Emile Verhaeren
Emile Verhaeren was a Belgian
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 poet who wrote in the French language
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and one of the chief founders of the school of Symbolism
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...


He was born in a Flemish, French-speaking, middle-class family in Sint-Amands
Sint-Amands is a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the towns of Lippelo, Oppuurs and Sint-Amands proper. On January 1, 2006 Sint-Amands had a total population of 7,781...

. Nevertheless Emile Verhaeren also spoke the local dialect (Dutch was not taught at school at that time). At the age of eleven, he was sent to a strict boarding school in Ghent run by Jesuits - The Jesuit College of Sainte Barbe, where he became completely Frenchified. He then went to study law at the University of Leuven. Here he produced his first literary efforts in a student paper. During those years, he became acquainted with like-minded students. They later became his collaborators on the revolutionary artistic magazine "La Jeune Belgique
La Jeune Belgique
La Jeune Belgique was a belgian literary society and movement that published a French-language literary review La Jeune Belgique between 1881 and 1897. The society was founded by the Belgian poet Max Waller...


Having gained his law degree, he became a trainee (1881–1884) with Edmond Picard
Edmond Picard
Edmond Picard Edmond Picard Edmond Picard (15 December 1836, Brussels – 19 February 1924, Dåve (now Namur) was a Belgian jurist and writer.Edmond Picard was lawyer at the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation of Belgium. He was also head of the Belgian bar association, professor of law,...

, a renowned criminal lawyer, who also played a pivotal role on the Brussels artistic scene. Emile Verhaeren came in frequent contact with young, radical writers and artists at a time of artistic renewal. He tried only two cases before a court before deciding to dedicate his life to poetry and literature.

He soon became the mouthpiece for the artistic revival at the turn of the century. Fascinated by the works of the painters of the artistic circle "Les XX
Les XX
Les XX was a group of twenty Belgian painters, designers and sculptors, formed in 1883 by the Brussels lawyer, publisher, and entrepreneur Octave Maus. For ten years 'Les Vingt' , as they called themselves, held an annual exhibition of their art; each year twenty international artists were also...

", he wrote many articles in La Jeune Belgique
La Jeune Belgique
La Jeune Belgique was a belgian literary society and movement that published a French-language literary review La Jeune Belgique between 1881 and 1897. The society was founded by the Belgian poet Max Waller...

and L'Art Moderne, with flamboyant criticism on the artistic-literary works of the Brussels art world. His articles brought many promising young talents, such as James Ensor
James Ensor
James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor was a Flemish-Belgian painter and printmaker, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism who lived in Ostend for almost his entire life...

, to the attention of the public.

Through these articles, he became a lifelong friend of the Neo-impressionist Belgian painter Théo van Rysselberghe
Théo van Rysselberghe
Théo van Rysselberghe was a Belgian neo-impressionist painter, who played a pivotal role in the European art scene at the turn of the century.-Early years:...

, resulting in a vast body of letters. In one of these letters, he was described by Maria van Rysselberghe, as "a unique personality, a whirlwind with an indomitable character, who didn't bother himself about bourgeois rules and who provoked or overwhelmed everybody by his straightforward directness".

He was one of the most prolific poets of his era. His first collection of poems "Les Flamandes" was published in 1883. Inspired by the paintings of Jacob Jordaens
Jacob Jordaens
Jacob Jordaens was one of three Flemish Baroque painters, along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, to bring prestige to the Antwerp school of painting. Unlike those contemporaries he never traveled abroad to study Italian painting, and his career is marked by an indifference to their...

, David Teniers
David Teniers the Elder
David Teniers the Elder , Flemish painter, was born at Antwerp.-Biography:Having received his first training in the painter's art from his brother Juliaen, he studied under Rubens in Antwerp, and subsequently under Elsheimer in Rome; he became a member of the Antwerp guild of painters in...

 and Jan Steen
Jan Steen
Jan Havickszoon Steen was a Dutch genre painter of the 17th century . Psychological insight, sense of humour and abundance of colour are marks of his trade.-Life:...

, Verhaeren described in a direct and often provocative, naturalistic
Naturalism (literature)
Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character...

 way his country and the Flemish people. It was an immediate success in avant-garde milieus, but caused a great deal of controversy in Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 circles. His next book "Les Moines" (1886) was not the success he had hoped for. This, and his health problems, led to a deep crisis. In this period he published Les Soirs (1888), Les Débâcles (1888) and Les Flambeaux noirs (1891).

On 24 August 1891 he married Marthe Massin, a talented artist from Liège. His new-found happiness found expression in three poetry books : Les Heures Claires (1896), Les Heures d’Après-midi (1905) and Les Heures du Soir (1911).

He wrote his first play "Les Aubes" in 1898. Here he waged a fight against social injustice and the decline of life in the countryside.
In 1898 he moved to Saint-Cloud
Saint-Cloud is a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, France. It is located from the centre of Paris.Like other communes of the Hauts-de-Seine such as Marnes-la-Coquette, Neuilly-sur-Seine or Vaucresson, Saint-Cloud is one of the wealthiest cities in France, ranked 22nd out of the 36500 in...

, near Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. By the turn of the century, he had become world-famous. His works were translated into more than twenty languages. His German translator was Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. At the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was one of the most famous writers in the world.- Biography :...

 He travelled, giving lectures, throughout Europe. The outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 had a devastating effect on the poet's deep pacifist feelings.

When Emile Verhaeren died on 27 November 1916 at Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

 station (by falling under a train), it was Théo van Rysselberghe and his friend, the famous French writer (and later Nobel Prize winner) André Gide
André Gide
André Paul Guillaume Gide was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the symbolist movement, to the advent of anticolonialism between the two World Wars.Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide...

 who had to inform Marthe Verhaeren of the death of her husband.

His vast body of work shows him as one of the most prominent figures in Belgian literature.
He narrowly missed the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911 (awarded to his friend Maurice Maeterlinck
Maurice Maeterlinck
Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck, also called Comte Maeterlinck from 1932, was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life...


St. Amands, his native city, has dedicated a museum to this giant of Belgian literature, showing many original manuscripts of his works and letters and also works of his artistic friends Théo van Rysselberghe
Théo van Rysselberghe
Théo van Rysselberghe was a Belgian neo-impressionist painter, who played a pivotal role in the European art scene at the turn of the century.-Early years:...

, Leon Spilliaert
Leon Spilliaert
Léon Spilliaert was a Belgian symbolist painter and graphic artist.Spilliaert was born in Ostend, the oldest of seven children of Léonard-Hubert Spilliaert, who was a perfumer, and Léonie . From childhood he displayed an interest in art and drawing. A prolific doodler and autodidact, he was...

, Constantin Meunier
Constantin Meunier
Constantin Meunier , Belgian painter and sculptor, was born in Etterbeek, Brussels.His first exhibit was a plaster sketch, "The Garland," shown at the Brussels Salon in 1851. Soon afterwards, on the advice of the painter Charles de Groux, he abandoned the chisel for the brush...

, Paul Signac
Paul Signac
Paul Signac was a French neo-impressionist painter who, working with Georges Seurat, helped develop the pointillist style.-Biography:Paul Victor Jules Signac was born in Paris on 11 November 1863...

 and Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine was a Belarusian-born artist who lived in France. He is primarily known as a sculptor, but also produced paintings and lithographs.-Early years and career:...


Principal works

  • Les Flamandes, 1883
  • Les moines, 1886
  • Les soirs, 1888
  • Les débâcles, 1888
  • Les flambeaux noirs, 1891
  • Les campagnes hallucinées, 1893
  • Les villes tentaculaires, 1895
  • Les heures claires, 1896
  • Les visages de la vie, 1899
  • Les forces tumultueuses, 1902
  • La multiple splendeur, 1906
  • Les rythmes souverains, 1910
  • Les ailes rouges de la guerre, 1916
  • Les flammes hautes, 1917 [written in 1914]

External links

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