The poetry of J. Slauerhoff

J. Slauerhoff is one of the greatest Dutch poets of the twentieth century. He owes the unique place he occupies in Dutch literature to a completely personal theme that he shaped into an equally personal poetry. Longing for a passionate love for a woman, the tragedy of loneliness, the longing for elsewhere and the past, the yearning for the sea, the disillusionment with the present existence, the sense of dissolution, all these themes label him a belated romantic poet.

J. Slauerhoff

On the other hand, the rawness and bitterness of his tone as well as the split personality make him precisely an exponent of his time. Disguising himself in ever-changing characters, historical or invented, Slauerhoff places himself in the modernist tradition of Yeats, Pound, Eliot and Pessoa.

Born and raised in the Frisian capital Leeuwarden, he studied medicine in Amsterdam after secondary school. He made his debut in 1923 with the collection Archipel ('Archipelago'), which already contained almost all the elements of his later work. After his studies, he became a ship's doctor on Dutch boats sailing in East Asia. His weak constitution was always the cause of aborted work contracts. In this way, he suffered a wandering existence. 'Only in my poems can I live, / Never found shelter elsewhere' read the first lines of one of his best-known poems ('Woninglooze'), which can be considered programmatic for his life and work.

For his work also displays a restlessness, which he not only depicted in terms of content, but also shaped in the form of his poetry. His verses are often 'unfinished'. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Slauerhoff stuck to classical verse forms, but his verse construction is often erratic and a deliberate cynicism or grotesque imagery contribute to the raw character of his poetry, in which fragile sensitivity shines through the thin skin of the verse.

Slauerhoff, who has been called the only poète maudit in Dutch literature, enjoyed the influence of French poets (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Corbière), Rilke and some Chinese poets (Bai Juyi, Li Po), whose work he translated.

J. Slauerhoff
The life of the ship’s doctor and poet Jan Jacob Slauerhoff (1898-1936) satisfies all the criteria for literary stardom. He was restless, adventurous, and intriguing, a tormented loner who suffered poor health and died young – a poète maudit in every way.
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