We started our third day of riding in Belgium following a path that was more natural than paved from tiny Baasrode to tiny Sint-Amands. Then we made a quick stop, which was pretty unusual. Those first few days we mostly rode quickly and pretty far between stops. Rolf, our guide, had two things to show us. We were at a particularly wide bend of the Schelde River that he wanted to point out. We were also standing in a small square dominated by the statue of Sint-Amand's most famous citizen, the poet Emile Verhaeren.
Not surprising, very few Americans have probably heard of Verhaeren, but to the Belgians he's pretty special. He even came close to winning the Nobel Prize in 1911 (or so I found out from Wikipedia). You can find more than 300 of his poems on the PoemHunter website, most in their original French, which was the language in which Verhaeren wrote, even though he grew up speaking Flemish. He was part literary giant, part Belgian nationalist, part pacifist in World War I, and a large part Romantic. Ezra Pound called his death, by falling under a train in the Rouen station in November 1916, "one more note in the tragedy" of the war. Here, translated, are the last few stanzas of Verhaeren's optimistic poem "La Joie" ["Joy"]:
To me all seems
One thrill of ardour, beauty, wild caress;
And I, in this world-drunkenness,
So multiply myself in all that gleams
On dazzled eyes,
That my heart, fainting, vents itself in cries.
O leaps of fervour, strong, profound, and sweet,
As though some great wing swept thee off thy feet!
If thou hast felt them upward bearing thee
Complain not, man, even in the evil day;
Whate'er disaster takes thee for her prey
Thou to thyself shalt say
That once, for one short instant all supreme
Which time may not destroy,
Thou yet hast tasted, with quick-beating heart,
Sweet, formidable joy;
And that thy soul, beguiling thee to see
As in a dream,
Hath fused thy very being's inmost part
With the unanimous great founts of power,
And that that day supreme, that single hour,
Hath made a god of thee.
Of course I didn't know any of this when we were viewing the statue. What I saw was a solitary figure, holding a sheaf of papers in his hand (perhaps his poems or a fiery speech) and pointing either toward the Belgium or Flanders flag, depending on the angle from which you looked.
photos by Rudy Picke
And I remember wondering, if my friend Steven Jay Griffel has a few more novels published, will they put up a statue of him in Bayside?