J.H. Leopold

Even in his own lifetime, the poet and classicist J.H. Leopold (1865–1925) was a mythical figure in Dutch poetry. As a teacher of classical languages in Rotterdam, he kept himself apart from the literary world; as a poet, he published poems sparsely – initially in De Nieuwe Gids. The incomparable refinement and complete intractability of Leopold’s introvert use of language gradually gave him a status that he posthumously never lost again: that of the poet’s poet par excellence in Dutch poetry. Many poets viewed and still view Leopold as the grand master, the ‘peerless singer’ who did not reach a broader public until the reprint of his Verses in 1920. By that time, the lonely bachelor was withdrawing increasingly stubbornly from social life, plagued by deafness and paranoia. On his death, his legacy was found to consist of thousands of pages of poetry, his ‘richness of the incomplete’.

The poetry of J.H. Leopold

The poetry of J.H. Leopold

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From the outset, in the ‘Six Christ poems’ series that marked his debut in De Nieuwe Gids in 1893, J.H. Leopold called for a new attitude towards reading. The very first line, ‘Stammen vragen naar een vreemd ding’ (‘Trunks are questioning a strange thing’), was something readers found it hard to make head or tail of. And the series as a whole was characterised by ambiguity and a complex wealth of linguistic components.

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