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291 posts categorized "Literature"

15 June 2018

From Sokol to Symbolism: the short life of Karel Hlaváček

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The tragic figure of the frail poet dying prematurely of consumption is one which haunts European literature from Keats to Jiří Wolker. Yet there can be few less likely candidates for this role than the Czech poet Karel Hlaváček. He was born into a solidly working-class family in Prague on 29 August 1874, the son of Josef Hlaváček and his wife Antonie. Bright and talented, the young Karel was educated at the high school in the Karlín district of Prague, where he became a keen member of the Sokol movement, founded in 1862 by Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner. Ostensibly an organization aiming to promote physical fitness through gymnastics, this actually served as a cover for patriotic activities and provided a focus for national feeling among young Czechs under the oppressive regime of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Such was his enthusiasm that he was one of the founding members of a new branch of Sokol in his home district of Libeň and was chosen as its president.

Hlaváček’s parents could not afford to send him to university full-time, but he was able to attend lectures as an external student, and spent two years studying modern languages in this way. French held a particular attraction for him, and he soon became acquainted with the work of French Symbolist and Decadent writers including Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé. At the same time his gifts as an artist were rapidly developing. His drawings and prints revealed his fascination with the morbid and demonic, including studies of devils, malevolent fauns and other supernatural beings. This made him a natural illustrator of works by authors who were in tune with the spirit of Decadence, including Arnošt Procházka, Otokar Březina, Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic and Stanisław Przybyszewski, as well as of his own poems. He had applied to the School of Applied Art (Uměleckoprůmyslova škola) in Prague, but predictably failed to gain admittance, and in fact never settled to any fixed occupation.

A fine physical specimen thanks to his Sokol training, Hlaváček was called up for his compulsory military service and despatched to serve in Trento in northern Italy in 1895. For the last two years he had been writing for the official Sokol magazine and in 1895 had acted as an organizer and publicist for the third pan-Sokol assembly in Prague. Although his departure for Trento interrupted this, it brought him into a new environment which confirmed his belief in the value of international contacts and active cooperation with writers of other nations on equal terms. It was also where he contracted the tuberculosis which was to kill him.

Hlaváček crystallized his ideas on this subject on an essay entitled ‘Nacionalism a internacionalism’, published in Moderní revue V (1896). He considered that Czech authors could only benefit from the spirit of internationalism, which would not dilute their Czech identity but would strengthen it. He had been contributing to this periodical (Prague, 1895-; P.P.4835.ub.) from its inception, and in doing so worked closely with some of the leading Czech literary figures of the fin-de-siècle, among them Antonín Sova, producing portraits and vignettes as well as illustrations.

His own first collection of verses, Sokolské sonety, came out in 1895, although he was later to repudiate it as his efforts to express Tyrš’s ideals in verse gave way to more daring experiments. Inspired by a collection of modern French poetry in translation published by Jaroslav Vrchlický (Prague, 1893; 1608/3839), he began to adapt the spirit of Symbolism and Decadence into Czech. In Pozdě k ránu (‘Late towards morning’; 1896), he created melancholy verses aiming to suggest the deep musical tones of the drum or viola, accompanied by his own illustrations in the spirit of Félicien Rops  and Edvard Munch.

Hlavacek Pozde k Ranu X.907-10067 Frontispiece from Pozdě k ránu (Prague, 1896) X.907/10067

The book subsequently inspired illustrations by other artists, including a series of lithographs by Karel Štik for a limited edition published to mark the 50th anniversary of Hlaváček’s death. The British Library’s copy, signed by the artist, includes a powerful portrait of the poet himself.

Hlavacek Pozde k Ranu LR.410.k.18 frontis Portrait of Hlaváček by Karel Štik from Pozdě k ránu (Prague,1948) L.R. 410.k.18.

In 1898, the year of his death, Hlaváček published one of his most famous works, Mstivá kantiléna (‘Vindictive cantilena’), widely regarded as the most significant verse work of Czech Decadent literature. Though comparatively short, it encompasses a wide range of European cultural references, including the Abbé Prevost’s Manon Lescaut and the Dutch Anabaptist rebels known as the Geuzen or Gueux, conjuring up a synaesthetic world of failed rebellion, bells which cannot ring, and legends of ‘the sin of the yellow roses’, ‘the moon which went blind through long weeping’ and ‘the beautiful dolphin’. Like his earlier poem ‘Upír’ which portrays an aristocratic vampire flitting through Prague and sorrowing as he plunges down on his pure victims, it captures the resonances of Decadence in a uniquely Czech fashion by exploiting the rhythms and resonances of the language.

Hlavacek Mstiva Kantilena X989-8471Frontispiece to Mstivá kantilena (V Praze, 1916) X.989/8471; a copperplate engraving by the author.

In that same year Hlaváček’s condition worsened and he died on 15 June 1898, just two months short of his 24th birthday. His contribution to Czech literature far exceeds the modest compass of his published work in the inspiration which it gave to those who would go on to build up links between the rest of Europe, especially France, and a country which just 20 years later would achieve not only cultural but national independence.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

 

01 June 2018

Silver Darlings, Icelandic Gold: Herring in the Northern Imagination

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It’s been food season for the last 2 months at the British Library and sweeping through the Nordic collections with a gastronomic lens, there is of course only one thing on the menu: herring. The herring has formed the backbone of societies over the ages and, as Jonathan Meades says in his jaunt across the Baltic coast of continental Europe, Magnetic North, the herring’s own backbone has formed an even more literal foundation:

When excavations are made in Flanders for roads and railways, the bones of men slaughtered in the First World War constitute the first stratum that the diggers encounter. Further down are multitudinous herring skeletons. The people of Arras ate between two and three million herrings per year. That’s two to three hundred per every person.

From the material ubiquity of herring springs the idea or symbol of herring; it is not only the most important driver of socio-historical and political in the story of Northern Europe but it also stands for the cultural identity of the North.

Clupea Harengus - Skandinaviens Fiskar
The Herring — Clupea Harengus — in Bengt Fredrik Fries et al. A History of Scandinavian Fishes vol. 2 (Stockholm, 1895), J/7290.k.29
.

Herring has really always been fished, well, ‘since the Mesolithic era but commercial fisheries for these species developed only in the Middle Ages’ (Holm, p. 19). Its abundance in the marine area stretching from the Baltic across the North Sea and to the Atlantic around Iceland made it a vital commodity traded and controlled by various powers across the centuries. Abundance may be an understatement if we take Saxo Grammaticus’s words at face value in the Gesta Danorum, first written around 1204. Writing of the sound between Zealand and Scania, he notes: ‘the whole sound contains such plentiful shoals that sometimes boats striking them have difficulty in rowing clear and no fishing-gear but the hands is needed to take them.’ In fact, one possible etymological root for the word herring is from the Germanic Heer (army, troops) but the etymology of the common name for Clupea harengus is full of red herr… I won’t go there.

Olaus Magnus 152.e.9.
Herring-fishing in Scania, woodcut from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, (Rome, 1555) 152.e.9.

It goes without saying then that with such a central presence in Northern life the herring is equally abundant in the Northern literary and artistic imagination. A scan of the British Library catalogue reveals a huge number of historical surveys, reports on methods of preservation, regional studies of the impact of fishing, but also such oddities (or not) as an announcement in 1785 by the Swedish Academy pertaining to, in the gloss provided by the BL’s Scandinavian Short-Title Catalogue of works published before 1801, ‘roof slates and herring fisheries’ (British Library, Ac.1070/20), or even the very recent (anti-)comic book by Antti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring, or their graphic novel Lord of Herrings (2017).

Hakala combined
Exhaustive and exhausting jokes about herring in Anti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring ([Great Britain], 2014) YKL.2016.b.5527

Douglas S. Murray’s comprehensive Herring Tales: how the silver darlings shaped human taste and history (London, 2015; DRT ELD.DS.80434) points us in the direction of a museum on the topic, “one of the finest of its kind”, namely the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður on the Northern coast of Iceland, once the bustling centre of herring fishing and processing in the country, the ‘Atlantic Klondike’ of the early 20th century. Murray sees in this unique museum a reminder of “the fact that without herring, Iceland – like so many other places on the edge of Norway, Scotland and elsewhere – would not have possessed a modern society.” The museum itself is fully aware of the historical, literary, artistic, film and musical impact of herring, listing numerous sources that show the expanse of work that sparkles herring-silver.

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - The Herring Worker
The lyrical beauty of ‘Icelandic gold’ in paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal. Above: ‘The Herring Worker’ (1934); below: ‘Herring Packers’ (1935-1940), reproduced in Gunnlaugur Blöndal (Reykjavik, 1963), Cup.20.w.13

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - Herring Packers

A three-volume history of herring in Iceland, Silfur hafsins: gull ĺslands: síldarsaga ĺslendiga (‘Silver of the sea: Iceland’s gold: the history of herring in Iceland’; Reykjavik, 2007; YF.2014.b.1514) has appeared in the last decade, adorned with epigraphs by the great Nobel Prize winner and herring champion Halldór Laxness. All three epigraphs are from Laxness’s 1972 Guðsgjafaþula (Reykjavik, 1972; X.989/30910.), which loosely translates as ‘The Song of God’s Gifts’—the book has not been translated into English. “God’s gifts” is another euphemism for the now not-so-humble herring and Laxness does not shy away from elevating them to an object of the aesthetic sublime:

‘Norðurlandssíldin er aðalborin skepna bæði að fegurð og vitsmunum, kanski það dásamlegasta sem guð hefur skapað.’
[The Scandinavian herring is a creature noble-born to beauty and wisdom, perhaps the most wonderful thing God has created]

And,

‘… þá munu margir men tala að þessi fagri fiskur hafi verið sannkölluð dýrðargjöf, já ein sú mesta sem himnafaðirinn hefur gefið þessari þjóð.’
[… then many will say that this beautiful fish has been the true glory, yes, one of the greatest things the Heavenly Father has given this nation.]

Guðsgjafaþula, about the fate of a fishing community who have entrusted their lot to a brilliant herring speculator, took as its source material the first history of herring in Iceland written by Matthías Þórdarson from Móar in 1934. The latter was the great-grandfather of contemporary Icelandic great, Sjón, who in turn used his ancestor as a model for the protagonist of the novel Argóarflísin (‘The Whispering Muse’; Reykjavik, 2005;YF.2007.a.24658). In Sjón’s novel we are introduced to Valdimar Haraldsson, who in 1933 published Memoirs of a Herring Inspector, immediately evoking Laxness and Þórdarson before him. One of Haraldsson’s early articles from his journal Fisk og Kultur, to which he refers at length at the beginning, espouses the link between fish consumption and Nordic racial superiority:

It is our belief that the Nordic race, which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood, owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition, and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean.

The triumphal racialist rhetoric is antiquated and self-undermining in the context of the novel but the year of publication of Haraldsson’s memoirs is not lost on the reader. God’s gifts make for a chosen people it seems. At the same time, the maritime Nordic people is deliberately drawn in stark contrast to the ‘blood and soil’ rhetoric of continental fascism. Sjón’s novel is not the only place where fish and racial politics are brought into conversation. For the other notable example, we need to travel back to the Baltic and the shores of Danzig as imagined and lived by Günter Grass. But that is for another post…

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading:

Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes (vol. 1) [translated from the Latin by Peter Fisher] (Cambridge; New Jersey, 1979) X.800/28439

 Halldór Laxness, Brekkukotsannáll (Reykavik, 1957/1973) X.909/37610. (English translation by Magnus Magnusson, The Fish can Sing (London, 2000) H.2000/2872)

Sjón, The Whispering Muse [translated by Victoria Cribb] (London, 2012) H.2013/.5955

James H. Barrett and David C. Orton (eds.), Cod and Herring: The archaeology and history of medieval seas fishing (Oxford; Philadelphia, 2016), YC.2017.b.2914; especially the essay by Paul Holm, ‘Commercial Sea Fisheries in the Baltic Region c. AD 1000-1600’ 

 

29 May 2018

Janusz Korczak – the champion of children

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Elizabeth Gifford’s novel The Good Doctor of Warsaw (London, 2017; ELD.DS.232274) was the subject of a recent British Library event. It is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, two young Polish Jews who helped Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War. Korczak is best remembered for his heroic death march with 200 orphan children to the gas chambers in Treblinka on 6 August 1942.

Janusz Korczak from the King of the children YC.1989.a.4207Janusz Korczak, from Betty Jean Lifton, The king of children: a biography of Janusz Korczak (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.4207  

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit into a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw in 1878. He was a doctor by profession, an educator at heart and a gifted author. In his early years he experienced adults’ lack of respect and concern for children, an experience that greatly contributed to the choice of his later path in life. Henryk’s childhood was disturbed by his father’s mental illness. His premature death left the family impoverished and the 18-year-old Henryk began tutoring to support his mother and younger sister. He then discovered that he liked working with children. At that time he published his first pedagogical articles about raising and educating children and tried his luck as a writer under the pseudonym Janusz Korczak.

 

Janusz Korczak Big business Billy 12825.eee.5 Title-page and frontispiece from the English translation of one of Korczak’s children’s books, Big Business Billy (London, 1939). 12825.eee.5

However, two years later he enrolled as a medical student at Warsaw University. He decided to be a doctor, not a writer; as he said in his journal “literature is just words, while medicine is deeds”. In 1904 he graduated as a paediatrician and took up work at a Jewish hospital for children in Warsaw.  Korczak was also active as a tutor at summer holiday centres and continued to write children’s novels which reflected his experience both as a doctor and educator. In 1912 he gave up work at the hospital to devote his life to poor orphaned children.

Korczak lectures
Korczak pictured with some of the children in his care, cover of Janusz Korczak: the child’s right to respect: Janusz Korczak’s legacy: lectures on today’s challenges to children (Strasbourg, 2009). m11/14075

Korczak established an orphanage for Jewish children, implementing his pedagogical ideas of treating children with fairness, justice, respect and empathy. The children had their own parliament, court and newspaper and all felt valued as equal members of the community.  Korczak emphasized the importance of giving the child a voice and in that he was a precursor of modern child psychology.  He wrote a number of books based on his daily observations of the children’s development.  His 1919 publication Jak kochać dziecko (How to love a child) formed the basis for the first International Declaration of the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1924. His later booklet of 1929 Prawo dziecka do szacunku (The child’s right to respect) is considered his pedagogical manifesto. The child is the greatest asset of society. The child has a right to dignity as much as the adult has. Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people of today.

Korczak Matthew the Young King1Page with an illustration by Irena Lorentowicz  from Janusz Korczak, Matthew the Young King (London, 1946). 12593.i.26.

In more than 20 books Korczak  expressed his great love and concern for children. His best-known novel Król Maciuś Pierwszy (King Matt the First, also translated as Matthew the Young King), first published in 1922, was inspired by his own childhood memories, contemporary political events in Poland and the children of several orphanages he successfully ran in Warsaw. The book tells the story of a boy king’s adventures and his attempts to bring social reforms to his subjects. Written in the form of a fairy tale, the book addresses the difficulties of adult life and the responsibility for decisions they have to make. But at the core of this story is a child with the loneliness, dilemmas and struggles it faces in its daily life.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Janusz Korczak, Jak kochać dziecko. Internat, kolonie letnie (Warsaw, 1948). 8313.bb.15

Janusz Korczak, Prawo dziecka do szacunku (Warsaw, 1948) 8313.bb.16.

Janusz Korczak, A voice for the child: the inspirational words of Janusz Korczak (London, 1999). YK.1999.a.3347

 

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

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The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!

EUNIC  and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They  read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.

So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.

ELN2018PanelfromEUNICTwitterDc6EPL1WsAICyxR
 Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.

We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.

Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)

ELN2018booksSF
Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678

Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?

Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.

‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.

ELN2018PT MonteCarloMonte Carlo, Peter Terrin.(Amsterdam, 2015).YF.2016.a. 19205 and Monte Carlo, Peter Terrin, David Doherty. (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.163792.

German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.

ELN2018MeikeZ Magda Magda, Meike Ziervogel. (Cromer, 2013). H.2015/.5439

Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.

ELN2018MeikeZThePhcover
 The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel. (London, 2017). DRT ELD.DS.206566 

I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

11 May 2018

‘And so I came among the Germans’… Costantinos Chatzopoulos (1868-1920)

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If we are to believe the legends, to be a prominent figure in the development of Greek drama is to be almost guaranteed a sticky end; Sophocles was said to have choked on a grape, Aeschylus to have been hit on the head by a tortoise dropped by an eagle, and Euripides to have been attacked by a pack of hounds. The premature death of Costantinos Chatzopoulos was less dramatic but no less unfortunate for the modern Greek theatre. In 1920, he was returning with his family from Greece to Munich, where they had lived for several years, to collect the possessions which they had left behind on their precipitate departure in 1914. While travelling on the Montenegro, an Italian steamer, he was suddenly overcome by a violent attack of food poisoning and died shortly afterwards.

Chatzopoulos Karveles YA.2003.a.5652 Cover of Takēs Karvelēs, Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos ho prōtoporos (Athēna, 1998) YA.2003.a.5652

When Chatzopoulos was born on 11 May 1868, Greece was still a poor and culturally backward country, cut off from the rest of Europe for linguistic and historical reasons. Little had changed since Byron and Hölderlin had expressed their frustration at the incapacity of the Greeks to live up to the glorious reputation of their forefathers and throw off the Ottoman yoke. When Athens was declared the capital in 1834 it had only 10,000 inhabitants; as late as 1907 the illiteracy rate was 40.5% among men and 82% among women.

  Chatzopoulos Arginion postcard
Postcard showing Chatzopoulos’s native Agrinio, from Praktika Epistēmonikou Symposiou "Ho Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos hōs syngrapheas kai theōrētikos" (Athēna, 1998). YA.2003.a.5518

Although Chatzopoulos’s father was a farmer from Agrinio, three of the seven children went into literature; Costantinos’s younger brother Dimitris became a writer and Zacharias a journalist. Costantinos did his military service in the Balkans, studied law at the University of Athens, and practised this profession briefly (1891-93) before an inheritance enabled him to devote himself to writing. In 1898 he published a volume of poetry, Tragoudia tēs erēmias (‘Songs of Solitude’) under the pseudonym Petros Vasilikos.

Chatzopoulos Tragodia 011586.e.110Cover of Tragoudia tēs erēmias (Athens, 1898) 011586.e.110

He was also active in the promotion of demotic Greek instead of the ‘sanitized’ Katharevousa, and in 1898-99 collaborated with Yiannis Cambisis on Technē (‘Art’), the first periodical in Greece to be written in Demotic. Its 12 issues contained translations of contemporary German and Scandinavian literature and critical theory, and bore witness to Chatzopoulos’s fascination with Nietzsche. He had studied German in Athens with the classicist Karl Dieterich, and in 1900 he made his first visit to Germany, wishing to improve his knowledge of the language in order to read German classics in the original.

Emerging from the narrow and constricting atmosphere of Greece, Chatzopoulos tended to view Wilhelmine Germany through rose-tinted spectacles, going so far as to describe it as a haven of personal freedom. It was during this stay that he met his future wife, the Finnish painter Sanny Häggman, and in the summer of 1901 he visited Finland. Over the next few years he embarked on a considerable career as a translator not only of German but of Scandinavian authors including Schiller, Lessing and above all Goethe, who enabled him, as he wrote to a friend, to ‘turn around and understand the Parthenon that stands right behind my window’.

The first permanent theatre in Athens had been established in 1840, but the profession of director was slow to develop. In 1901, however, the Royal Theatre was established  with Thomas Oikonomou as its director. In this climate Chatzopoulos’s translations were eagerly welcomed, and made a considerable contribution to the development of the modern Greek theatre; they included Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1910) and Faust (1916), Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra, Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, and works by Strindberg, Grillparzer, Gogol, Gerhart Hauptmann and Hermann Bang. Not surprisingly, as an Ibsen enthusiast he was one of the first to support women’s rights in Greece.

Unlike Hölderlin’s Hyperion, whose sojourn among the Germans proved a source of disillusion and disappointment, Chatzopoulos was eager to return, and went back in June 1905 with his wife and three-year-old daughter Senta to settle in Munich. They also spent time in Berlin, and only left Germany on the outbreak of war in 1914. During these years he made the transition from poetry to prose, publishing short stories such as Taso and O hyperanthrōpos (‘The Superman’), published as a collection in 1916, which reflected social change and growing urbanization during the reforms of Eleftherios Venizelos, who became prime minister of Greece in 1910.

Significantly, this coincided with Chatzopoulos’s growing interest in the ideas of Karl Marx. However, when the socialist ideals which he had cherished in Germany were confronted with the reality back in Greece after his reluctant return, Chatzopoulos was embittered by the realization that there was little chance of mobilizing the Greek labour force to create an effective organization. An article which he published in the Greek press also noted Heinrich Mann’s all-too-accurate depiction in Der Untertan (Leipzig, 1918; 012554.a.10; translated into English as Man of Straw) of the spirit of Imperial Germany and the threat which it posed in cultural and political terms. His career closed, as it began, with poetry; in the year of his death there appeared his two final collections, Aploi tropoi (‘Simple Ways’) and Bradinoi thruloi (‘Evening Legends’; Athens, 1920; X.908/18945).

Chatzopoulos Aploi 11409.l.35

Title-page of Aploi tropoi (Athens, 1936) 11409.l.35

He did not live to see Greek culture increasingly influenced by France rather than Germany, and his premature death protected him from witnessing developments in his second homeland which would have caused him anguish and deepened the schism between ideal and reality which many critics have identified in his work. Yet in his comparatively short life he not only captured images of a society in rapid transition but spun strong threads to weave it firmly into the fabric of wider European culture.

Susan Halstead (Subject Librarian: Social Sciences) Research Services.

03 May 2018

Transparency and Too Much Information!!

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Do you find yourself saying out loud what should really have stayed in your head?

In the course of a short recent bus ride one passenger exclaimed to no-one in particular, “How am I supposed to get to work on time?” when the driver stopped for a minute for the maintenance of headway (see Magnus Mills’s novel of 2009).  (My answer fortunately stayed silent: “Get up earlier.”)

Five minutes later a man was on the phone, berating his local council for incompetence in the Council Tax department.

The ancients didn’t have buses or phones, but they knew about the problem: mens fenestrata, the windowed mind.

In Lucian:

According to the myth, Athene, Poseidon, and Hephaestus had a match in inventiveness. Poseidon made a bull, Athene planned a house, Hephaestus constructed a man; when they came before Momus, who was to judge, he examined their productions; I need not trouble you with his criticisms of the other two; but his objection to the man, and the fault he found with Hephaestus, was this: he should have made a window in his chest, so that, when it was opened, his thoughts and designs, his truth or falsehood, might have been apparent (Hermotimus 20); tr. Fowler,  p. 52.

We should recall that to the ancients site of the mind was the breast.

Momus# ‘Momus’. Emblem from Hadrianus Junius, Emblemata (Antwerp, 1575) 832.a.4

In the Renaissance the idea  was picked up by Leon Battista Alberti:

Momus found fault with these gifts [of Pallas, Minerva and Prometheus], particularly when the other gods sang their praises. [...] The job had been carried out stupidly in one respect, for man’s mind had been hidden in his chest, among his internal organs, whereas in ought to have been placed upon his lofty brow, in the open space of his face [propatulaque in sede vultus locasse oportuit]  (p. 17)

(‘Open’ I think alludes to the window or door.)

And the 17th century, when Momus was so popular, liked the idea of uncovering the truth. In Luis Vélez de Guevara’s satirical novel of 1641 El Diablo Cojuelo, the Devil on Two Sticks as the English translation calls him, peels the roofs off the houses of Madrid to reveal their true contents:

You are really too polite, replied the Devil; but, can you guess now why I have brought you here? I intend to show you all that is passing in Madrid; and as this part of the town is as good to begin with as any, you will allow that I could not have chosen a more appropriate situation. I am about, by my supernatural powers, to take away the roofs from the houses of this great city; and notwithstanding the darkness of the night, to reveal to your eyes whatever is doing within them. As he spoke, he extended his right arm, the roofs disappeared, and the Student’s astonished sight penetrated the interior of the surrounding dwellings as plainly as if the noon-day sun shone over them. It was, says Luis Velez de Guevara, like looking into a pasty from which a set of greedy monks had just removed the crust. (Translated by Joseph Thomas from the French translation of Lesage)

Diable Boiteux frontis
Frontispiece from Alain René Lesage (tr.), Le Diable boiteux (Amsterdam, 1707), 634.a.18.

Lucian, and those who followed him, thought the window in the chest was a good idea, an instrument of the transparency for which we’re constantly calling nowadays.

But if our inner thoughts were exposed to the world this might be too much information.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

The Works of Lucian of Samosata ... Translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford, 1905) 11340.aaa.24.

Leon Battista Alberti, Momus, ed. and tr. Sarah Knight and Virginia Brown (London, 2003) YK.2004.a.2189

Alejandro Coroleu, ‘Mens fenestrata: the Survival of a Lucianic Motif in seventeenth-century Spanish Literature’, Res publica litterarum, 19 (1996), pp. 217-26. 7713.892000

Asmodeus, The Devil On Two Sticks, Translated by Joseph Thomas (London. 1841) 12549.i.1.

 

 

 

13 April 2018

Esperanto – not what you thought?

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Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.

EsperantoBlogoceltic-dragonLogo of the Conference

Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.

In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo

Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The World Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.

EsperantoBlogHistoriesMontage
 Books from the British Library Esperanto Collection on the Esperanto movement in different countries and regions

Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.

These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress  was held in 1980.

As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.

EsperantoBlogoKoranoCxapitro1Opening ot the Koran in Esperanto translation: La Nobla Korano, translated by Italo Chiussi (Copenhagen, 1970). YF.2009.a.5354

Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.

MedicinaInternaciaRevuo1974
Cover of  Medicina Internacia Revuo. (July 1974)  5533.51000

 Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.

EsperantoBlogoKunvojagxuCover of Paul Gubbins, Kunvojaĝu: Internacia kurso de Esperanto (Pisa, 2006). YF.2008.a.23702

You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.

The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.

EsperantoBlogoIntervjuoj Books of interviews with Esperantists wordwide about their reasons for learning Esperanto

The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.

In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton

  EsperantoBlogBeletraAlmanako

Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847

Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.

EsperantoBlogoKajtoKajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).

And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein,  Esperanto author and journalist

Further reading

Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499

Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262

Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.

Geoffrey  Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007  (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495

06 April 2018

Singing in the rain with Vítězslav Nezval

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This year marks the centenary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia as an independent state. Today we also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of one of the new country’s most notable poets, Vítězslav Nezval. He belonged to the generation which found its voice as Czechoslovakia itself was finding its place on the international stage in culture as well as politics.

Nezval PortraitPortrait of Nezval by Josef Šíma from Menší růžová zahrada (Prague, 1926) YA.1997.a.5557

Many of the young poets of the First Republic were members of the left-wing avant-garde, in general strongly influenced by modern French poetry. They had made their acquaintance with it through Karel Čapek’s outstanding anthology of translations Francouzská poezie nové doby (Prague, 1920; Cup.410.f.663 ), and it would leave a lasting imprint on Nezval’s own development; in particular he was strongly influenced by Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was in this decade that the Poetist movement evolved as modernity’s recreational counterpart to Constructivism. Its leading figures included the writer on art and architecture Karel Teige (1900-51), who summed up its nature as ‘easy-going, mischievous, fantastic, playful, non-heroic, and erotic’, a spirit which Nezval gleefully evoked in polythematic poems such as Podivuhodný kouzelník (‘The Marvellous Magician’, 1922) and Akrobat (‘Acrobat’, 1927).

Nezval H

Nezval ABECEDA

 The dancer Milca Mayerová posing as one of the letters of the alphabet, and the cover of Nezval’s Abeceda (Prague, 1926) Cup.409.b.5.

Nezval, as the son of a musical and art-loving schoolmaster from Moravia, had displayed a talent for music early in life and was far more at home in artistic circles than at Charles University, where he studied philosophy but never graduated. His companions in Prague’s cafés and studios included not only Teige but also Jindřich Štyrský, Jaroslav Seifert and Toyen (Marie Cerminová), and in 1922 they bonded together to found the avant-garde group Devětsil (literally ‘nine forces’, the Czech name of the butterbur plant, but with an implicit reference to the nine founding members of the group). They frequently collaborated on artistic and typographical projects; Nezval’s poem Židovský hřbitov (‘The Jewish Cemetery’), for example, featured six original lithographs by Štyrský and typographic design by Teige.

Nezval Cemetery

Above: Lithograph by Jindřich Štyrský from Židovský hřbitov (Prague, 1928) Cup.410.g.577. Below: the author’s signature from the flyleaf.

Nezval signature

It was natural that Nezval’s interests should lead him to visit France, where he made contact with many of the most significant figures in the Surrealist movement, including André Breton and Paul Éluard. As a result of this a specifically Czechoslovak Surrealist group was established in 1934; Nezval had already translated Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto in 1930, and he went on to edit the group’s journal Surrealismus. His collections from this period, such as Praha s prsty deště (‘Prague with Fingers of Rain’; Prague, 1936; Cup.408.zz.27) reflect this influence, while a later collection, Absolutní hrobař (‘Gravedigger of the Absolute’; Prague, 1937; X.989/38352), was strongly influenced by the paintings of Salvador Dali and might be said to be his most Surrealist work.

Nezval Surrealismus RF.1999.b.2

 Cover of Surrealismus (Prague, 1936) RF.1999.b.2.

Initially the young Poetists had been eager for more extreme political action than that advocated by President Masaryk and his followers, and had identified with the international Marxist and proletarian movements. Nezval subsequently rejected André Breton’s doctrine, and returned to a less experimental poetic style which was linked to his staunch support for Communism. Unlike his contemporary Jaroslav Seifert, for example, who left the party in 1929 and went on to become one of the signatories of Charter 77 , Nezval remained loyal to it and from 1945 to 1950 even headed the propagandistic film department at Czechoslovakia’s Ministry of Information. He also composed an effusive poem in praise of Stalin, which makes uncomfortable reading when one considers the worst excesses of the era following the Communist takeover of 1948.

However, when his writings of this nature have been justly forgotten, it is perhaps for his evocations of Prague itself, its people, buildings and landscapes, that Nezval will be remembered. He portrays in loving detail its shop-windows at Christmas-time, its office girls waiting for a tram, its bridges, chimneys, markets and acacia-trees, and Prague in the midday sun, ‘beautiful as the mystery of love and improbable clouds’. And, summing up the quirky contradictions of Poetism, here is one of the best-loved poems from his collection Sbohem a šáteček (‘A Farewell and a Handkerchief'; 1933), ‘Pocket Handkerchief’:

I’m taking off today; I feel like crying—
Just time to wave my handkerchief, I see;
If all the world were one great gaudy poster,
Cynic, I’d tear it, throw it in the sea.

Just like a fish, this vale of tears absorbed me,
Its image, broken thirty times, composed;
Now leave me, skylark, your great glorious error,
If I must sing, I’d sob a bit, one knows.

The kerchief flutters down; the city opens—
Grotesquely, at the tunnel’s mouth, it breaks;
A pity death’s not just a long black journey,
From which, in some unknown hotel, I’d wake.

You whom I loved like Andrea del Sarto,
Turn a silk kerchief for fair women’s eyes;
And, if you know death’s just a leap, a moment—
Don’t flinch, now—Good day, goshawk!—up one flies!
(Translation © Susan Reynolds, 2011.)

Susan Halstead (Reynolds), Subject Librarian (Social Sciences) Research Services.

03 April 2018

Literature of the Baltic countries in English translation

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In this centenary year of the independence of each of the Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, great efforts are being made to promote the three very distinct literatures of those countries in translation. Until now, when lists of works appearing in translation were produced by the literature-promoting agencies of each country, English translations made up the shortest list among the European languages.

Since English is more widely spoken in Europe than the other languages into which translations are made, it is a matter of urgency to rectify this, and now, in this centenary year, being marked by ‘market focus’ status at the London Book Fair in 2018, there is a chance to showcase the rich diversity of Baltic literature – in translation.

The reverse side of the coin is the huge competition for the attention of English-speaking readers in the marketplace. Only a small proportion of each country’s literature is seen as worth translating into English, given the relative unpopularity of translated literature among Anglophones.

Part of the problem in the Baltic case is that there are practically no opportunities to study these literatures, either in the original or in translation, at British universities. At the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (part of University College London), from 2018 it will be possible to study an undergraduate course introducing the literatures of these three countries in English translation. The range of available texts is now at last expanding rapidly.

Each of the Baltic republics’ governments operates a state-subsidised translation programme; these have existed almost since the countries regained their independence in 1991. With the centenary celebrations and the market focus at the London Book Fair, English is being emphasised as a target language this year. Both modern works and the classical canon are being represented, and the introductory course will try to give at least a taste of as many genres and generations of writing from each Baltic country as possible.

BalticKalevipoegCoverCover (above) and titler-page (below) of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Kalevipoeg (Tartu, 1935). Ac.9076/19. 
BalticKalevipoegTitlepage

The languages are ancient, but the literary traditions are relatively young. To present the ‘folk’ literature of each nation is to be thrust into the 19th-century National Awakening which followed in the wake of Enlightenment scholars such as Herder and their influence filtered through the Baltic German nobility (at least in Livonia, the northern half of the region). In Estonia the national epic Kalevipoeg (The Son of Kalev) was largely the work of 19th-century authors Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald and Friedrich Robert Faehlmann, inspired by the more genuinely ancient folk poetry of the Kalevala in Finland.

In Latvia, too, the work of epic ancient heroism Lāčplēsis (The Bear Slayer) was the work of one 19th-century author, Andrejs Pumpurs. The germ of this creation, however, lay in much older oral verse, as gathered by Krišjānis Barons in his vast collection of dainas – short rhymed verses reflecting folk wisdom on various aspects of life, love and the annual cycle of the seasons.

BalticBlogLatviansongsTitle page of Latwju dainas (Jelgawa, 1894). X.900/4488

The situation in Lithuania was slightly different, the result of different historical processes and the long political association with Poland. The first notable Lithuanian work available in any kind of English translation is Kristijonas Donelaitis’ 18th-century poetical cycle Metai (The Seasons) – there were earlier poets and writers, but their work is still virtually inaccessible to the English speaker.

From the 19th century onward certain trends are detectable that reflect European literary movements of the time, but the works are also specific to each country’s situation. 19th-century literature is inextricably linked to the struggle for recognition and development of the languages as literary vehicles in their own right.

Early examples of the novel genre, such as the Latvian Kaudzīte brothers’ Mērnieku laiki (The Time of the Surveyors), are not readily available in English. In fact, any literature written before the first independence period (1918-1940) is hard to come by in English translation. Breaking away from foreign cultural models was linked to the prevalence of Russian and German in education in the Baltic countries. The full flowering of the novel came with independence, with authors such as A.H.Tammsaare and Friedebert Tuglas in Estonia and Andrejs Upītis in Latvia. Among the most prolifically translated Baltic authors is Jaan Kross of Estonia.

BalticBlogTuglasTitlepage

Title-page and frontispiece of  Friedebert Tuglas, Riders in the sky (Tallinn, 1986). YA.1992.b.648

Poetry in translation is mostly confined to anthologised work, but it spans both of the independence periods. Some poets have achieved international distinction, such as Tomas Venclova from Lithuania and Jaan Kaplinski from Estonia. What is more difficult to obtain in English is drama – very few plays from the Baltic republics have appeared in English, not even the works of the Latvian Rūdolfs Blaumanis, and thus the survey of literature in translation is a little lopsided as to genres.

Kaplinski Through the Forest YK.1997.a.3737Cover of Jaan Kaplinski, Through the Forest, translated by Hildi Hawkins (London, 1996). YK.1997.a.3737

Contemporary literature is much more widely available in translation. Writers who lived into the second independence period, or are writing now, are making their literatures known more than ever before. In Lithuania, Ričardas Gavelis and Jurgis Kunčinas; in Latvia, Pauls Bankovskis and Zigmunds Skujiņš; in Estonia, Andrus Kivirähk and Indrek Hargla have recently become available in English, to name but a few.

Baltic literature in English translation is still patchy in its coverage. Certain writers who are central to the canon in their own countries – Oskar Luts in Estonia, Jānis Rainis in Latvia and Vincas Krėvė in Lithuania, are still sorely under-represented. But this is an exciting time to become acquainted with this previously little-known corner of Europe and the literary treasures it holds.

Baltic montage

Christopher Moseley, Teaching Fellow in Estonian, SSEES, UCL

On 9 April the British Library will be hosting ‘Being Baltic’, a discussion with three leading Baltic writers – Mihkel Mutt (Estonia), Nora Ikstena (Latvia) and Kristina Sabaliauskaitė (Lithuania) chaired by Rosie Goldsmith. You can find more details and book online here.

 

29 March 2018

Obe Postma and Emily Dickinson’s bees

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In 2018 Leeuwarden is not only capital of the province of Friesland, but also European Capital of Culture

To celebrate this special year I shall be writing a series of blog posts on our holdings of Frisian literature throughout the year. As it happens today (29 March) is the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Friesland’s best known and most prolific poets: Obe Postma.

OPostmaportrait
Portrait of obe Postma from his collection Fan wjerklank en bisinnen (Drachten, 1957) 011565.h.8.

He was the son of a farmer from Koarnwerd, Friesland. The Frisian landscape in which he grew up became his life-long inspiration for his poetry, even when he moved to Amsterdam to study mathematics and physics. He would never live in the countryside again, teaching mathematics and mechanics at the HBS (Higher Civil School) in Groningen for his whole working life. After retirement he moved to Leeuwarden, where he died in 1963.

OPostmaNieuwebrug
A Frisian landscape: ‘Nieuwebrug ‘, oil on canvas by Bonne Dijkstra, reproduced in Sjouke Visser (ed.) Het Friese landschap (Harlingen, 1986) LB.31.b.309

Postma’s career as a poet took off relatively late, at the age of 34, but continued right up to his last days, spanning six decades. In 1918, at the age of 50, he published his first collection of poetry: Fryske Lȃn en Fryske Libben

OPostmaFryskeLAnfrontcover
Cover of Fryske Lȃn en Fryske Libben (Snits, 1918) 011557.l.33

His early career is characterised by poetry about the Frisian landscape, which earned him the accolade of ‘Poet of the Frisian Landscape’. Postma is sometimes seen as a ‘naïve’ and nostalgic, even ‘provincial’ poet, but this ignores the fact that he was deeply influenced by literature and philosophy, as well as by his scientific background. He knew what was going on in the world of poetry, both in Friesland and beyond. He combined a sharp eye for the simple day-to-day realities, such as a flower meadow, with a feeling for the sublime, with ‘beauty as living principle within the cosmos, the infinite that penetrates the finite, the absolute in the relative.’

Postma saw in Emily Dickinson a kindred spirit. He placed her alongside Elizabeth Browning, Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë as one of the greatest female poets. Dickinson’s lack of sentimentality, her sober choice of words, range of subject matter, but perhaps most of all her love of nature appealed to him. In his literary notes Postma writes: ‘She has played a unique role in restoring to poetry those important characteristics of simplicity, sensuousness, and passion.’ Like no other poet Dickinson expressed most clearly his ideas about what ‘nature’ is and what ‘culture’. He writes that in order to grasp this, ‘ I need to go to Emily Dickinson’s bees.’ 


OPostmaEMDMurm
Above: Emily Dickinson’s ‘The Murmuring of Bees’, from The complete poems of Emily Dickinson (London, 1975) X.909/40625. Below: Obe Postma’s translation, ‘Ut Natûr’, from Samle fersen (Baarn, 1978) X.950.11642.

OPostmaUtNatur

The British Library holds one anthology of Postma’s poems in English translation, published in 2004. ‘Easter Monday’ is an example of Postma’s early work in which he shows signs of his later philosophy, setting his senses wide open to the wider context in which his beloved Frisian landscape sits.

OPostmaEasterMonday
‘Easter Monday’, originally published in 1927, in De Ljochte Ierde (Snits, 1929) X.909/88993. Translated into English by Anthony Paul and published in What the Poet Must Know (Leeuwarden, 2004) YK.2006.a.1764.

Marja Kingma , Curator Germanic Collections.

References/further reading:

De dichters en de filosofen, ed. Philippus Breuker en Jan Gulmans. (Leeuwarden, 2008). YF.2009.a.25393

Emily Dickinson in leven en dood, ed. Philippus Breuker and J. Gulmans. (Leeuwarden, 2009) YF.2011.a.6038. I am particularly indebted to Albertina Soepboer’s article on Postma and Dickinson in this collection (pp. 62-75)

In útjefte ta gelegenheid fan de ûntbleating fan de búste fan de dichter en wittenskipsman Obe Postma (1868-1963) ed. Geart van der Meer, Jan Gulmans. (Ljouwert, 2014). YF.2017.a.9947