enshrined in grateful song, the legends of Flanders told in richly
coloured pictures, and then, in the great pentalogy _Toute la Flandre_,
the cities, coasts, heroes, and great men of his native province
compressed in one single picture. But after that Verhaeren takes up once
again his old path across the earth; passes again through the roaring
cities, the pregnant fields; wanders along the sea-shore; once again
through the landscapes of _Les Flamandes_ and _Les Moines_, of _Les
Villes Tentaculaires_ and _Les Campagnes Hallucinées_. It is now the
return of the spiral in Goethe's sense of evolution; the return to the
same point, but on a higher level, with a loftier outlook, in a narrower
circle, and for that reason nearer to the last, the highest point. Once
again Verhaeren surveys the modern world: now, however, with different
eyes, which no longer remain resting on the aspect of the world, but
press farther to the cause of all. What he had formerly seen sensuously,
the things whose values he had æsthetically estimated and transmuted, he
now looks at from the intellectual side, that he may estimate their
value morally. He no longer sees each thing separately, no longer adds
picture to picture, vision to vision, like a game of coloured cards: he
now unites them in one living chain. He no longer searches through
individual and detached phenomena; he now sees them together against the
background of his lofty intention to weld them into one single picture.
Now he composes, not individual poems, but fragments of his world-poem.
For, from the time that Verhaeren began to look at things with conscious
enthusiasm, they assumed different forms. The straining of his epoch no
longer seems to him to be a solitary manifestation of energy, but only a
Protean form of the eternal discharge of vigour; the will to life no
longer seems to him to be the deed of individual men, but the vitalised
primitive will of all humanity. And so, just as of old he attempted in
his vision a synthesis of energies, he now sees laws flowing into one
supreme and highest thing, into a cosmic law.

Lyric exaltation now arches the dream of its laws over reality. But it
is no longer the mere dream of a youth in expectancy of life--the
anæmic, vague, dark, restless dream--but a man's longing to get behind
life and follow it to its earthly limit. It is a Utopia enhancing
realities beyond themselves; it is the dream of Godhead in things. In
the whole world Verhaeren sees a cosmic effort. 'Le monde est trépidant
de trains et de navires.'[1] The whole world is excited with human
activity and effort; manifestations of the feeling of life flame
everywhere; everywhere humanity is fighting for something invisible and
perhaps unattainable. But whereas of old the poet estimated the value of
every separate energy, now he comprehends all energies as one uniform
manifestation, recognises behind the unconscious activity of the
individual the sway of something greater--the bourne of all humanity.
All who work in the material of the temporal only symbolise eternal
forces--intoxication, energy, conquest, joy, error, expectation, Utopia.
And it is to these forces, or rather to these forms of the force at the
root of all things, that his poems are addressed. In _Les Visages de la
Vie_ he seeks to describe yearning in all its forms and aims; its
distribution in human labour, its restlessness, its vigour, and, above
all, its beauty. But not only human manifestations now appear to him in
a closer cohesion, the synthesis of realism and metaphysics now makes
his relationship to elementary things richer and more heroic. Now, when
he treats some motive he had already treated in the first books, and
these poems of the first and last periods are compared, it is with
astonishment and admiration that you trace the silent growth of these
last years. I will mention one example. He had already sung a song to
the wind. But the wind at that time was to him the evil storm that
tousles cottages, shakes chimneys, forces its way into rooms, rages
across country, and brings the winter. It was a senseless power,
beautiful in its senselessness, but aimless, an incomprehensible
element, a detached phenomenon of Nature. Now, however, the poet in his
maturity looks upon it as the wanderer over the undying world, one that
has seen all countries, that drives ships over seas, that has sated
itself with the perfume of strange flowers and brings it from far away,
that penetrates our chest like an aroma and steels and expands it. Now
he loves the wind as one of the thousand things of the earth which
contribute to the intensification of his vital feeling.

     Si j'aime, admire et chante avec folie,
     Le vent,
            *       *       *       *       *
     C'est qu'il grandit mon être entier et c'est qu'avant
     De s'infiltrer, par mes poumons et par mes pores,
     Jusques au sang dont vit mon corps,
     Avec sa force rude ou sa douceur profonde,
     Immensément, il a étreint le monde.[2]

So, too, a tree becomes to him the image of the eternal renewal of
strength, of resistance to the hardness of winter and of fate, of the
will to new beauty in the spring. A mountain no longer appears to him as
a chance raising of the landscape, but a great and mighty thing in whose
keeps secrets lie, ores, and the source of springs, from whose summit,
however, our eyes can sweep the world. The forest interprets itself to
him as the labyrinth of a thousand paths, and as the many-voiced anthem
of life: everything in nature becomes a freshening and a vivifying of
this vitality. _An absolute transmutation of values has taken place from
the time that he has comprehended things as parts of the world's entity,
and as themselves an entity_. Travel, formerly a flight from reality,
now becomes to him the opening out of new distances, of new
possibilities; dream appears to him no longer as an illusion, but as the
capacity of intensifying the real from its present to a future state.
Europe is no longer to him a group of nations, a geographical idea, but
the great symbol of conquest, money, gold, he no longer regards
contemptuously as a materialising of life, but as a new spur for new
ambition. And the sea, which in every succeeding work of his sings its
unquiet rhythm, is no longer the murderous power that eats into the
land, but the holy tide, the symbol of constant strength in eternal
unrest; it is to him 'la mer nue et pure, comme une idée.'[3] Since
everything coheres, he feels related to all in a touching brotherhood
with things; he no longer feels the presence of things, he loves them
like a piece of himself; he feels the sea physically in himself

     Ma peau, mes mains et mes cheveux
     Sentent la mer
     Et sa couleur est dans mes yeux.[4]

And so, just as his vital feeling is renewed every time he comes into
contact with the waves, he believes in a physical resurrection of the
body out of the sea, believes that his rising from the water is a
_nouveau moment de conscience_. Verhaeren has returned to the great
cohesion: in Nature and in man there is no longer for him any phenomenon
which might not become a symbol for him, a symbol of the great vital
instinct, to stimulate and fire his vitality.

And since he now responds to all things with this one feeling, a uniform
conception of the world must involuntarily result from this unity of
feeling. _To the unity of enthusiasm corresponds the unity of the world,
the monistic feeling_. Just as he himself derives nothing but an
intensification and exaltation of his feelings from all things, nothing
but the very sensation of life, all phenomena and activities must be a
synthesis, all forces must flow into one single force as rivers flow
into the ocean, all laws must merge in one single law

     Toute la vie, avec ses lois, avec ses formes,
     --Multiples doigts noueux de quelque main énorme--
     S'entr'ouvre et se referme en un poing: l'unité.[5]

And thus, this straining of all humanity, discharged in a thousand
forms, must be something in common, a fight against something lying
outside of itself, against a resistance which still makes life seem
hard, dull, and turbid. This fight of humanity cannot be other than
directed against something that impedes the sensation of life. And this,
the only thing which struggles against humanity, is in Verhaeren's eyes
the supremacy of Nature, the mystery of divine intervention, the
subjection of man to fate--in short, all divinity that does not reside
in man. As soon as man is dependent on nobody except himself and his own
strength, he too will attain the great joyousness of all the things of

_This fight of man to become God, this fight for his independence, his
freedom from chance and the supernatural--this is the great metaphysical
idea of Verhaeren's work_. His last books seek to represent nothing else
than this one highest battle of man, this struggle to be free from all
that is laid upon him, not by himself, but by Nature, from all that
impedes his will to become a thing of Nature, an elementary force,
himself. This struggle is the highest and purest effort, for

     Rien n'est plus haut, malgré l'angoisse et le tourment,
     Que la bataille avec l'énigme et les ténèbres.[6]

Man in this battle defends himself against darkness, against what is
unknown, against Heaven, against all laws that restrict his expansion;
the whole aim of man, the aim he has unconsciously been following for a
thousand years, is independence, is to become a law unto himself:

     L'homme dans l'univers n'a qu'un maître, lui-même,
     Et l'univers entier est ce maître, dans lui.[7]

To-day he is still counteracted by chance, or, as many conceive it, by
divinity. Wholly to conquer this, to substitute the determination of
one's own destiny for chance, will be the great task of the future. Much
has been taken from chance already. Lightning, the most dangerous power
of heaven, is conquered; distances are bridged over; the forms of Nature
are changed; social communities have by common action diverted the
iniquity of the weather; diseases are from year to year being fathomed
and checked; more and more every incalculable element is being brought
within the range of calculation and fore-sight. But all that is unknown
must more and more be the booty of man, whose highest will is 'fouiller
l'inconnu.'[8] More and more his eyes penetrate the subterranean and
mysterious workings of Nature.

     Or aujourd'hui c'est la réalité
     Secrète encor, mais néanmoins enclose
     Au cours perpétuel et rythmique des choses,

     Qu'on veut, avec ténacité,
     Saisir, pour ordonner la vie et sa beauté
     Selon les causes.[9]

For this battle everybody is a soldier in man's war of liberation, all
of us stand invisibly ranked together. Everybody who wrests from Nature
in increment to knowledge, who does something never done before,
everybody who by poetry fires others to action, tears off a piece of the
veil. With every step forward that man takes against the dark, with
every foot of ground he conquers, divinity loses strength to him; and
this will go on until at length nothing remains of the God of old, until
the identity of the two ideas humanity and divinity is unconsciously

     Héros, savant, artiste, apôtre, aventurier,
     Chacun troue à son tour le mur noir des mystères
     Et, grâce à ces labeurs groupés et solitaires,
     L'être nouveau se sent l'univers tout entier.

Seen from this height, professions assume a new poetic value. In the
front rank of fighting men Verhaeren sees those the effort of whose life
it is to acquire knowledge--the men of science. Verhaeren is perhaps the
only one among modern poets who has conceived of science as of perfectly
equal value with poetry, _who has discovered new moral and religious
values in science, just as he had already discovered new æsthetic values
in industrialism and democracy_. Most poets had hitherto looked upon
science as a hindrance, because they were afraid of clear things as they
were afraid of real things. They looked upon science as the destroyer of
myths, the negation of every noble superstition which in their eyes was
indissolubly connected with the poetical. But just as machinery seemed
to them to be ugly, because in the machines they saw beauty had
retreated from the outer to the interior form, here too the new ethical
value is hidden not in the method but in the aim. Verhaeren esteems
science as the great fighter for the new conception of the world: 'Le
monde entier est repensé par leurs cervelles.'[10] He knows that the
little increments to knowledge which are continually being made in our
days in thousands of places, in sanatoria and lecture-rooms,
observatories and studies, with microscopes and chemical analyses,
weighing and calculation, with measures and numbers, that these little
additions to knowledge may, by comparison and reproduction, grow into
great creative discoveries which will immensely enrich our vital
feeling. And this hymn to science is at the same time a hymn to our
epoch; for no epoch before ours has so consciously bought for the
advancement of knowledge, none has been so replete with the longing for
new knowledge and the transmutation of values:

     L'acharnement à tout peser, à tout savoir
     Fouille la forêt drue et mouvante des êtres.[11]

In inspired words Verhaeren celebrates science as the highest effort of
our age as of the past; for he knows that what to us to-day is
presupposed and self-evident was a thousand years-ago the goal of the
most ardent effort, that the road we pace indolently to-day is soaked
with the blood of martyrs.

     Dites! quels temps versés au gouffre des années,
     Et quelle angoisse ou quel espoir des destinées,
     Et quels cerveaux chargés de noble lassitude
     A-t-il fallu pour faire un peu de certitude?
            *       *       *       *       *
     Dites! les feux et les bûchers; dites! les claies;
     Les regards fous, en des visages d'effroi blanc;
     Dites! les corps martyrisés, dites! les plaies
     Criant la vérité, avec leur bouche en sang.[12]

But he knows equally well that the acquisitions of to-day are again only
hypotheses for the new truths of to-morrow. Error is inevitable, but
even error opens out new ways. In the beautiful idea of Brezina, the
Czech poet, all ideal aims are floating islands that recede as we
approach them. The highest aim is in effort itself, in the life which
effort intensifies. Verhaeren's optimism here guards his marches against
banality, for he is sufficient of a mystic to know that it is the
unknowable and the inaccessible that lend all things their impenetrable
beauty. But the knowledge of this must not scare enthusiasm away:

     Partons quand même, avec notre âme inassouvie,
     Puisque la force et que la vie
     Sont au delà des vérités et des erreurs.[13]

What if a few last things remain eternally inscrutable: 'plutôt que d'en
peupler les coins par des chimères, nous préférons ne point savoir.'[14]
Rather a world without gods than one with false gods, rather incomplete
knowledge than false knowledge.

Here, where the heroes of science reach the limits of what is possible
to them, a new group must stand by their side and help them in their
work. These are the poets, who preach faith where knowledge ends. They
must find the synthesis between science and religion, between the
earthly and the divine, the new synthesis--_religious confidence in
science_. Their optimism must force their fellow-men to have faith in
science, as in earlier days they had faith in gods: though proofs fail
them, they must demand from this new religion what the early fathers
demanded for the old religion. And he himself, Verhaeren, he who
once--here again a bitter 'no' is turned into an exulting 'yes'--said in
his beginnings

     Toute science enferme au fond d'elle le doute,
     Comme une mère enceinte étreint un enfant mort,[15]

he himself is to-day the first of confident enthusiasts. Where
individual minds are still at war--

     'Oh! ces luttes là-haut entre ces dieux humains![16]--

where their knowledge has not yet found a bridge, poets must with
enthusiasm and confidence surmise a path. They must link law with
perception; and in the same measure as the scientists have by knowledge
fed their enthusiasm, they in their turn must feed knowledge by their
confidence. If they have no proofs of actualities, their faith dowers
them with the confidence to say, 'nous croyons déjà ce que les autres
sauront.'[17] They scent and surmise new things before they are born;
they trust hypotheses before they are proved. Already,

     Pendant que disputent et s'embrouillent encor,
     À coups de textes morts
     Et de dogmes, les sages,[18]

they hear the hovering wings of the new truth. They already believe in
what later generations will know; they derive vital joy from what their
descendants will be the first to possess. They doubt in nothing; not
that man will conquer the air, quell disease, make life cheerful and
easier; they do not despair in progress, and in their ecstasy they leap
over all obstacles. 'Le cri de Faust n'est plus le nôtre';[19] the
question as to 'yes' and 'no' has long since been joyfully answered in
the affirmative, exults the poet; we no longer hesitate between the
possibility and the impossibility of knowledge, we believe in it, and
faith and confidence is already the highest knowledge of life. In this
optimism of poets other discoverers of knowledge must now fulfil their
growth, from these dreams they must derive strength for their activity;
all men must in this way complete one another, that it may be possible
for them to beleaguer darkness, perfect the conquest of God, and

     Emprisonner quand même, un jour, l'éternité,
     Dans le gel blanc d'une immobile vérité.[20]

For this new truth, the Man-God whom they are to discover, poets and
scholars are the new saints; and his servants are all those whose brows
are fiery with the fever of work, whose hands are scorched with
experiments, whose nerves are strained by constant effort, whose eyes
are fatigued by books. To all of these Verhaeren's hymn is addressed:

     Qu'ils soient sacrés par les foules, ces hommes
     Qui scrutèrent les faits pour en tirer les lois.[21]

But still farther reaches Verhaeren's enthusiasm for those who help in
the new work, for the 'saccageurs d'infini.'[22] Not only the thinker
and the poet extend the horizon of life, but each one also who creates
and is in any way at work. Only the man who creates is really alive and
really a man--'seul existe qui crée.'[23] And so his hymn is likewise
addressed to those who toil with their hands, to those who, without
knowing the aim, toil stolidly day by day in mines and fields; for they
too build the face of the earth, create mountains where there were none,
rear lights by the sea's marge, construct machines and the huge
telescopes that pry on the heavens: all of them forge the tools of
knowledge and prepare the new era. Merchants who send across the ocean
ships that spin threads from farthest shore to shore, they too weave the
net of the great unity; traders who spread gold, who quicken the
circulation of the world's blood, they too co-operate in the battle
waged with the dark. It is their league and union which, first of all,
gives humanity its great strength; they all prepare the hour, the
moment, which must inevitably come.

     Il viendra l'instant, où tant d'efforts savants et ingénus,
     Tant de génie et de cerveaux tendus vers l'inconnu,
     Quand même, auront bâti sur des bases profondes
     Et jaillissant au ciel, la synthèse du monde![24]

Here in fiery dawns glimmer the days of the future. Tens of thousands
will struggle, will prepare, until at last the one man comes who shall
lay the last stone of the edifice, 'le tranquille rebelle,'[25] the
Christ of this new religion.

     C'est que celui qu'on attendait n'est point venu,
     Celui que la nature entière
     Suscitera un jour, âme et rose trémière,
     Sous les soleils puissants non encore connus;
     C'est que la race ardente et fine,
     Dont il sera la fleur,
     N'a point multiplié ses milliers de racines
     Jusqu'au tréfonds des profondeurs.[26]

For here in Verhaeren's work this vision arises fervent and glowing.
Incessantly man proceeds on the path of his destiny. Once his whole
world was replete with divinity, 'jadis tout l'inconnu était peuplé de
dieux';[27] then one single God took right and might into His hand; but
now, by means of his strength and passion, man has wrested, year by
year, one secret after the other from this Unknown Power. More and more
he has conquered chance by laws, faith by knowledge, fear by safety;
more and more the power of the gods glides insensibly into his hands,
more and more he determines his own life; and the process will continue
till he is in every respect the captain of his fate; he is less and less
subject to laws he has not himself established; more and more Nature's
slave becomes her lord.

     Races, régnez: puisque par vous la volonté du sort
     Devient de plus en plus la volonté humaine.[28]

Gods will become men; exterior fate will return into their bosom; the
saints will henceforth be only their brothers; and Paradise will be the
earth itself. Most beautifully Verhaeren has expressed this idea in one
of his latest books,[29] in the symbol of Adam and Eve. Eve, expelled
from the Garden of Eden, one day finds its doors open again. But she
does not re-enter it, for her highest joy, her Paradise, is now in
activity and the pleasure of the earth. Zest in existence, in life, joy
of the earth, has never been more strongly and burningly exalted than in
this symbol; never has the hymn of humanity been sung with greater
fervour than by this poet--perhaps because he had denied life more
wildly and more obstinately than any other. Here all contrasts sing
together in a harmony without a flaw; the last enmity between man and
Nature here becomes the ecstatic feeling of man's godhead.

And strange to say, here the circle of life returns to itself. The books
of the poet's old age return to the days of his youth, to the school
benches in Ghent where Maeterlinck also sat, the other great Fleming.
Both, who lost themselves there, have found themselves again on the
heights of life in their conception of the world, for Maeterlinck's
highest teaching also (in his book _Wisdom and Destiny_) is, that all
fate is locked up in man himself, that it is man's highest evolution,
his highest duty, to conquer fate, all that lies outside him, God. This
profound thought, which has thus twice in our days blossomed forth from
Flemish soil, has been achieved on different paths. Maeterlinck has
found it by listening to the mysticism of silence, Verhaeren by
listening to the noise of life. He has found his new God not in the
darkness of dreams but in the light of streets, in all places where men
bestir themselves, and where from heavy hours the trembling flower of
joy is born.


[1] 'La Conquête' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[2] 'À la Gloire du Vent' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[3] 'L'Eau' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[4] 'Au Bord du Quai' (_Ibid._)

[5] 'La Conquête' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_)

[6] 'Les Cultes' (_Ibid._)

[7] 'Les Villes' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[8] 'La Ferreur' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[9] 'Vers le Futur' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[10] 'La Conquête' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[11] 'Vers le Futur' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[12] 'La Recherche' (_Ibid._).

[13] 'L'Erreur' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[14] 'La Ferveur' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[15] 'Méditation' (_Les Moines_).

[16] 'Les Penseurs' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[17] 'La Science' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[18] 'L'Action' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[19] 'La Science' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[20] 'Les Penseurs' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[21] 'La Science' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[22] 'Les Penseurs' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[23] 'La Mort' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[24] 'La Recherche' (_Les Villes Tentaculaires_).

[25] 'L'Attente' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[26] 'L'Attente' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[27] 'La Folie' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[28] (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[29] _Les Rythmes Souverains._


     La vie est à monter et non pas à descendre.
                                  É.V., 'Les Rêves,'

     Il faut admirer tout pour s'exalter soi-même
     Et se dresser plus haut que ceux qui out vécu.
                                  É.V., 'La Vie.'

The metaphysical ideal crystallised by Verhaeren from his contemplation
of life, which was at first wildly passionate, but then more and more
synoptical and logical, has been called unity. He has himself recently,
in answer to a question submitted to various men of letters, confirmed
this conception as part of his programme. 'It seems to me,' he says,
'that poetry is bound ere long to be merged in a very clear Pantheism.
More and more the unity of the world is admitted by upright and healthy
minds. That old dualism between the soul and the body, between God and
the universe, is becoming effaced. Man is a fragment of the architecture
of the world. He understands and is conscious of the entity of which he
is a part.... He feels that he is encompassed and dominated, while at
the same time he himself encompasses and dominates. By reason of his own
miracles he is becoming, in some sort, that personal God that his
ancestors believed in. Now I ask, is it possible that lyric exaltation
should long remain indifferent to such an unchaining of human power,
should hesitate to celebrate such a vast spectacle of grandeur? The poet
of to-day has only to surrender himself to what he sees, hears,
imagines, conjectures, for works to be born of his heart and brain that
are young, vibrating, and new.'[1] But he who would build up the whole
image must not make a halt at this stage of knowledge: over against the
logical ordering of external things he must set another of inward
things; against the knowledge of life he must set the feeling of life.
He must set up an ethical ideal as well as a metaphysical ideal, a
commandment of life corresponding to his law of life.

But great poets never discover a standard of life, a moral precept,
which is not a reflex of the law of their own inner nature. Many
possibilities of contemplation are open to the thinker, to the quiet
observer; to the poet however, to the lyrist, only a poetic philosophy
of life is possible, a contemplation lyrically exalted. Whereas the
philosopher can attain the knowledge of unity by measurement and
calculation, by a perception and calm computation of forces, a poet can
discover the evolution of things in the direction of harmony and unity
only in his ecstasy, only in an exalted state of enthusiasm. He will
perforce recognise a commandment for the whole world in his own
enthusiasm, and in his lyric ecstasy a moral demand of life. 'Toute la
vie est dans l'essor,' for the poet all life is in ecstasy. And just as
Verhaeren never described things in a state of rest, so too his
comprehension of the universe is never conceivable except in the
permanently exalted state of the unrest of joy and motion.

Verhaeren's relationship to the world around him was ever passionate. He
has always approached things feverishly, as a lover approaches the woman
he desires. Only what he has won by fighting has the value to him of a
possession. Things do not belong to us as long as we pass them by, as
long as we only look at them with unfeeling and cold eyes as though they
were a scene in a play, a walking picture. To feel the connection
between them and us, between the world and the poet, between man and
man, to pass over from the purely contemplative state to the assessment
of values, we must enter into some personal relationship of sympathy or
antipathy. Verhaeren's first crisis had taught him that negation is
sterile, and his recovery had then shown him that only assent,
acceptance, affection, and enthusiasm can place us in a real
relationship with things.

     Pour vivre clair, ferme et juste,
     Avec mon cœur, j'admire tout
     Ce qui vibre, travaille et bout
     Dans la tendresse humaine et sur la terre auguste.[2]

A thing only belongs to us when it is felt--not so much for us
personally--as beautiful, necessary, and vivid: only when we have said
'yes' to it. _And therefore our whole evolution can only be to admire as
much as possible, to understand as much as possible, to let our feeling
have intercourse with as many things as possible_. To contemplate is too
little; to understand is too little. Only when we have confirmed a thing
from its very roots, confirmed it as necessary, does it really belong to
us. 'II faut aimer pour découvrir avec génie.' And so our whole effort
must be to overcome what is negative in ourselves, to reject nothing, to
kill the critical spirit in ourselves, to strengthen what is positive in
us, to assent as much as possible. Here again Verhaeren is in agreement
with Nietzsche's last ideals: 'Warding things off, keeping things down,
is a waste of energy, a squandering of strength on negative
purposes.'[3] Criticism is sterile. Verhaeren is here as ever a
relativist of values, for he knows that they are incessantly occupied in
a process of transformation in favour of their highest value, and
therefore he holds enthusiasm (the symbol of over-estimation) to be more
important, in the sense of a higher justice, than what is apparently
absolute justice itself.

For this is the essential: if in our estimation we often over-estimate
things which in any case would preserve their inner value independently
of our 'yes' or 'no,' that is not so great a danger as it is a profit
that our own souls should grow by means of our admiration. 'Admirer,
c'est se grandir.'[4] For if we admire more, and more intensively, than
others, we shall ourselves grow richer than those timid ones who content
themselves with choice morsels of life instead of grasping life in its
entirety, who restrict themselves because they only place themselves in
relationship with a part of the world and not with the whole cosmos. The
more a man admires, the more he possesses:

     Il faut admirer tout pour s'exalter soi-même
     Et se dresser plus haut que ceux qui out vécu
     De coupables souffrances et de désirs vaincus.[5]

For admiration means, in the highest sense, subordinating oneself to
other things. _The more a man suppresses his own personal pride, the
higher he stands in the moral sense_. For to accentuate oneself and to
deny what is not oneself needs less strength than to suppress oneself
and to surrender oneself in admiration to all else. Here Verhaeren sees
the rise of a new ethical problem. A whole ladder of values is revealed
to him in the moral standard of freedom and frankness with which a man
can meet his fellows in his admiration; a ladder on whose topmost rung
the man stands who rejects nothing whatever, who meets every
manifestation of life with ecstasy. To be able to admire more means to
grow more oneself:

     Oh! vivre et vivre et se sentir meilleur
     À mesure que bout plus fervemment le cœur;
     Vivre plus clair, dès qu'on marche en conquête;
     Vivre plus haut encor, dès que le sort s'entête
     À dessécher la force et l'audace des bras.[6]

And so strong must this restless enthusiasm grow, this incessant
enthusiasm for things, that the height of the ascent suddenly surprises
one with a rapt feeling of dizziness. The lyrical commandment of the
highest ecstasy is here an ethical standard:

     Il faut en tes élans te dépasser sans cesse,
     Être ton propre étonnement.[7]

In this idea of restless enthusiasm, the principles of which have also
been expounded by Verhaeren in his essay _Cosmic Enthusiasm_
(_Insel-Almanach,_ 1913), he has established a poetic equivalent to his
other great impulse of humanity, set an ethical ideal by the side of the
metaphysical ideal. For if of old the yearning for knowledge, that
superb struggle for the conquest of the unknown, was the only thing that
placed man in an eternally living relationship to the new things, what
is possibly a still more valuable instinct is discovered in this
incessantly intensified ecstatic admiration. Admiring is more than
estimating and knowing. To surrender oneself in love to all things is
higher than the curiosity to know everything. 'Tout affronter vaut mieux
que tout comprendre.'[8] For in all knowledge there is still a residue
of selfishness, of the pride of personal acquisition, while admiration
of things contains nothing but humility--that great humility, however,
which is an infinite enrichment of life, because it signifies a
dissolution in the all. Whereas knowledge is brought to a sudden
standstill before many things and finds the road blocked with darkness,
in admiration, in ecstasy, there is no limit set to the ego. _Though
many values lock themselves up from knowledge, none denies itself wholly
to admiration_. Even the smallest thing becomes great when it is
penetrated with love, and the greater we let things grow--the more we
enrich the substance of our own life--the more infinite we make our ego.
It is the highest ethical task of a great man to find the highest value
in every phenomenon, and to free this value from the thick and often
stifling rind of antipathy and strangeness. Not to let oneself be
repelled by resistance is the perfection of a noble enthusiasm. If
anything whatsoever is void of beauty, it will have a power which by its
energy expresses beauty. If anything seems strange and ugly in the
traditional sense, it will set the wonderful task of finding out the new
sense in which it is beautiful. _And to have found this new beauty in
the new things was the active greatness of the poetic work, the
greatness which was unconscious and now becomes conscious, which was
knowledge and now becomes law_. While all others considered our great
cities frightful and ugly, Verhaeren praised their magnificence; while
all others abhorred science as an obstacle to poetry, Verhaeren
celebrated it as the purest form of life. For he knows that everything
changes, that 'ce qui fut hier le but est l'obstacle demain,'[9] and
_vice versa_ that the obstacle of to-day may perhaps be the goal of the
next generation. He had already recognised in his poetry what the
architectural movement in the great cities in the last few years has
realised, that huge shops, as emporia of intellectual life, as new
centres of force, provide tasks for art as stupendous as the cathedrals
of old; that in the reek and smoke of teeming cities new tones of colour
were waiting for painters, new problems for philosophers; that all that
in our own time looms bulky and unseemly will to the next generation be
well-proportioned and have to be called beautiful. Verhaeren's
enthusiasm for what is new overcomes the resistance of reverence for
tradition. Verhaeren has rendered signal service to our time by being
the first to recognise and proclaim the great impressionists and all
innovators in art and poetry. For to reject nothing new, to be hostile
to nothing the world can offer, this only is what he understands by
knowing the world as it is and truly loving it. His ladder of values
ends on high in this absolute ideal of admiration of the whole world,
not only of that which is but of that which shall be, of the identity of
every ego with the time and its forms:

     L'homme n'est suprême et clair que si sa volonté
     Est d'être lui en même temps qu'il est monde.

And since this boundless admiration turns selfishness to
dust--selfishness, the eternal obstacle to all purely human
relations--since, in a word, it produces a kind of brotherly
relationship to all things, it also opens out the possibility of
levelling the relationship between man and man. The book _La Multiple
Splendeur_, which has given definite expression to these ethical ideas,
was originally intended to be called _Admirez-vous les Uns les Autres_.
In this book self-surrender is considered as the highest ideal, the gift
of oneself to the whole world, the distribution of oneself among all
people. No longer, as in the earlier books, are energy, strength, and
conquest by strength, the quelling of resistance, the ultimate sense of
life, but goodness, scattering oneself broadcast, becoming the all by
surrender to the all. Greatness in this new sense can only arise by
ecstatic admiration. 'Il faut aimer pour découvrir avec génie.'
Admiration and love are the strongest forces of the world. Love will be
the highest form of the new relations--it will regulate all earthly
relationships; love shall be the social levelling.

     L'amour dont la puissance encore est inconnue,
     Dans sa profondeur douce et sa charité nue,
     Ira porter la joie égale aux résignés;
     Les sacs ventrus de l'or seront saignés
     Un soir d'ardente et large équité rouge;
     Disparaîtront palais, banques, comptoirs et bouges;
     Tout sera simple et clair, quand l'orgueil sera mort,
     Quand l'homme, au lieu de croire à l'égoïste effort,
     Qui s'éterniserait, en une âme immortelle,
     Dispensera vers tous sa vie accidentelle;
     Des paroles, qu'aucun livre ne fait prévoir,
     Débrouilleront ce qui paraît complexe et noir;
     Le faible aura sa part dans l'existence entière,
     Il aimera son sort--et la matière
     Confessera peut-être, alors, ce qui fut Dieu.[10]

And in still greater, still more monumental expression, in stone tables
of the law as it were, Verhaeren has compressed his new moral idea in a
single poem:

     Si nous nous admirons vraiment les uns les autres,
     Du fond même de notre ardeur et notre foi,
     Vous les penseurs, vous les savants, vous les apôtres,
     Pour les temps qui viendront vous extrairez la loi.

     Nous apportons, ivres du monde et de nous-mêmes,
     Des cœurs d'hommes nouveaux dans le vieil univers.
     Les Dieux sont loin et leur louange et leur blasphème;
     Notre force est en nous et nous avons souffert.

     Nous admirons nos mains, nos yeux et nos pensées,
     Même notre douleur qui devient notre orgueil;
     Toute recherche est fermement organisée
     Pour fouiller l'inconnu dont nous cassons le seuil.

     S'il est encor là-bas des caves de mystère
     Où tout flambeau s'éteint ou recule effaré,
     Plutôt que d'en peupler les coins par des chimères
     Nous préférons ne point savoir que nous leurrer.

     Un infini plus sain nous cerne et nous pénètre;
     Notre raison monte plus haut; notre cœur bout;
     Et nous nous exaltons si bellement des êtres
     Que nous changeons le sens que nous avons de tout.

     Cerveau, tu règnes seul sur nos actes lucides;
     Aimer, c'est asservir; admirer, se grandir;
     O tel profond vitrail, dans l'ombre des absides,
     Qui reflète la vie et la fait resplendir!

     Aubes, matins, midis et soirs, toute lumière
     Est aussitôt muée en or et en beauté,
     Il exalte l'espace et le ciel et la terre
     Et transforme le monde à travers sa clarté.[11]

_This sensation of recognising oneself in all things by enthusiasm_, of
living with everything that has existence and a visible form, is
pantheism, is a Teutonic conception of the universe. But in Verhaeren
pantheism finds its very last intensification. Identity is to him not
only cerebral knowledge, but experience; identity is not the sensation
of being similar to things in body and soul, but an indissoluble unity.
Whosoever admires a thing so wholly that he goes down to the roots of
his feeling, that he dissolves and denies himself in order to be wholly
this other thing, is at this moment of ecstasy identical with it.
Ecstasy is no longer what it means in the Greek derivation, the fact of
stepping out of oneself, of losing oneself; it signifies, in addition
to that, the finding of oneself in the other thing. And with this
Verhaeren's cosmic conception goes beyond pantheism. He not only senses
things as though he were their brother; not only does he sense himself
in them, he himself lives them. Not only does he feel his blood pouring
into other beings, he no longer feels any blood of his own at all; he
only feels this strange, glowing sap of the world in his veins. I know
of no more fiery eruption than those moments of Verhaeren when he is no
longer able to distinguish the world from his ego, this unique cosmic

     Je ne distingue plus le monde de moi-même,
     Je suis l'ample feuillage et les rameaux flottants,
     Je suis le sol dont je foule les cailloux pâles
     Et l'herbe des fossés où soudain je m'affale
     Ivre et fervent, hagard, heureux et sanglotant.[12]

All the forms of the elements are a personal experience to him:
'J'existe en tout ce qui m'entoure et me pénètre.'[13] All that has
happened becomes to him a manifestation of his own body; he feels all
cosmic happenings as personal experiences:

     Oh! les rythmes fougueux de la nature entière
     Et les sentir et les darder à travers soi!
     Vivre les mouvements répandus dans les bois,
     Le sol, les vents, la mer et les tonnerres;
     Vouloir qu'en son cerveau tressaille l'univers.[14]

Here the billows of enthusiasm dash higher and higher, this call to
union by enthusiasm grows to an ever more passionate command:

     Exaltez-vous encore et comprenez-vous mieux,
     Reconnaissez-vous donc et magnifiez-vous
     Dans l'ample et myriadaire splendeur des choses![15]

For if men hitherto have arrived at no clear and harmonious relationship
with one another, that was because, so Verhaeren thinks, they had not
admiration sufficient, because they were too suspicious of one another,
because they had too little faith. 'Magnifiez-vous donc et
comprenez-vous mieux!'[16] he calls out to them, 'admirez-vous les uns
les autres!' and here, in the last phase of his knowledge, he is again
in agreement with the great American, who, in his poem _Starting from
Paumanok_, preaches:

     I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
     None has ever yet adored or worshipped half enough,
     None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and
         how certain the future is.

For the highest pleasure is only in this highest ecstasy. And therefore
these ideals of Verhaeren are not cold, sober commandments, but a
passionate hymn.

     Aimer avec ferveur soi-même en tous les autres
     Qui s'exaltent de même en de mêmes combats
     Vers le même avenir dont on entend le pas;
     Aimer leur cœur et leur cerveau pareils aux vôtres
     Parce qu'ils ont souffert, en des jours noirs et fous,
     Même angoisse, même affre et même deuil que vous.

     Et s'énivrer si fort de l'humaine bataille
     --Pâle et flottant reflet des monstrueux assauts
     Ou des groupements d'or des étoiles, là-haut--
     Qu'on vit en tout ce qui agit, lutte ou tressaille
     Et qu'on accepte avidement, le cœur ouvert,
     L'âpre et terrible loi qui régit l'univers.[17]

_To raise these mystic moments of ecstasy, these seconds of identity,
which every one in his life experiences in quite rare and strange
moments, to permanency, to a constant, unconquerable feeling of
life--this is Verhaeren's highest aim_. His cosmic conception is
concentrated in this supreme ideal of an incessantly felt identity of
the ego with its environment, of an identity ever fired anew by passion.

For not till nothing more is contemplation and everything is experience,
not till this vast enrichment is accomplished, does life cease to be
vegetative, indifferent, and somnolent, not till then does it turn to
pure delight. Not to feel individual feelings of pleasure, but to feel
life itself in all its forms as supreme pleasure, is the last goal of
Verhaeren's art. What he says of Juliers, the hero of Flanders, 'son
existence était sa volupté,'[18] _the fact of life itself was his
pleasure_, is also his own highest longing. He does not want life that;
he may fill out the span that is allotted to every mortal, but that he
may consciously enjoy, and to the full, every minute of life as a
delight and as; happiness. And in such a moment of ecstasy he says,

     Il me semble jusqu'à ce jour n'avoir vécu
     Que pour mourir et non pour vivre,[19]

lines that seem to me unforgettable, as the highest ecstasy of vitality.

And, wonderful to say, here too the circle is closed, here too the end
of Verhaeren's know-ledge--as we have seen in so many things with
him--is a return to the beginning. Here too there is nothing save an
inherited instinct which has become a rapt consciousness. His first book
and his last ones, _Les Flamandes_, as well as _Les Rythmes Souverains_
and _Les Blés Mouvants,_ celebrate life--the first, it is true, only
life's outer form, the dull enjoyment of the senses: the last books,
however, celebrate the conscious, intensified, sublimated feeling of
life. Verhaeren's whole evolution--here again in harmony with the great
poets of our nation, with Nietzsche and Dehmel--is not suppression, but
a conscious intensification of original instincts. Just as in--his first
books he described his native province, and again in his last, save that
now the land is bounded by the horizons of the whole world, here again
the feeling of life returns as the sense of life, but it is now enriched
with all the knowledge he has acquired, with all the victories he has
won. Passion, which was in his first book a chaotic revolt, has here
become a law; the instinctive sensation of pleasure in health has been
transformed into a deliberate and conscious pleasure in life and in all
its forms. Now again Verhaeren feels the great pride of a strong man:

     Je marche avec l'orgueil d'aimer l'air et la terre,
     D'être immense et d'être fou
     Et de mêler le monde et tout
     À cet enivrement de vie élémentaire.[20]

The health of the strong race he once celebrated in the lads and lasses
of his native province, he now sings in himself. And so strong is the
identity between his ego and the world that he, desiring to sing the
beauty of the whole world, is now compelled to include himself and to
celebrate his own body. He who of old hated his body as a prison out of
which he could not escape to flee from himself, he who wished to 'spit
himself out,' now fits into the hymn of the world a stanza in
celebration of his own ego:

     J'aime mes yeux, mes bras, mes mains, ma chair,
         mon torse
     Et mes cheveux amples et blonds,
     Et je voudrais, par mes poumons,
     Boire l'espace entier pour en gonfler ma force.[21]

The feeling of identity has given him absolute identity in regard to

It is not in vanity that he celebrates himself, but in gratitude. For
the body is to him only a means of sensing the beauty, power, and
beneficence of the world, is to him a wonderful possibility of enjoying
things by strength in strong passion. And wonderful are these thanks of
an ageing man to his eyes and ears and chest for still permitting him to
feel earth's beauty with all the fervour of old:

     Soyez remerciés, mes yeux,
     D'être restés si clairs, sous mon front déjà vieux,
     Pour voir au loin bouger et vibrer la lumière;
     Et vous, mes mains, de tressaillir dans le soleil;
     Et vous, mes doigts, de vous dorer aux fruits vermeils
     Pendus au long du mur, près des roses trémières.

     Soyez remercié, mon corps,
     D'être ferme, rapide, et frémissant encor
     Au toucher des vents prompts ou des brises profondes;
     Et vous, mon torse clair et mes larges poumons,
     De respirer au long des mers ou sur les monts,
     L'air radieux et vif qui baigne et mord les mondes.[22]

Thus, too, he now celebrates all things to which he is related--his
body; the race and the ancestors to whom he owes his being; the country
fields that have given him youth; the cities that have given him his
vast outlook: he celebrates Europe and America, the past and the future.
_And just as he feels himself to be strong and healthy, so too his
feeling conceives of the whole world as healthy and great_. That is the
incomparable and, probably, the unparalleled thing in Verhaeren's
verses, what makes him so exceedingly dear to many as to me, that here
cheerfulness, worldly pleasure, joy, and ecstasy are sensed not only
intellectually as pride, but that this pleasure is felt positively _in
the body_, with all the fibres of the blood, with all the muscles and
nerves of the man. His stanzas are really, as Bazalgette so beautifully
says, 'une décharge d'électricité humaine,'[23] a discharge of human, of
physical electricity. Joy here becomes a physical excess, an
intoxication, a superabundance without parallel:

     Nous apportons, ivres du monde et de nous-mêmes,
     Des cœurs d'hommes nouveaux dans le vieil univers.[24]

There is now no disharmony between the individual poems; they are one
single bubbling up of enthusiasm, 'un enivrement de soi-même'; over the
many convulsive, quivering, irregular ecstasies of old now flames the
ecstasy of the whole feeling of life. This ecstasy stands in our days
like a figure proud, strong, and erect, exultingly flourishing the torch
of passion aloft to greet the future, 'vers la joie'!

Here ends Verhaeren's ethic work. And I believe that no exaltation, no
knowledge can again change this last pure form, or make it still more
beautiful. A vast expenditure of force, the effort of one of our
strongest and most incomparable men, has here reached its goal. Once
force seemed to him to be the strength of the world; now, however, in
his purer knowledge, he sees it in goodness, in admiration, in that
force which, with the same intensity as turned it outwards of old, is
now directed inwards; which no longer constrains to conquest, but to
self-surrender, to a boundless humility. Over the immense savagery and
apparent chaos of the first works this knowledge now arches this rainbow
of reconciliation, over _Les Forcés Tumultueuses_ shines _La Multiple
Splendeur_. And to himself may be applied the words he dedicated to his
hymn of all humanity--'La joie et la bonté sont les fleurs de sa


[1] G. Le Cardonnel et Ch. Vellay, _La Littérature Contemporaine._

[2] 'Autour de ma Maison' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[3] _Ecce Homo!_.

[4] 'La Ferveur' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[5] 'La Vie' (_Ibid._).

[6] 'L'Action' (_Les Visages de la Vie_).

[7] 'L'Impossible' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[8] 'Les Rêves' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[9] 'L'Impossible' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[10] 'Un Soir' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[11] 'La Ferveur' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[12] 'Autour de ma Maison' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[13] 'La Joie' (_Ibid_.).

[14] 'L'En-avant' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[15] 'La Louange du Corps Humain' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[16] _Ibid. (Ibid.)_

[17] 'La Vie' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[18] 'Guillaume de Juliers' (_Les Héros_).

[19] 'Un Matin' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[20] 'Un Matin' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).

[21] _Ibid. (Ibid.)_.

[22] 'La Joie' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[23] 'Léon Bazalgette', _Émile Verhaeren_.

[24] 'La Ferveur' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).

[25] 'Les Mages' (_La Multiple Splendeur_).


     Ceux qui vivent d'amour vivent d'éternité.
                               E.V., _Les Heures d'après-midi._

Filled with contemporary spirit as Verhaeren's work is, there is one
point in which it appears to stray from our epoch, to be remote from the
artistic preoccupations of other poets. Verhaeren's poetry is almost
entirely free from eroticism. The problem of love is with him far from
being, as it is with most poets, the feeling at the root of all
feelings; it is hardly ever a motive force in his work; it remains a
little arabesque delicately curved above his massive architecture.
Verhaeren's enthusiasms spring from other sources. Love is for him
almost without a sexual shade of meaning, perfectly identical with
enthusiasm, self-surrender, ecstasy; and the difference between the
sexes does not seem to be an essential, but only an incidental form
among the thousandfold militant forms of life. The love of woman, sexual
necessity, is scarcely a force greater than any other in the circle of
forces, never the most important or actually the root-force, as it is
(for instance) to Dehmel, who derives the consciousness of all great
cosmic phases of knowledge from the experience of love. Verhaeren's
horizons are illuminated, not by the flame of the erotic, but by the
passionate fire of purely intellectual impulses. His first books, those
lyric volumes which are nearly always a poet's confessions of love, were
devoted to landscapes and then to social phenomena, to monks, and to men
who toil with their hands. The strength of his drama pulses in conflicts
exclusively masculine. Thus his work, already vastly removed from that
of the other lyrists of our time, is seen to be still more isolated. To
Verhaeren love is only a single page, not the first and not the last, in
the book of the world: this poet has lavished too much glowing passion
and ecstatic feeling on all individual things and the universe for the
cry of the desire of woman to ring higher than all other voices.

This lack of accentuation of eroticism in Verhaeren's work does not by
any means strike me as a weakness, a missing nerve in his artistic
organism. It may read like a paradox, but it must be said: just this
apparent artistic deficiency indicates personal strength. Verhaeren's
masculinity is so pronounced and strong that woman could never become
the root-problem of his passion, or shake him in the foundations of his
fate. To a really strong man, love, sexual love, is a matter of course;
a sterling man does not feel it as an obstacle and not as a vital
conflict, but as a necessity, like nourishment, air, and liberty. But a
thing that is a matter of course is never conceived by an artist as a
problem. In his youth Verhaeren was never perplexed by love, for the
simple reason that he did not attach sufficient importance to it,
because his poetic interests were in the first place directed to a
mightier possession, a philosophy of life. A sterling man, as Verhaeren
conceives him, does not spend his strength in sexual love. For such a
man the metaphysical instinct, the longing for knowledge, the need of
finding his inner statics in the cosmos, goes before love. 'Eve voulait
aimer, Adam voulait connaître.'[1] Only to woman is love the sense pf
life; to man, in Verhaeren's idea, the sense of life is knowledge. He
expressed this sound idea still more clearly in an early poem:

     Les forts montent la vie ainsi qu'un escalier,
     Sans voir d'abord que les femmes sur leurs passages
     Tendent vers eux leurs seins, leurs fronts et leur visages.[2]

Paying no heed to the seductions of love, the strong men, the really
great, ascend to the skies, to spiritual knowledge; they gather the
fruits of stars and comets; and then, only then, when they are
returning, tired by their lonely wandering, do they observe women, and
lay down in their hands the knowledge of the great worlds. _Not in the
beginning, in the vehement days of youth, but only when manhood is
established, only in the time of inner maturity, can woman become a
great experience for Verhaeren_. He must first of all have acquired a
firm footing, must know his place in the world, before he can yield
himself up to love. It is strange that the sonnet I have quoted should
have been written in youth, because, like a presentiment, it relates the
fate of his own life in advance. For the images of women never stopped
his path nor turned him aside from it; love, if I may say so, only
occupied his senses and never absorbed his soul. Not till later, till
the years when the crisis was undermining his body, when his nerves were
giving way under the terrible strain, when solitude reared itself before
his face like an inseparable foe, did a woman enter his life. Then, and
not till then, did love and marriage--the personal symbol of eternal,
exterior order--give him inward rest. And to this woman the only
love-poems he ever wrote are addressed. In Verhaeren's work, which is
graded like a trilogy--in this symphony that is often brutal--there is a
quiet, soft andante, a trilogy in the trilogy, one of love. From the
point of view of art, these three books, _Les Heures Claires, Les Heures
d'Après-midi,_ and _Les Heures du Soir_, are not less in value than his
great works, but they are more gentle. From this savage and passionate
man one might have expected visionary, seething ecstasies, a tempestuous
discharge of erotic feeling; but these books are a wonderful
disappointment. They are not spoken to the crowd, but to one woman only,
and for that reason they are not spoken loudly, but with a voice
subdued. Religious consciousness--for with Verhaeren all that is poetic
is religious in a new sense--finds a new form here. _Here Verhaeren does
not preach, he prays_. These little pages are the privacy of his
personal life, the confession of a passion which is great indeed, but
veiled as it were with a delicate shame. 'Oh! la tendresse des forts!'
is Bazalgette's inspired comment. And in truth, it is impossible to
imagine anything more touching than the sight of this mighty fighter
here lowering his resonant voice to the soft breathings of devotion.
These verses are quite simple, spoken low, as though wild and too
passionate words might imperil so noble a feeling, as though a strong
man, a brutal man, who is afraid of hurting a delicate woman with a
touch accustomed to bronze, should lay his hand on hers only softly,
most cautiously.

How beautiful these poems are! When you read them, they take you softly
by the hand and lead you into a garden. Here you see no more the murky
horizon of the city, the workshops; you do not hear the din of streets,
nor that resonant rhythm that raged along in cataract on cataract; you
hear a gentle music as of a playing fountain. Passion does not project
you here to the great ecstasies of humanity and the sky; it has no will
to make you wild and fervid; it soothes you to tenderness and devotion.
The strident voice has grown soft, these colours are of transparent
crystal, this song seems to express the vast silence from which those
great passions drew their force. But these poems are not artificial.
They too are of one woof with the elements of Nature; but not with the
great, wild, and heart-moving world, not with the fiery sky, not with
thunder and tempests: it is only a garden that you surmise here, a
peaceful cottage, with birds singing about it, where there are
sweet-scented flowers and silence hanging between trees in blossom. The
adventures are insignificant in feature. You breathe the poetry of
everyday life, but not that of open and wildly surging roads--only the
poetry of closed walls, softly spoken dialogues about little things, the
tenderest secrets of home. These are the experiences of personal
existence, this is the ordinary day between the great ecstasies. The
lamp burns softly in the room, the silence is full of wonderful

     Et l'on se dit les simples choses:
     Le fruit qu'on a cueilli dans le jardin;
         La fleur qui s'est ouverte,
         D'entre les mousses vertes,
     Et la pensée éclose, en des émois soudains,
     Au souvenir d'un mot de tendresse fanée
         Surpris au fond d'un vieux tiroir,
         Sur un billet de l'autre année.[3]

Here you have the deepest feeling, thanks and devotion, not in ecstasy
to God and the world, but addressed to one single being. For Verhaeren
is one who is ever receiving gifts, who always feels that he is being
heaped with favours, who has always to give thanks for life and all its
miracles. Without measure, with that zest, with that incessantly renewed
joy which is the deepest secret of his art, he here again and again
expresses love and gratitude. As Orpheus rises to Euridice from the
nether world, here the sick lover ascends to the lady who has saved him
from the dark. And again and again he thanks her for the good hours of
quietness; again and again he reminds her of their first meeting, of the
sunny happiness of these present days:

     Avec mes sens, avec mon cœur et mon cerveau,
     Avec mon être entier tendu comme un flambeau
       Vers ta bonté et vers ta charité,
     Je t'aime et te louange et je te remercie
       D'être venue, un jour, si simplement,
       Par les chemins du dévouement,
     Prendre en tes mains bienfaisantes, ma vie.[4]

These verses are genuflexions, folded hands, love that by humility
becomes religion.

But still more beautiful and significant, perhaps, is the second volume
of the trilogy _Les Heures d'Après-midi_; for here again a new thing has
been discovered, a moral beauty exceeding erotic sensation, a greatness
of feeling such as can only be conferred by the noblest experience of
life. It is a book after fifteen years of wedlock. But in this time love
has not grown poorer. _The deepest secret of Verhaeren's life, never to
let his feelings grow cold and sink to a dead level, but unceasingly to
enhance them, has denied a state of rest to his love also, and raised
even this to something eternally animated and intensified_. And so his
love has been able to celebrate the highest triumph, _vaincre
l'habitude_, to conquer monotony and the dearth of feeling. Perpetual
ecstasy has made it strong. Only he who renews his passion really lives
it. When love pauses, it passes. 'Je te regarde, et tous les jours je te
découvre.[5] Every day has here renewed the feeling and made it
independent of its beginning, independent of sensual pleasure. As in
Verhaeren's whole work, passion has here been spiritualised, ecstasy
soars beyond individual experience. It is no longer an external
appearance that the now ageing couple love in each other. Lips have
paled, the body has lost its freshness, the flesh its gloss and colour;
the years of union have written their charactery in the face. Only love
has not withered: it has grown stronger than the physical attraction; it
has defied change, because it has itself changed and incessantly been
intensified. It is now unshakeable and inalienable:

       Puisque je sais que rien au monde
     Ne troublera jamais notre être exalté
       Et que notre âme est trop profonde
     Pour que l'amour dépende encor de la beauté.[6]

The temporal has here been overcome, and even the future, even death
have no longer any terrors. Without fear of losing himself--for 'qui vit
d'amour vit d'éternité'--the lover can think of him who stands at the
end of all ways. No fear can touch him more, for he knows he is loved,
and Verhaeren has given wonderful expression to this feeling in a poem:

     Vous m'avez dit, tel soir, des paroles si belles
     Que sans doute les fleurs, qui se penchaient vers nous,
     Soudain nous out aimés et que l'une d'entre elles,
     Pour nous toucher tous deux, tomba sur nos genoux.
     Vous me parliez des temps prochains où nos années,
     Comme des fruits trop mûrs, se laisseraient cueillir;
     Comment éclaterait le glas des destinées,
     Et comme on s'aimerait en se sentant vieillir.
     Votre voix m'enlaçait comme une chère étreinte,
     Et votre cœur brûlait si tranquillement beau
     Qu'en ce moment j'aurais pu voir s'ouvrir sans crainte
     Les tortueux chemins qui vont vers le tombeau.[7]

The third volume, _Les Heures du Soir_, has wonderfully closed the
peaceful cycle with a series of poems, which no doubt have old age for
their motive, but which show no trace of lassitude in the artist. Summer
has turned to autumn, but how opulent and ripe this autumn is: the
golden fruits of memory hang down and glow in the reflection of the sun
that has been so well loved. Once again love passes with bright images:
he is changed and purified, but as masterful and as strong as on the
first day.

I love these little poems of Verhaeren's with a different and no less a
love than that I do his great and important lyric works. I have never
been able to understand why these poems--for as far as the iconoclastic
work is concerned, respect for tradition and fear of innovations may
have scared many people away--have not enjoyed a widespread popularity.
For never since the tenderly vibrating music of Verlaine's _La Bonne
Chanson_, never since the letters of the Brownings, has wedded happiness
been so marvellously celebrated as in these stanzas. Nowhere else has
love been spiritualised so nobly, with such crystal purity, nowhere else
has the synthesis of love and wedlock been more intrinsically fashioned.
It is with a quite especial love that I love these _poèmes francs et
doux_, for here behind the savage, ecstatic poet, the passionate and
strong poet of _Les Villes Tentaculaires_, another poet appears, the
simple, quiet, and modest poet, the gentle and kind poet, as we know him
in life. Here, on the other side of the poetic ecstasy, we have the
noble personality of Verhaeren, in whom we revere, not only a poetic
force, but a human perfection as well. By the luminous gate of these
frail poems goes the path to his own life.


[1] 'Le Paradis' (_Les Rythmes Souverains_).

[2] 'Hommage' (_Au Bord de la Route_).

[3] 'C'est la bonne heure où la lampe s'allume' (_Les Heures

[4] 'Avec mes sens, avec mon cœur et mon cerveau'. (_Les Heures

[5] 'Voici quinze ans déjà' (_Les Heures d'Après-midi_).

[6] 'Les baisers morts des défuntes années' (_Ibid._)

[7] 'Vous m'avez dit, tel soir' (_Les Heures d'Après-midi_).


     Je suis d'accord avec moi-même
     Et c'est assez.

Camille Lemonnier, the master of Verhaeren's youth, the friend of his
prime, at the banquet offered by Belgium to the poet of _Toute la
Flandre,_ spoke of their thirty years' friendship, and in a powerful
speech expressed a striking idea. 'The time will come,' he said, 'when a
man, if he is to appear with any credit before his fellow-men, will have
to prove that he has been a man himself'; and then he praised Verhaeren,
showing how completely his friend fulfilled this demand of the future,
how wholly he had been a man, with the perfection of a great work of
art. For whoever would create a great work of art, must himself be a
work of art. Whoever would influence his contemporaries, not only as an
artist, but morally as well, whoever would shape and raise our life to
his own pattern, gives us the right to ask what manner of life his own
has been, what the art of his life has been.

In Verhaeren's case, there stands behind the poetic work of art the
incomparable masterpiece of a great life, a wonderful, victorious
battle for this art. For only a living humanity that had achieved
harmony, not supple, ingenious intellectuality, could have arrived at
such insight into knowledge. Verhaeren was not intrinsically a
harmonious nature; he had, therefore, to make a double effort to
transform the chaos of his feeling into a world. He was a restless and
an intemperate man who had to tame himself; all the germs of dissipation
and debauch were in his nature, all the possibilities of prodigality and
self-destruction. Only a life secure in its aims, supported on a strong
foundation, could force harmony from the conflicting inclinations he
possessed; only a great humanity could compress such heterogeneous
forces to one force. At the end and at the beginning of Verhaeren's
works, at the end and at the beginning of his life, stands the same
great soundness of health. The boy grew out of the healthy Flemish
fields and was from his birth gifted with all the advantages of a robust
race--and above all with passion. In the years of his youth he gave free
rein to this passion for intemperance; he raged himself out in all
directions; was intemperate in study, in drinking, in company, in his
sexual life--he was intemperate in his art. He strained his strength to
its uttermost limit, but he pulled himself together at the last moment,
and returned to himself and the health that was his birthright. His
harmony of to-day is not a gift of fate, but a prize won from life. At
the critical moment Verhaeren had the power to turn round, in order,
like Antæus, to recover his strength in the well of rejuvenescence of
his native province and in the calm of family life.

Earth called him back, and his native province. Poetically and humanly,
his return to Belgium signifies his deliverance, the triumph of the art
of his life. Like the ship that he sings in _La Guirlande des Dunes_,
the ship that has crossed all the seas of the world, and, though half
dashed to pieces, ever comes sailing home again to Flanders, he himself
has anchored again in the harbour whence he set sail. His poetry has
ended where it began. In his last work he has celebrated the Flanders he
sang as a youth, no longer, however, as a provincial poet, but as a
national poet. Now he has ranged the past and the future along with the
present, now he has sung Flanders too, not in individual poems, but as
an entity in one poem. 'Verhaeren élargit de son propre souffle
l'horizon de la petite patrie, et, comme le fit Balzac de son ingrate et
douce Touraine, il annexe aux plaines flamandes le beau royaume humain
de son idéalité et de son art.'[1] He has returned to his own race, to
the bosom of Nature, to the eternal resources of health and life.

And now he lives at Caillou-qui-bique, a little hamlet in the Walloon
district. Three or four houses stand there, far away from the railway,
sequestered in the wood, and yet near the fields; and of these little
houses the smallest, with few rooms and a quiet garden, is his. Here he
leads the peaceful existence which is necessary for the growth of great
work; here he holds solitary communion with Nature, undistracted by the
voices of men and the hubbub of great towns; here he dreams his cosmic
visions. He has the same healthy and simple food as the country people
around him; he goes for early morning walks across the fields, talks to
the peasants and the tradesmen of the village as though they were his
equals; they tell him of their cares and petty transactions, and he
listens to them with that unfeigned interest which he has for every form
and variety of life. As he strides across the fields his great poems
come into being, his step as it grows quicker and quicker gives them
their rhythm, the wind gives them their melody, the distance their
outlook. Any one who has been his guest there will recognise many
features of the landscape in his poems, many a cottage, many a corner,
many people, the little arts of the artisan. But how fugitive, how small
everything appears there, everything that in the poem, thanks to the
fire of the vision, is glowing, strong, and radiant with the promise of
eternity! Verhaeren lives in his Walloon home in the autumn, but in
spring and early summer he flees from his illness to the sea--flees from
hay-fever. This illness of Verhaeren's has always seemed to me
symbolical of his art and of his vital feeling, for it is, if I may say
so, an elemental illness that, when pollen flies along the breeze, when
spring lies out in sultry heat across the fields, a man's eyes should be
filled with tears, his senses irritated, and his head oppressed. This
suffering with Nature, this feeling in oneself of the pain which goes
before the spring, this torment of the breaking forth of sap, of
pressure in the air, has always appeared to me a symbol of the elemental
and physical way that Verhaeren feels Nature. For it is as though
Nature, which gives him all ecstasies, all its own dark secrets, gives
him its own pain as well, as though its web reached into his blood, his
nerves, as though the identity between the poet and the world had here
attained a higher degree than in other men. In these painful first days
of spring he flees to the sea, whose singing winds and sounding waves he
loves. There he works rarely, for the restlessness of the sea makes him
restless himself; it gives him only dreams, no works.

But Verhaeren is no longer a primitive spirit. He is attached by too
many bonds to his contemporaries, too much in contact with all modern
striving and creation, to be able to confine himself wholly to a rural
existence. There is in him that wonderful double harmony of modern men
which lives in brotherly communion with Nature and yet clings to
Nature's supreme flower of culture. During the winter Verhaeren lives in
Paris, the most alive of all cities; for, though quiet is an inner need
of his, he looks on the unrest and noise of great cities as a precious
stimulant. Here he receives those impressions of noisy life which,
remembered in tranquillity, become poems. He loves to drift in the
many-voiced confusion of teeming streets, to receive inspiration from
pictures, books, and men. For years, in intimate cohesion with all that
is coming into existence and growing in strength, he has followed the
most delicate stirrings of the evolution of art, here too in the
happiest manner combining detachment with sympathy. For he does not live
really in Paris itself, but in Saint-Cloud, in a little flat which is
full of pictures and books, and usually of good friends as well. For
friendship, living, cheerful comradeship, has always been a necessity of
life to him, to him who has the faculty of giving himself so
whole-heartedly in friendship; and there is hardly one among the poets
of to-day who has so many friends, and so many of the best. Rodin,
Maeterlinck, Gide, Mockel, Vielé-Griffin, Signac, Rysselberghe, Rilke,
Romain Rolland, all these, who have done great things for our time, are
his close friends. With associates of this stamp he passes his life at
Paris, carefully avoiding what is called society, aloof from the salons
where fame is cultured and the transactions of art are negotiated. His
innermost being is simplicity. And all his life long this modesty has
made him indifferent to financial success, because he has never desired
to rise above the primitive necessities of his life, never known the
longing to dazzle and to be envied. While others, goaded by the success
of their acquaintances, have been thrown off their balance and have
worked themselves to death in fever, he has gone on his way calm and
unheeding. He has worked, and let his work grow slowly and organically.
And thus fame, which slowly but with irresistible sureness has grown to
his stature, has not disturbed him. It is a pleasure to see how he has
stood this last and greatest test, how he shoulders his fame stoutly,
with joy but without pride. To-day Belgium celebrates in him her
greatest poet. In France, where he was held an alien, he has forced
esteem. The greatest good has been done, however, by the fact that from
foreign races, from the whole of Europe and beyond it, from America, an
answer has come to his great reputation, that the little enmities of the
nations have called a halt before his work, and above all that it is the
younger generation who are to-day enlisted under the banner of his
enthusiasm. Inexhaustible has been his interest in young men; perhaps he
has welcomed and encouraged every beginner with only too much kindness.
For his delight in the art of others is inexhaustible; his infinite
feeling of identity makes him in the highest sense impartial and
enthusiastic, and it is a delight to see him stand in front of great
works and to learn enthusiasm from him.

This apparent contrast between the art of his poetry and the art of his
life is at first strange and surprising. For behind so passionate a poet
one would never suspect so quiet and kind a man. Only his face--which
has already allured so many painters and sculptors--speaks of passions
and ecstasies; that brow across which, under locks growing grey, the
deep lines graven by the crisis of his youth run like the furrows of a
field. The pendent moustache (like that of Nietzsche) lends his face
power and earnestness. The salient cheek-bones and sharply chiselled
lines betray his peasant extraction, which is perhaps still more
strongly accentuated by his gait, that hard, strikingly rhythmical,
bowed gait which reminds one of the plougher treading in hard toil and
in a bent posture over newly turned turf, his gait whose rhythm reminds
one again and again of his poetry. But goodness shines in his eyes,
which--_couleur de mer_--as though new-born after all the lassitude of
the years of fever, are bright and fresh with life; there is goodness,
too, in the hearty spontaneity of his gestures. In his face the first
impression is strength; the second, that this strength is tempered with
kindness. Like every noble face, it is, when translated into sculpture,
the idea of his life.

Some day many people will speak of Verhaeren's art; many love it to-day
already. But I believe that nobody will be able to love the poet in the
same degree as many to-day love the art of his life, this unique
personality, as people love something that can be lost and never
restored. If one at first seems to find a discord between the modesty,
gentleness, and heartiness of his humanity, and the wildness, heroism,
and hardness of his art, one at last discovers their _unity in
experience, in feeling_. When one closes the door after a conversation
with him, or one of his books after the last page, the prevailing
impression is the same: enhanced joy in life, enthusiasm, confidence in
the world, an intensified feeling of pleasure which shows life in purer,
kindlier, and more magnificent forms. This idealising effect of life
goes out equally strong from his person and from his work; every sort of
contact with him, with the poet, with the man, seems to enrich life, and
teaches one to apply to him in his turn the appreciation he always so
readily had for all the gifts of life--gratitude ever renewed and
boundlessly intensified in passion.


[1] Vielé-Griffin, biographical note to Mockel's _Verhaeren._


     Futur, vous m'exaltez comme autrefois mon Dieu!
                                   É.V., 'La Prière.'

The last force of everybody, the force which finally decides the effect,
which alone and first of all is able to strain his work or his activity
to the highest possibility, is the feeling of responsibility. To be
responsible, and to feel that one is responsible, is equivalent to
looking at one's whole life as a vast debt, which one is bound to strive
with all one's strength to pay off; is equivalent to surveying one's
momentary task on earth in the whole range of its significance,
importance, and periphery, in order then to raise one's own inherent
possibilities and capacities to their most complete mastery. For most
people this earthly task is outwardly restricted in an office, in a
profession, in the fixed round of some activity. With an artist, on the
other hand, it is what one might call an infinite dimension which can
never be attained; his task is therefore an unlimited, an eternal
longing, a longing that never weakens. Since his duty can really only be
to express himself with the greatest possible perfection, this
responsibility coincides with the demand that he should bring his life,
and with his life his talent, to the highest perfection, that he should,
in Goethe's sense, 'expand his narrow existence to eternity.' The artist
is responsible for his talent, because it is his task to express it. Now
the higher the idea of art is understood, the more art feels its task to
be the task of bringing the life of the universe into harmony, so much
the more must the feeling of responsibility be intensified in a creative

Now, of all the poets of our day Verhaeren is the one who has felt this
feeling of responsibility most strongly. To write poetry is for him to
express not himself only, but the striving and straining of the whole
period as well, the fearful torment and the happiness that are in the
birth of the new things. Just because his work comprises all the present
and aims at expressing it in its entity, he feels himself responsible to
the future. For him a true poet must visualise the whole psychic care of
his time. For when later generations--in the same manner as they will
question monuments concerning our art, pictures concerning our painters,
social forms concerning our philosophers--ask of the verses and the
works of our contemporaries the question, What was your hope, your
feeling, the sum of your interpretation? how did you feel cities and
men, things and gods?--shall we be able to answer them? This is the
inner question of Verhaeren's artistic responsibility. _And this
feeling of responsibility has made his work great_. Most of the poets of
our day have been unconcerned with reality. Some of them strike up a
dancing measure, rouse and amuse people lounging in theatres; others
again tell of their own sorrow, ask for pity and compassion, they who
have never felt for others. Verhaeren, however, heedless of the approval
or disapproval of our time, turns his face towards the generations to

     Celui qui me lira dans les siècles, un soir,
     Troublant mes vers, sous leur sommeil ou sous leur cendre,
     Et ranimant leur sens lointain pour mieux comprendre
     Comment ceux d'aujourd'hui s'étaient armés d'espoir,
     Qu'il sache, avec quel violent élan, ma joie
     S'est, à travers les cris, les révoltes, les pleurs,
     Ruée au combat fier et mâle des douleurs,
     Pour en tirer l'amour, comme on conquiert sa proie.[1]

It was, in the last instance, this magnificent feeling of responsibility
which did not permit him to pass by any manifestation of our present
time without observing and appreciating it, for he knows that later
generations will ask the question how we sensed the new thing, which to
them is a possession and a matter of course, when it was still strange
and almost hostile. His work is the answer. The true poet of to-day, in
Verhaeren's eyes, must show forth the torment and the trouble of the
whole psychic transition, the painful discovery of the new beauty in the
new things, the revolt, the crisis, the struggles it costs to
understand all this, to adapt ourselves to it, and in the end to love
it. Verhaeren has attempted to express our whole time in its earthly,
its material, its psychic form. His verses lyrically represent Europe at
the turning of the century, us and our time; they consciously
contemplate the whole circuit of the things of life: _they write a lyric
encyclopædia of our time, the intellectual atmosphere of Europe at the
turning of the twentieth century._

The whole of Europe speaks with his voice, speaks with a voice that
reaches beyond our time; and already from the whole of Europe comes the
answer. In Belgium Verhaeren is above all the national poet, the poet of
heaths, cities, dunes, and of the Flemish past, the great renewer of the
national pride. But he stands too near his fellow-countrymen to be
measured at his full height there. And in France, too, very few
appreciate him at his true value. Most people regard him there in his
literary aspect only and as a symbolist and decadent, an innovator of
verse, an audacious and gifted revolutionary. But very few perceive the
new and important work that is built up in his verses, very few
comprehend the entity and the logical character of his cosmic
philosophy. Nevertheless, his influence is already tangible. The new
rhythm he has created can be recognised in many poets; and such a gifted
disciple as Jules Romains has even brought his idea of the feeling of
cities to new impressiveness. Best of all, however, he is understood by
those Frenchmen who stand in a mystic communion with all that is great
and urgent abroad; who feel an ethical need, a longing for an inner
transmutation of values, for a re-moulding of races, for cosmopolitanism
and a union of the nations; so, above all, Léon Bazalgette, who revealed
Walt Whitman, the prophet of all strong and conscious reality in art, to
France. Most joyfully of all, however, the answer rings from those
countries which are themselves involved in deep-seated social and
ethical crises, those countries where the need of religion is a vital
instinct, which are eternally hungry for God, above all from Russia and
Germany. In Russia the poet of _Les Villes Tentaculaires_ is celebrated
as he is nowhere else. As the poet of social innovations he is read in
the Russian universities, and in the circles of the intellectuals he is
regarded as the spiritual pioneer of our time. Brjussow, the
distinguished young poet, has translated him, and afforded him the
possibility of popularity. In other Slavonic countries, too, his work is
beginning to spread.

Verhaeren's success, one may well say triumph, has been strongest and
most impressive in Germany; here it has been unexpectedly intensive even
to us who have worked for it. A few years have sufficed to make him as
popular here I as any native poet, and the most beautiful feature of
his success is this, that people are already forgetting to look upon him
as a foreigner. Verhaeren is to-day part and parcel of German culture;
and much of our contemporary lyric poetry, its welcome turning to
optimism for example, would be unthinkable but for his work and
influence. Countless are the essays devoted to him, the recitations in
which our best elocutionists--Kainz, Moissi, Kayssler, Heine, Wiecke,
Durieux, Rosen, Gregori--have taken part; none of these interpreters,
however, were as enthusiastically applauded as was Verhaeren himself on
his _tournée_ in Germany, which was a great experience no less for him
than for our public, because he gladly felt that his work was now rooted
for ever in German soil. In Scandinavia, where Johannes V. Jensen in his
essays unconsciously transcribed Verhaeren's lyric work, Ellen Key, the
inspired prophetess of the feeling of life, has hailed him as she has
hailed no other, and Georg Brandes, who crowns poets, has welcomed him
with loud acclaim. Incessantly, in an irresistible, sure ascent,
Verhaeren's fame grows. And above all, his poetry is no longer regarded
as an individual thing, but as a work, as a cosmic philosophy, as an
answer to the questions of our time, as the strongest and most beautiful
enrichment of our vital feeling. Wherever people are tired of pessimism,
tired of confused mysticism, and tired of monistic shallowness; wherever
a longing stirs for a pure idealistic form of contemplation, for a new
reconciliation between our new realities and the old reverence for
eternal secrets, for the secularisation of the divine, his name stands
in the front rank. An answer comes from every direction, not because his
work was a question, but because it was in itself an answer to the
unconscious demand for a new community, a demand which is being made by
men of all nations everywhere to-day.

But all this is only a beginning. Works like his, which are not
paradoxical enough, not dazzling enough, to produce sudden ecstasies and
literary fashions; which, by the mere fact that they have themselves
grown organically into existence, can only grow organically, but for
that reason irresistibly, in their influence; only lay hold of the
masses slowly. Only later generations will enjoy the fruit which we,
with renewed admiration, have seen ripening from the most modest of
blossoms. But already a ring of men of all nations are joining hands, a
ring of men who perceive a new centre of spirituality in Verhaeren. And
we, the few who have wholly surrendered ourselves to his work, must
appreciate it with that feeling only which he himself has taught us as
the highest feeling of life--with enthusiasm, with gratitude ever
renewed, and with joyful admiration. For to whom in our days should one
offer more abundantly and stormily this new vital doctrine of enthusiasm
as the happiest feeling than to Verhaeren, to him who was the first to
wrest it in the bitterest struggles from the depths of our time, who was
the first to shape it in the material of art, the first to raise it to
the eternal law of life?


[1] 'Un Soir' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_).


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    ACTORS, 131, 133, 174-175.
    Admiration, 12, 29, 30, 46, 50,
      101, 172, 183, 217 ff., 259.
    Aeroplanes, 4, 164, 209.
    Æsthetics, 10, 85, 94, 115, 116,
      151, 205.
    Africa, 114.
    Agrarianism, 9, 101, 187.
    'À la Gloire du Vent,' 200.
    Alcohol, 15.
    Alexandrine, the, 32, 41, 48, 74,
      144, 147 ff., 163, 170.
    _Almanack_, 197.
    _Also Sprach Zarathustra_,134.
    America, 15, 24, 108, 113, 115,
     120, 131-132, 135, 231, 250.
    Artisans, 16, 131, 194, 211, 235,
    Asceticism, 16, 43, 162, 168.
    _Au Bord de la Route_, 57-60, 62,
     63, 68, 111, 149, 236.
    'Au Bord du Quai,' 202.
    Auerbach, Berthold, 38.
    'Aujourd'hui,' 4.
    'Autour de ma Maison,' 217, 226.
    'Aux Moines,' 43, 49, 51.

    BAKST, LÉON, 174.
    Ballads, old German, 146, 159.
    Balzac, Honoré de, 246.
    Banville, Théodore de, 143.
    Baudelaire, Charles, 59, 120, 142.
    Bayreuth, 92.
    Bazalgette, Léon, 232, 238, 257.
    Beauty, 37-38, 45, 49-52, 83,
     96 ff., 104, 199, 206, 207, 221,
     230, 231, 240.
    --, the new, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 83,
     96 ff., 100, 104, 105, 170-172,
     222, 255.
    _Béguinages_, 22, 44.
    Belfries, 39, 50, 157.
    Belgian art, 21-22, 45.
    --life, 45.
    --literature, 19, 25-26, 37-38.
    --race, the, 17 ff., 23-24.
    Belgium, 13 ff., 256.
    Berlin, 87, 91, 113.
    Bersaucourt, Albert de, 135.
    Bornhem, 45.
    Brandes, Georg, 258.
    Breughel, 40.
    Brezina, Otokar, 207.
    Brjussow, Valerius, 257.
    Brownings, the, 243.
    Bruges, 21, 39, 43.
    Brussels, 14, 32, 93.

    CAILLOU-QUI-BIQUE, 30, 246.
    Carducci, Giosuè, 187, 193.
    Carlyle, Thomas, 86.
    'Celle des Voyages,' 141.
    'Celui de la Fatigue,' 66.
    'Celui du Savoir,' 76.
    Chance, 104, 110, 111, 204, 212.
    'Charles le Téméraire,' 13.
    Charles v., 25.
    Chiaroscuro, 46, 190.
    Chimay, 46.
    Christ, 68, 70, 184, 211.
    Christianity, 49, 51.
    Cities, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13-14, 29-30,
      55, 75-77, 83, 89 ff., 94 ff.,
      101 ff., 107, 109, 111-113, 116-118,
      125-126, 131, 140, 165-167,
      181, 191, 197, 222, 231, 238,
      247, 249, 257.
    Classicism, 7, 52, 82, 84, 100,
    160, 162, 172, 190.
    Claus, Émile, 22.
    Cloisters, 9, 22, 25, 26, 43-46, 147,
    Colmar, 92.
    Comédie Française, the, 149.
    Concentration, 188, 194.
    Congo, the, 17.
    Conservatives, the, 104.
    Contemporary feeling, 5 ff., 81-90,
      101 ff., 112, 115, 118, 148,
      182, 234, 248, 254 ff.
    Coppée, François, 143.
    _Cosmic Enthusiasm_, 220.
    Cosmic feeling, 8, 69-70, 74-75,
      81 ff., 112-113, 126, 134, 152,
      179-185, 186, 188, 192, 198 ff.,
      219, 226, 228, 231, 256, 258.
    --law, 198, 202-203.
    --pain, 68.
    Cosmopolitanism, 22, 257.
    Cosmos, the, 8.
    Coster, Charles de, 19, 23, 167,
    Country, the, 9, 15, 26, 29, 30,
      101 ff., 107, 245, 247, 248.
    Courtrai, 21.
    Criticism, 33-34, 187, 218.
    Crommelynck, Fernand, 22.
    Crowd, the, 104 ff., 117, 118, 121,
      122, 125-127, 129, 130, 132,
      134-136, 139, 140, 148, 152.

    Death, 60, 61, 63, 65, 69, 242.
    Decadence, 18.
    Decadents, the, 143, 256.
    Declamation (_see_ Recitation).
    Defregger, Franz, 38.
    Dehmel, Richard, 75-76, 187, 191,
      229, 234.
    Deman, Edmond, 32.
    Democracy, 9, 77, 81 ff., 108, 109,
      111, 114, 197, 206.
    Demolder, Eugène, 22.
    Déroulède, Paul, 135.
    Deutsches Volkstheater, Vienna, 174.
    Dialogue, 129.

    Disease, 55 ff., 102, 204, 209.
    Dithyramb, the, 73, 161.
    Divinity (_see_ God).
    Dixmude, 44.
    Dostoieffsky, F.M., 63, 166.
    Drama, the, 150, 151, 161 ff.,
      194, 235.
    Dyck, Ernest van, 32.

    _Ecce Homo!_ 63, 66, 85-86, 119,

    Ecstasy, 24, 61, 66, 75, 76, 82,
      89, 90, 92, 94, 121, 128, 133,
      136, 137, 139, 152, 165-167,
      169, 173, 183, 184, 187, 189,
      209, 213, 216, 217, 220, 221,
      223, 225-229, 231, 232, 234,
      235, 237-239, 241, 243, 248,
      251, 259.
    Edwards, Osman, 174.
    Eekhoud, Georges, 22.
    Egoism (_see_ Selfishness).
    Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 140.
    Emigrants, 9, 102-103, 187.
    Energy, 50, 88 ff., 92, 95, 96, 99,
      105, 111, 114, 116, 117, 121,
      132, 182, 198, 199, 218, 221,
    Engineering, 4, 5, 9, 82.
    England, 13, 55, 63, 64, 90, 92,
      108, 113, 114.
    Enthusiasm, 12, 30, 89, 111, 132,
      138, 153, 161-164, 168, 172-174,
      179, 183, 184, 187, 188, 193,
      194, 198, 207, 209, 210, 215 ff,
      220-222, 225-227, 232, 234,
      250, 252, 259.
    Epic, the, 19, 23, 150, 151, 161.
    Eroticism, 167,172-173, 234, 235,
      237, 240.
    Ethics, 6, 115, 182, 183, 187,
      206, 215 ff., 216.
    Europe, 9, 13, 20, 23, 101, 114,
      201, 231, 250, 253 ff.
    European consciousness, 114.
    --feeling, 22.
    --race, the, 114-115.
    --the New, 9.
    Evolution, 3 ff., 10, 82, 105, 142,
      180, 195-197, 213, 216, 218,
      229, 249.
    Excess, 15, 16, 24, 31, 40-41, 44,
      61, 121, 139, 232, 245.
    Exchanges, 90, 98, 99, 155.
    Exultation, 24, 44, 91, 130, 133.
    Eycks, van, the, 43.

    FACTORIES, 89, 97, 100, 102, 155.
    Faith, 31, 44, 46, 50, 67, 69, 95,
      104, 167, 184, 196, 208-210,
      212, 227.
    Fate, 62, 203, 212, 213.
    Faust, 72, 209.
    Fellowship, 73, 76, 94, 223, 227, 249.
    Fervour (_see_ Enthusiasm).
    Flanders, 15, 19, 22, 23, 27, 30,
      33, 36, 39, 40, 43, 44, 46, 51,
      168, 197, 246, 246, 256.
    Flemings, the, 14, 15, 43.
    Flemish language, the, 154, 155.
    'Fleur Fatale,' 63, 65.
    Florence, 52, 92, 191.
    Force, 232, 253.
    Forth Bridge, the, 87.
    France, 13, 22, 134, 250, 256.
    Future, the, 8, 10, 14, 36, 51, 53,
      89, 104, 115, 167, 180, 182, 201,
      204, 211, 227, 231, 232, 244,
      246, 253-255.

    GAIETY THEATRE, Manchester, 174.
    Gauchez, Maurice, 154.
    Genius, men of, 18.
    Genre-pictures, 40.
    George, Stefan, 187.
    Germany, 19, 55, 91, 92, 174, 257, 258.
    Ghent, 25, 213.
    Gide, Andre', 249.
    Glesener, Edmond, 22.
    God, 6, 7, 47-48, 68, 95, 104, 105,
      109-111, 165, 182, 184, 185,
      199, 203-205, 208, 210, 212-215,
      222, 259.
    Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, 70,
      71, 72,139, 158, 160, 193, 197,
    Goodness, 72, 251.
    Gothic art, 45.
    Greece, 82, 86, 165.
    Greeks, the, 52, 84, 172, 190.
    Grünewald, Mathias, 92.
    Gueux, the, 20,
    'Guillaume de Juliers,' 228.
    Guyau, Jean-Marie, 8.

    HAMBURG, 92.
    Handiwork, 28, 82, 86, 93, 211.
    Harmony, 23, 36, 70, 84, 85, 118,
      125, 127, 130, 146, 149, 160,
      167, 169, 170, 181, 183, 184,
      213, 216, 245, 254.
    Hay fever, 29, 247-248.
    Health, 16-18, 67, 72, 73, 231,
      245, 246, 251.
    _Hélène de Sparte_,162, 165, 169-172,
    Heymans, Joseph, 22.
    Holland, 13.
    Homer, 128.
    'Hommage,' 236.
    Horniman, Miss, 174.
    Hugo, Victor, 10-11, 32, 120, 134-135,
      138, 142-143, 145, 147, 160.

    Humility, 221, 233, 240.
    Huysmans, Joris Karl, 22.

    IDENTITY, 8, 77, 96, 126, 184, 205,
      223, 225, 228, 230, 248, 250.
    Iliad, the, 19.
    Impressionists, the, 9, 86, 222, 249.
    India, 109, 114.
    Individual, the, 110, 111, 118.
    Industrialism, 9, 77, 81 ff., 101,
      125, 131, 187, 205-206.
    Inquisition, the, 16, 169.
    'Insatiablement,' 61.
    Instinct, 98, 100, 113, 229, 236.
    Intemperance (_see_ Excess).
    Intensification, 20, 24, 30, 49, 64,
      66, 131, 137, 152, 162, 164, 190,
      200-202, 207, 220, 225, 229,
      241, 252, 254.
    Intoxication, 20, 22, 24, 64, 91,
      189, 199, 232.
    Italy, 13, 86, 92, 108, 114, 191.

    Jesuits, the, 25-26.
    Jesus, 68, 70.
    Jordaens, Jakob, 15, 40, 41.
    Joy, 61, 66, 74, 106, 133, 184, 214,
      217, 228, 230-233, 240.

    KAHN, GUSTAVE, 144.
    Kainz, Josef, 258.
    Kermesses, 15, 31, 40, 43.
    Key, Ellen, 258.
    Khnopff, Fernand, 21, 45.
    Klinger, Max, 128.
    Knowledge, 179, 180, 216, 220-222,
      225, 227, 229, 232-234, 236, 245.
    Künstlertheater, Munich, 174.

    'LA BARQUE,' 58.
    'Là-has,' 62.
    Labour Party, Belgian, 93.
    'La Bourse,' 98.
    'La Conquête' (_La Multiple Splendeur_),
      109, 114, 199.
    'La Conquête' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_),
      115, 203, 206.
    'L'Action,' 128, 209, 220.
    'La Ferveur,' 204, 208, 219, 224-225, 232.
    'La Folie,' 212.
    'La Forêt,' 77.
    Laforgue, Jules, 144.
    'La Foule,' 3, 76, 95, 107, 112,
      152, 185.
    _La Guirlande des Dunes_, 246.
    'La Joie,' 55, 66, 226, 231.
    'La Louange du Corps humain,' 227.
    Lamartine, A.M.L. de, 32, 145.
    'L'Âme de la Ville,' 95, 97, 105.
    'La Mort,' 211.
    'La Morte,' 64.
    'L'Amour,' 68.
    _La Multiple Splendeur_, 109, 114,
      122, 126, 182, 183, 199, 200,
      204, 208, 209, 210, 211, 217,
      219, 221, 223, 224-225, 226,
      227, 228, 231, 232, 233.
    'La Plaine,' 103.
    'La Pluie,' 71.
    'La Prière,' 253.
    'La Recherche,' 207, 211.
    'L'Art,' 11.
    'La Science,' 209, 210.
    Latin races, the, 19.
    'L'Attente,' 197, 211, 212.
    'L'Aventurier,' 71.
    'La Vie,' 215, 219, 228.
    'La Ville,' 97.
    'L'Eau,' 201-202.
    'Le Bazar,' 98, 99.
    'Le Capitaine,' 116.
    Le Cardonnel, Georges, 215-216.
    _Le Cloître_, 49, 162, 165-166, 168,
      172, 174.
    'Le Départ,' 103.
    'Le Forgeron,' 70, 73.
    'Le Gel,' 58.
    Lemonnier, Camille, 20-21, 33, 37, 244.
    'Le Mont,' 81.
    'L'En-Avant,' 125, 226.
    'Le Paradis,' 213, 236.
    'Le Passeur d'Eau,' 71.
    'Le Port,' 103.
    Lerberghe, Charles van, 15, 22, 25, 26.
    'Le Roc,' 61, 64, 65.
    'L'Erreur,' 208.
    _Les Apparus dans mes Chemins_, 66, 72, 73, 76.
    _Les Aubes_, 103, 109, 115, 162, 166-167.
    _Les Blés Mouvants_, 36, 229.
    'Les Cultes,' 203.
    _Les Débâcles_, 57, 60, 61, 63, 65.
    _Les Campagnes Hallucinées_, 97,
      101 ff., 162, 197.
    _Les Flamandes_, 33, 36 ff., 49, 45,
      197, 229.
    _Les Flambeaux Noirs_, 67, 61, 64, 65.
    _Les Forces Tumultueuses_, 11, 17,
      115, 116, 123, 125, 132, 137,
      161, 182, 183, 186, 203, 204,
      206, 208, 209, 210, 212, 220,
      222, 226, 229, 233, 255.
    _Les Héros_, 4, 228.
    _Les Heures Claires_, 237.
    _Les Heures d'Après-midi_, 234, 237,
      239, 240, 241, 241, 242.
    _Les Heures du Soir_, 237, 242.
    'Les Heures où l'on crée,' 123.
    'Les Mages,' 233.
    _Les Moines_, 43 ff., 55, 58, 145,
      162, 165, 197, 208.
    'Les Nombres,' 65.
    'Le Sonneur,' 71, 187.
    'Les Pêcheurs,' 71.
    'Les Penseurs,' 209, 210.
    _Les Petites Légendes_, 197.
    'Les Promeneuses,' 98.
    'Les Rêves,' 215, 221.
    _Les Rythmes Souverains_, 182, 183,
      213, 229, 236, 253.
    'Les Saintes,' 72, 73.
    _Les Soirs_,57, 58, 60, 61.
    'Les Spectacles,' 98, 179.
    _Les Tendresses Premières_, 4, 25, 27.
    _Les Vignes de ma Muraille_, 141.
    'Les Vieux Maîtres,' 39.
    _Les Villages Illusoires_, 70-71, 73, 162, 187.
    'Les Villes,' 91, 204.
    _Les Villes Tentaculaires_, 91 ff.,
      103, 104, 105, 115, 158, 162,
      166, 197, 205, 207, 211, 257.
    _Les Visages de la Vie_ ,3, 55, 66,
      76, 77, 95, 107, 112, 152, 182,
      183, 185, 199, 201-202, 209,
      211, 212, 220.
    'L'Étal,' 99.
    'Le Tribun,' 132.
    'Le Verbe,' 117, 122, 126.
    'L'Heure Mauvaise,' 57, 59, 149.
    'L'Impossible,' 137, 220, 222.
    Locomotives, 124, 125.
    London, 55, 63, 90, 92, 108, 113, 114.
    Louvain, 31.
    Love, 7, 29, 66, 72, 86, 170-173,
      197, 221, 223-224, 230, 234 ff.

    MACHINERY, 74, 81-82, 84 ff.,
      155, 206, 211.
    Madness, 57, 63 ff., 69, 102.
    Maeterlinck, Maurice, 15, 22, 25,
      26, 45, 143, 213, 249.
    _Maison du Peuple, La_, 93.
    Mallarmé, Stéphane, 144.
    Manchester, 174.
    'Ma Race,' 17, 35.
    Marriage, 94, 197, 237 ff., 243.
    Martyrs, 19, 207.
    'Méditation,' 208.
    Mendès, Catulle, 143.
    Merrill, Stuart, 143.
    Messel, Alfred, 87.
    Metaphors, 46, 136, 137, 141,
      156, 157, 160.
    Metaphysics, 24, 184, 199, 203,
      215, 216, 220, 236.
    Meunier, Constantin, 17, 22, 86.
    Minne, Georges, 21, 45.
    Mockel, Albert, 22, 48, 139, 143,
    157, 189, 246, 249.
    Monasteries (_see_ Cloisters).
    Monastery of Bornhem, 45.
    --of Forges, 46.
    Monet, Claude, 86.
    Money, 95, 98-99, 102, 103, 114 201.
    Monistic philosophy, 202, 258.
    Monks, 44, 45 ff., 235.
    Mont, Pol de, 14.
    Morality, 6, 16, 40, 51, 88, 167,
      182, 205, 216, 217, 219, 224.
    Moréas, Jean, 143.
    Motion, 121, 141, 217.
    Motor-cars, 14, 87, 124.
    'Mourir,' 60.
    Multitude (_see_ Crowd).
    Munich, 19, 92, 174.
    Music halls, 98.
    Mysticism, 214, 258.
    Mystics, the, 18, 207.
    Mythology, 51, 172, 182, 184.

    NATURALISM, 37-38, 41.
    Nature, 3, 20, 28, 29, 55, 94, 96,
      99, 105, 112, 123, 125, 158, 172,
      195, 200-205, 212, 213, 239,
      246, 247, 248.
    Necessary, the, is the beautiful,
      7, 9, 10, 86, 218.
    Neologisms, 154, 160.
    Neurasthenia, 56 ff., 118.
    New age, the, 3 ff., 105, 206-207, 211.
    --European, the, 9.
    New York, 108.
    Nietzsche, Friedrich, 10, 68, 66,
      85-86, 115, 119, 133, 134, 181,
      218, 229, 251.

    Onomatopœia, 149.
    Oppidomagnum, 103, 108, 166-167,
    Optimism, 184, 207, 208, 210, 258.
    Organisation, 6, 88, 93, 98, 101,
      107, 114, 116, 118-119.
    Orgies, 15, 39, 40, 41.
    Oxford, 25.

    PAN, 51, 184.
    Pan-American, the, 115.
    Pan-European, the, 115.
    Pantheism, 24, 77, 215, 225, 226.
    Paradise, 212-213.
    Paris, 55, 87, 93, 108, 113, 114,
      174, 248-249.
    Parnassian poetry, 48, 145, 146.
    Paroxysm, 63, 64, 89, 188.
    Passion, 48, 67, 77, 92, 97, 99,
      109, 110, 117, 118, 120-123,
      128-131, 133, 135, 136, 147,
      159, 163-165, 168-170, 173, 174,
      179, 181, 189, 194, 212, 215,
      217, 227-229, 231, 232, 235,
      238, 241, 245, 251, 252.
    Past, the, 7, 10, 14, 26, 36, 46,
      50-53, 69, 82, 85 ff., 94, 100,
      104, 105, 109, 167, 180, 182,
      207, 231, 246.
    Peasants, 16, 20-21, 29, 102-103,
      146-147, 247, 251.
    Pessimism, 43, 68, 258.
    Petöfi, Alexander, 132.
    Philip II., 16, 19,167-169.
    _Philippe II._, 92,162, 165, 167-169, 174.
    Philosophy, 9, 10, 151, 179, 182,
      184, 187, 194, 216, 236, 256, 258.
    Picard, Edmond, 33.
    Poetry, the new, 6, 7, 8, 73, 77,
      83 ff., 109, 111-113, 116, 119,
      126, 132, 133, 137, 139, 155,
      205-206, 216, 222.
    Poets, the, 50-51, 82, 208-209.
    --of the old school, 6, 7, 12,
      51-52, 81 ff., 109, 111-112, 125,
      129-131, 188, 190, 192, 193,
      206, 255.
    Pol de Mont, 14.
    Poverty, 14, 16, 94, 102-103.
    Prague, 91.
    Present, the, 3 ff., 10, 51, 52,
      105, 115, 167, 179-180, 182,
      201, 246, 254, 255, 256.
    Pride, 23, 70, 72, 219, 221, 224,
      230, 231, 256.
    Progress, 3-5, 7, 104, 209.
    Prostitutes, 98, 99, 102.
    Protestantism, 14.
    Pseudoanæsthesia, 156.
    Psychology, 47, 113, 180.
    Puritanism, 16.

    Realism, 37-38, 199.
    Reality, 6, 7, 37-38, 50-52, 70,
      81, 85-86, 111, 114, 115, 131,
      153, 155, 167, 179, 183, 185,
      192, 196, 198, 199, 201, 204,
      206, 255, 259.
    Recitation, 122-123, 128 ff., 136,
      139, 149, 157.
    Reinhardt, Max, 174.
    Religion, 6, 9, 24, 44, 47, 50, 64,
      67,  105,  182-184, 196, 205, 208,
      211, 238, 240, 257.
    --, a new, 6, 20, 50, 88, 104.
    Rembrandt, 11, 43, 46, 187.
    _Rembrandt_, 2, 11.
    Renan, Ernest, 85.
    Renunciation, 19, 27, 44, 52.
    Responsibility, 253 ff.
    Revolt, 16, 30, 42, 62, 99, 117,
      122, 142-146, 160, 169, 195,
      229, 256.
    Rhapsodists, 128 ff.
    Rhetoricians, 134.
    Rhyme, 144, 153, 155.
    Rhythm, 24, 41, 74, 94, 95, 97,
      105, 116, 118 ff., 137, 141,
      146 ff., 153, 157, 163, 173, 174,
      193, 194, 201, 238, 247, 251, 256.
    --of life, the, 5, 7, 8, 11, 117 ff.
    Rilke, Rainer Maria, 154, 187, 249.
    _Ring, The_, 37.
    Rodenbach, Georges, 21, 25, 26, 39.
    Rodin, Auguste, 135, 249.
    Rolland, Romain, 249,
    Romains, Jules, 256-257.
    Roman Catholicism, 14, 16, 24,
      26, 31, 44, 46, 67, 69, 162, 165-166,
      168-169, 184.
    Romanticism, 46.
    Romanticists, the, 50, 147.
    Rome, 108, 114.
    Rops, Félicien, 22.
    Rubens, Peter Paul, 20, 40, 41,
      43, 58.
    Rubinstein, Ida, 174.
    Ruskin, John, 82.
    Russia, 257.
    Russians, the, 43.
    Rysselberghe, Théo van, 22, 249.

    ST. AMAND, 27-
    Saint-Cloud, 249.
    'Saint Georges,' 72, 73.
    Sainte-Barbe, College of, 25-26, 30, 213.
    St. Petersburg, 114.
    Saints, 19, 210, 212.
    'S'amoindrir,' 60.
    Scandinavia, 18, 258.
    Scheldt, the, 27, 28.
    Schiller, Friedrich, 134,158, 160, 168.
    Schlaf, Johannes, 65.
    Scholars, 209, 210.
    Science, 6, 9, 18, 64, 77, 82, 85,
      108, 155, 205-209, 222.
    Sea, the, 13, 15, 30, 103, 201,
      202, 247, 248.
    Selfishness, 72, 223.
    Sensations, 6-9, 65,104, 120, 125,
      130, 164, 188, 189, 190, 192,
      202, 203, 225, 240.
    Sensuality, 15, 16, 24, 40, 41, 44,
      98, 162, 170-172, 241, 245.
    Sex, 234 ff.
    Shakespeare, William, 10, 163.
    Signac, Paul, 249.
    Silence, 44-46, 117, 122, 130, 214, 239
    'Si Morne,' 61.
    Social feeling, 83, 110.
    --problem, the, 8, 9, 101 ff., 187.
    Socialism, 9, 24, 89, 93, 224.
    Society, 249.
    Solitude, 44, 55, 57, 69, 70, 76,
      81, 83, 86, 91, 112, 237.
    Sonnets, 41, 46.
    Soul, 43, 89, 141, 182, 225, 237.
    'Sous les Prétoriens,' 111.
    Spain, 16, 55, 92, 162, 165, 191.
    Spaniards, the, 16.
    Stappen, van der, 22.
    Stevens, Alfred, 22.
    Strauss, David, 50.
    Suicide, 62, 64, 65.
    Superman, the, 115.
    Symbolism, 71, 99, 143 ff.
    Symbolists, the, 143 ff., 256.
    Symbols, 7, 19,21, 45, 47, 51, 70,
      71, 72, 92, 104, 107, 144, 163,
      165, 168, 195, 201, 202, 213,
      218, 237, 247, 248.
    Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 160.

    TAMERLAINE, 108.
    Teutonic elements, 14, 18, 24, 39,
      146, 159, 194, 225.
    Thames, the, 64.
    _Thyl Ulenspiegel_, 19, 167, 168.
    Toledo, 191.
    Tolstoy, Leo, 82.
    Torpedo-boats, 87.
    _Toute la Flandre_, 4, 23, 25, 27,
      168, 197, 244, 246.
    Town (_see_ City).
    Tradition, 26, 27, 85, 92, 145, 146, 243.
    Travel, 55, 91-92, 124, 201.
    'Truandailies,' 40.
    Truth, 37-38.
    Turner, J.M.W., 152.

    UNITY, 23, 108, 113, 114, 199,
      202, 203, 211, 215 ff., 225, 252.
    Université Libre, Brussels, 93.
    Unknown, the, 3, 6, 69, 204, 207,
      212, 220, 224.
    'Un Matin,' 229.
    'Un Soir ' (_Au Bord de la Route_), 63, 68.
    'Un Soir' (_Les Forces Tumultueuses_), 183, 186, 255.
    Utopia, 109, 115, 167, 199.

    Vellay, Charles, 215-216.
    Venice, 13.

    Verhaeren, Émile, born at St. Amand on the
    Scheldt, 1855, 27; his boyhood, 27-28; educated at
    the College of Sainte-Barbe in Ghent, 25-26;
    studies jurisprudence at Louvain, 31; called to the
    bar in Brussels, 32; his first verses, 32, 33, 145
    ff.; publication of _Les Flamandes,_ 33 ff.;
    resides for three weeks in the monastery of
    Forges, 46; publication of _Les Moines_, 45 ff.;
    his health breaks down, 55 ff., 237; his illness
    is described in _Les Soirs, Les Débâcles, Les
    Flambeaux Noirs,_ and _Au Bord de la Route_, 57
    ff.; his travels, 55, 91-92, 124; he is obsessed
    by the atmosphere of London, 55; his recovery is
    symbolised in some of the poems of _Les Villages
    Illusoires_, 70-71; his marriage, 94, 237 ff., 243;
    his connection with the Labour Party and
    Socialism, 89, 93-94; the Flemish element in his
    style, 154-155; his technique, 141 ff.; stage
    performances of his dramas, 164, 174-175; how he
    recites his poetry, 122-123; he resides at
    Caillou-qui-bique and Saint-Cloud, 30, 93, 246,
    248-249; his personal appearance, 67, 251; his
    personality, 244 ff.

    Verlaine, Paul, 69, 120, 142, 144, 243.
    'Vers,' 60.
    'Vers la Mer,' 152.
    'Vers le Cloître,' 63.
    'Vers le Futur,' 104, 205, 207.
    _Vers libre_, the, 74, 144 ff., 163.
    _Vers ternaire, le_, 147.
    Vielé-Griffin, Francis, 143, 246, 249.
    Vienna, 91, 114, 174.
    Vitality, 12, 15, 16, 19, 24, 32,
      33, 40, 43, 119, 131, 190, 200-202,
      206, 229, 248, 258.

    WAGNER, RICHARD, 37, 92.
    Walloons, the, 14, 22.
    Weyden, Roger van der, 43.
    Whistler, J. M'Neill, 86.
    Whitman, Walt, 24, 86, 108-109,
      115, 132, 134, 187, 190-191,
      227 257.
    Will, the, 23, 60-62, 73-74, 133,
      181, 194-195, 198, 203, 212,
    _Wisdom and Destiny_, 213.
    Woman, 172-173, 192, 234 ff.
    Women, Belgian, 17.

    YPRES, 21, 43.

    ZOLA, ÉMILE, 37.

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