The poetry of J.A. dèr Mouw
‘I’m Brahman. But we’re stuck without a maid. Around the house I just do what I can: throw out my dirty water, fill the can; but have no dish-cloth; mess things I’m afraid.’
Johan Andreas dèr Mouw (1863-1919) was a classical scholar, a Sanskrit scholar, philosopher and mathematician. He did not start to write poetry until his 50th year, in 1913. The poetical eruption lasted for six years, until his death.
He never got to see the publication of his first collection Brahman, although he had corrected the proofs and selected the cloth for the covers (in ‘tragic purple’, the colour of grief). Dèr Mouw dedicated most of his years to a quest for a philosophy of life that could interpret the relationship between himself and the world around him in a way he found plausible. His main goal was to lift or solve the duality that brought Western man to his sense of loss and isolation. He ultimately discovered the unity of the self and the world in the Hindu concept of Brahman. In Brahman, all antitheses are resolved, there is a unity between high and low, past and future, fabric and loom.
Everything is suitable for the Brahman poetry Dèr Mouw developed: the narrowness of a needle and the broadness of the Milky Way, the Norse saga and Greek mythology, the child and the old man, the grandest and the simplest. ‘Full of God and tiny pancakes’, ‘Orion and a child’s tear’, ‘Sun, Bach, Kant, and her calloused hands’. In Dèr Mouw’s universe everything exists next to each other and intertwined in each other; everything is one woven fabric and is one with the weaver.
Only the straitjacket of the sonnet could help Dèr Mouw to contain his creative energy, to turn chaos into clarity, make the dithyrambic become comprehensible. As a mathematician, Dèr Mouw knew the fascination of form, and as a scholar of Sanskrit the power of number in poetry. You sometimes can’t help getting the impression of a childlike-happy: ‘Hey, look at what I can do…!
’These expressionistic sonnets are no sloppy, sing-song poems: hop-step-and-jump leaps, inversions, faltering hesitations and breakaways as if it could only read like that, bear witness to the charge residing in these accumulators – one by one, suns that can be looked at with the naked eye. Organ music in speech. Wagner symphonies in correspondence style. Though speaking to us from almost a century ago, nothing is old-fashioned about this poetry, everything is as new as on the first day of creation. Perhaps what the most striking thing about them now is: that his poems constantly grow older and younger at one and the same time.