Belgian poet Verhaeren in Aberystwyth 1914

This post is in English as the fullest report on Verhaeren’s visit to Aberystwyth is in Welsh and is easily accessible thanks to the National Library of Wales’s wonderful Welsh newspapers project

The poet Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) was one of a number of Belgian artists who found themselves in Wales during the First World War. Arriving in Britain in October 1914 he lived on the outskirts of Cardiff for a while, but more often than not he was on the road, giving lectures on his poetry, his country and the effect of the war on them. He gave two lectures at Aberystwyth, in the Examination Hall of the College, on the 8th and 9th of December 1914; one entitled ‘L’Esprit Belge’ and the other ‘Les Petites Villes de Flandres’. The lectures were free, and attended by many Belgian refugees based in Aberystwyth, who were pleased to hear a lecture in French. The audience included Percy Mansell Jones (1889-1968), a young lecturer at Aberystwyth, and expert on Verhaeren, who subsequently published a detailed report of the lectures’ contents in The Dragon: The Magazine of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, vol. xxxvii, February 1915, and who claimed that ‘At Aberystwyth, the staff and students of University College fêted him for two days with so much warmth that he almost decided to make the Welsh resort his home in exile and to settle with his wife in a locality where many artists among their compatriots had already found refuge. Unfortunately the spot was too far removed from the great centres on whose platforms he felt it his duty to appear in his contry’s name’ (Percy Mansell Jones, Emile Verhaeren, London: University of Wales Press, 1926), pp. 191-92). Verhaeren lectured sitting down, full of feeling, and rising to his feet to recite some of his own poems, the liveliest of which seems to have been his poem on Charles Duke of Burgundy ‘Le Téméraire’. His political argument was that the outbreak of war had unified Belgium’s two halves, the Latin and the Teutonic. In a third public appearance in Aberystwyth, Verhaeren attended an evening for Belgian refugees organised by the British Women’s Temperance Association in Siloh vestry (today’s Morlan Centre), where guests were welcomed in French by Mrs T.F. Roberts and Miss Mary Davies. A week later, the Welsh newspaper Y Cymro (Rhagfyr 16, 2014) reported on the two Aberystwyth lectures, and presented Verhaeren as a labouring-class poet who championed rural living and small towns. His work had become much more familiar in the past few months, although it was already known in Wales thanks in part to Percy Mansell Jones who had recently completed an MA dissertation on Verhaeren’s poetry. Miss Gwendoline Davies, Llandiman had made these lectures possible. Principal Roberts presided on the first day, and Mr T Gwynn Jones, a poet and a lecturer in Welsh at the University, on the second. Jones, who later translated one of Verhaeren’s poems ‘Devant l’Invasion, 1914’ into Welsh under the title ‘Goresgyn’, was praised for speaking some French at the event, but Prof. J. Young Evans in Y Cymro remarks that he would have done better to allow Verhaeren and the other Belgians present to hear a speech in Welsh.

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1 Response to Belgian poet Verhaeren in Aberystwyth 1914

  1. Will says:

    Heather this is very interesting… i am the English translator of Verhaeren and am currently back and forth to various memorials for the centenary of his death, tonight in London at the Belgian Embassy. I knew V was in Wales then but did not know it was Aber, where my oldest friend Prof Paul Newland works at the Uni, maybe you know if him. In Ghent recently i found a book in the ask art museum about belgian artists in wales… from an older exhibition. my email is in case you need to get in touch, With best will

    Liked by 1 person

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