Literature and De Stijl

  • Egbert Krispyn


The northern Netherlands escaped direct involvement in World War I, but although they were spared the ravages of battle and the trauma of occupation, the first decades of the twentieth century were for them as for the rest of Western Europe, an era of upheaval and turmoil. In the field of literature this ferment manifested itself in the emergence of new styles and new attitudes that superseded the realistic traditions as well as the aestheticism of the Movement of ‘Eighty. Foremost among the innovators was Herman van den Bergh, not least because of his influence on Marsman. Their poetry is widely regarded as the major modernistic impulse in Dutch writing at the time; their significance is generally acknowledged and their achievements have repeatedly been subjected to scholarly study and analysis. Parallels have been drawn between them and the formally often much more radical German expressionists, and there are indeed points of similarity, of which in the present context the tendency toward cosmic visions is particularly relevant. Such lines as “Hemels staan op mijn hand gebogen” (“Heavens stand arched on my hand”) from Herman van den Bergh’s poem “Tegen Avond” (“Toward Evening”), or “en ruimte brak aan zijn metalen tred” (“and space broke under his metallic tread”) from Marsman’s “Heerscher” (“Ruler”) are closely related to the evocations of infinity typical of German expressionism. Kurt Heynicke wrote in his “Gesang”: “In mir ist blauer Himmel; / ich trage die Erde, / … Sonne kniet vor mir.”


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  1. 1.
    Vanderlinde, Frans, “I.K. Bonset, the Forgotten Van Doesburg,” in versunivers: Magazine for (evolutionary) Poetry, March/April, 1967, pp. 6–11, deals with Van Doesburg’s literary theories. Hannah L. Hedrick’s dissertation for the University of Arkansas (1972) “Theo Van Doesburg, Propagandist and Practitioner of the Avant-Garde: Belletristic activity in Holland, Germany and France, 1909–1923” is primarily concerned with those writings that were not published in De Stijl, and contains references to some retrospective personal reminiscences and tributes, and commentaries in exhibition catalogs. Cornelia Niekus Moore of the University of Hawaii reports that she is engaged on a study of the writings of Theo van Doesburg. While this article was in print, Maatstaf (November 1975) published an article on Bonset’s writing by Erik Slagter, “Een nieuwe dimensie in de dichtkunst” (pp. 34–41).Google Scholar
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  3. 3.
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1976

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  • Egbert Krispyn

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