LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 20, No.1 - Spring 1974
Editors of this issue: Bronius Vaskelis
Copyright © 1974 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
TO THE MEMORY OF EMILE VARHAEREN
I. Verhaeren's Will
Paris, 17 (30, N.S.) November (1916). In accordance with the wish expressed by Verhaeren before his death, his body, which is at present in a Rouen hospital, will be conveyed to La Panne, a small Flemish town in the unoccupied territory of Belgium, where the burial will take place.
II. Emile Verhaeren
At a time when all Belgium, yesterday so flourishing, has suddenly been turned into one gigantic field of ashes and graves, the Belgian people must dig in their bleeding homeland what is perhaps the most painful of all their graves; but in this unexpected new bereavement of theirs, let them be in some small fashion consoled by the awareness that at this grave the orphaned thought of all living men has bowed its head equally in profound grief.
Indeed, if with Verhaeren's death Belgium has been deprived of her spiritual Leader and King, so also has the poetry of little things lost in him the supreme light of its triumphant power, the loftiest might of its prophetic designs and of its expression. The genius Verhaeren must in every conceivable degree be considered as the first of contemporary artists, not only for the incomparable mastery of his art, but, far more significantly, for the extraordinary fullness of his inner experience. To be sure, it would be possible to name two or three more poets of our age who have attained in their art approximately the same spiritual height, but in comparison with the poetry of the great Belgian all their attainment seems to be only that of one of the borderlands, a more or less essential portion, while only in Emile Verhaeren has the modern soul been revealed in all the entirety of its creative ferment, of its inner right to a new life and readiness for this life.
Verhaeren, particularly with us in Russia, has long since been accorded the glory of a poet of modernity. Though perfectly accurate and just, such a definition is still far from exhausting all the sides of his creative image, and does not express the most basic and paramount element of his art. This concept of modernity, as it is applied to the poet, has in view chiefly his wonderful song about the city and his immortal eulogy of the fly-wheel and the steel hammer with which our time is forging its fortune and building its destiny. The first singer of Belgium, with her most rich productivity, had of course to assign an exceptional place in his art to the gigantic thunder and clang of the machine and to all the pertinacity of labor. But in this he is only the Belgian, only the artist who is expressing the basic structure and spirit of his native land. Far more important and more significant are that all-pervading passion with which Verhaeren, in somewhat liturgical fashion, celebrates the triumphant will of all life, and that exultant appeal for its building of landmarks and for the justification of our little lives by stubborn toil in the name of the future, without which the passing day remains only passing, and modernity only modernity. And in this the magical poet of Belgium becomes at once one of the most inspired of artists, the spokesman for all humanity and the singer of the sole truth of the universe.
And so not merely modernity as such, but modernity as a strong, iron, ascending rung on the unbroken ladder of human creation and struggle, has become not the glorification of our pressing and unanimous heroic task, since by dint of this, in the sweat of our brow we exalt the design of the cosmos, not yet comprehended, and serve its gradual establishment as the foundation and order of our lives! Why, it is enough to read if no more than the wonderful "Smithy" or "The Scheldt" (L'Escaut) (in the collection "Al Flanders" [Toute la Flandrel], "The Heroes" (Les Heros), or if only the one little poem "Tunnel," a work of genius in its compactness and power, — to be convinced that the images of our daily life make up only the flesh, the outer content of Verhaeren's poetry, while its spirit, more loftily and broadly than our doings and events, both in its essence and in its artistic tasks, has its value altogether, so to speak, on cosmic standards. In the eternal event, all the power of our daily struggle and all the heterogeneity of our waking lives concern the poet only insofar as they breathe with the living premonition and the living realization of the coming victory of humanity...
Being imbued in his inward experience with such a lofty feeling for the cosmos in its unique wholeness, Verhaeren in his works unexpectedly shifted the seemingly inviolate and unshakeable axis of art, and into the realm of poetry entered and became the content of genuine poetry all the petty concerns of our daily lives, even what, before Verhaeren, had been considered too inconsequential, ordinary and crude. Because from the transforming and magical touch of his creative will these petty and crude details became important and significant and entered inseparably into the great fabric of the cosmos and breathed with its mysterious breath, like the leaves of a majestic tree, or, in the expression of the poet himself, "like the separate sparkles of one and the same light."
This same fundamental spirit of Verhaeren's art and his inner inclination must explain also all the peculiarities of his images, as well as his peculiar creative devices. As though in a concern that the small thing, as a separate entity should be constantly apprehended in connection with the great, as a unity, the poet loves to endow the small thing with the marks and attributes of the great, and the great thing with the tokens of the small, and quite doubles the images, in an effort to increase their outer capacity, to give the finite the dimensions of infinity or to force the static to turn into action. Is it not for his reason that the sun, in Verhaeren, is "like a golden penny," that his ships are like "furious stallions on the green and white meadows of the sea," that the beating of the human heart often seemed to him "a gigantic fist" in which was clenched "the strain of fury and savage hate"?
>From this source comes even the very form of the works of this incomparable poet. What else indeed, if not a concurrence with the primeval rhythms of the cosmos, can explain the fact that we are affected with such a mighty power, so imperiously, by the flow of Verhaeren's verse, always indivisible from its content, by the entire irresistible solemnity of his speech and the thrilling clarity of his creative passion?
The great poet's inspiration captured more clearly than could we many a sunny song from the hidden, and to us silent, mystery of the cosmos; it divined the inner truth of the universe and trustingly yielded to this forbidden truth his own human heart, a heart lacking in an understanding of the great and the small (elements in the universe). This is why Verhaeren's solemn appeal to praise, to the creative hammer and to the cult of ecstasy will ring through the ages so integrally and so convincingly. And this is why it is so painful to realize that his clairvoyant heat beats no more.
Russkojc slovo, Moscow, No. 267, Friday, ,18 (1 December, N.S.) November; translated by W. Edward Brown.