August 14, 2012

Karel von de Woestijne

Karel van de Woestijne [Belgium/writes in Dutch]

Brother to noted Flemish painter Gustave van de Woestijne, Karel was born on March 10, 1878 in Ghent. Karel attended high-school at the Koninklijk Athenaeum at the Ottograch in Ghent before studying Germanic philology at the University of Ghent, where he also came into contact with French symbolism, affected by the movement, but also directly acting against it, creating a body of modernist lyricism comparable in Dutch to the writings of William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke. Von de Woestijne’s work can be described as employing a language of mystical meaning that veers toward Surrealism.

      In the early 1900s van de Wostijne lived in Sint-Martens-Latem, but in 1907 he moved to Brussels and in 1915 to Pamel, where with the noted Flemish novelist Herman Teirlinck, he wrote the famed fiction De leemen torens.

      Beginning in 1906 van de Woestijne became the correspondent of the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Curant in Brussels, writing numerous volumes of journalism which, in his collected works comes to fifteen volumes. He also was the editor of the illustrated magazines, Van Nu en Straks and Vlaanderen.

     From 1920 to 1929 he taught the history of Dutch literature at the University of Ghent.

     The poet is particularly well remembered in current Flemish literature as the author of his spiritually-based later works, God ann zee (God at the Seaside) and Het berg-meer (The Mountain Lake), but his earlier work is also well respected. He won numerous awards, including The National Prize for Dutch Literature (awarded every third year) and the five-year cycle National Prize for Flemish Literature, awarded after his death.

      With the poets Guido Gezelle and Paul van Ostaijen, van de Wostijne is now recognized as one of the most important writers of Flanders. His collected poetry was published in the prestigious Dutch Classics-series in 2007.


Het vanderhuis (1903); De boomgaard der vogelen en der vruchten (1905); De gulden schaduw (1910); InterludiĆ«n I (1912); InterludiĆ«n  II 1914); De modderen man (1920);  Zon in de rug (1924); Substrata (1924); God aan zee (1926); Het zatte hart (1926); Het berg-meer (1928)


selection published by The Flemish Literature Fund as Karel von de Woestijne (trans. by Tanis Guest) (Bercham, Belgium: Flemish Literature Fund, n.d.)

The ladder and the rope; the straw, the chilly smoothness
of bowl an knife…. The fearful morn dissembles, waits.
The air’s inert. Each silence listens to the silence.
The house is deader than a snow winter’s night.
—The cauldron has been scoured where soggy swill once seethed,
the beast’s outside. Sluggish wise fingers fumble;
the snow quivers; she stares askance…. And the day is
like a dead woman whom I’m not allowed to love….
—The day is empty. Hear the horses stamping in the stable.
The day’s void; the hollow Christmas bells are sounding….

My God, I was the head where Thou didst show Thy grace.
They knew it. And they fed me, like this beast
that their desire did feed and that their lust will slay.
With the rancor they fed my yearning thoughts
and I grew beautiful, and had not grasped their envy….
Now is the time, my God, when they will slaughter me
and—naught that my resistance can fix its fear upon….

—The day’s void. The hollow Christmas bells are sounding….

 (from De gulden schaduw, 1910)

Translated from the Dutch by Tanis Guest

Again the asters’ baleful light begins to bloom;
again an autumn comes. —And this heart worn with longing,
in which the summer’s torch begins to smoke and gutter,
then shudders, and recoils….

—I, whose hand felt the weight of the warm fruit
but was denied a bite in recompense;
who, knowing you are there, autumn compassion,
know myself the more alone;

eternal reaper, I, who cut the corn
but never for himself did bind the sheaf;
perpetual sailor in his water furrows
who never to harbor came:

again an autumn comes; and again cruel want comes near
this heart that, without hope, yet does still know desire;
that, ever longing for this autumnal dying,
after winter knows it’s spring….

 —Again my autumn blood burns in beseeching gestures;
again the heart weeps where the old wound sears….
—How the gold of the chestnut trees is bronzing!
The silver aster blooms…

(from De modderen man, 1920)

 Translated from the Dutch by Tanis Guest

Like the throbbing lightning-dash of engines
to which a human will has strapped itself,
seeking to penetrate the unfathomable void
to where it pierces the gaze of God’s eye;

no, but like light in light: like to a candle
so meager that the sun swallows it quite
from early green to final purple glow,
but which knows that its smallness cannot be snuffed out;

no, but like carp which in the densest ooze
gulp in some life, until Death finds them out
who only then through rags of mother-of-pearl
lifts their blond bellies to the blowing light;

but no, on no: like earth and like metal
condensed by pressure and suction of the universe,
are inaccessible and secret rays
gathered together in one crystal tear;

no, but dead flesh, dissolved in sluggish streams
or richly blooming in a feast for worms;
no, just that flesh, that flesh and wretched oozing,
and the lowly beast that on the great beast dances;

no, no, oh God (I know not how to say;
I know not, God, I know not, but I say:

like the…


(from God aan zee, 1926)

Translated from the Dutch by Tanis Guest

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