J. Slauerhoff is one of the greatest Dutch poets of the twentieth century. He owes the unique position he occupies in Dutch literature to completely personal themes he carved out in equally personal poetry. Longing for the passionate love for a woman, struck by the tragedy of loneliness, the yearning to be elsewhere or somewhere in the past, the desire for the sea, the disenchantment with present-day life, the awareness of degeneration, all these themes mark him as a late Romantic poet. On the other hand, the rawness and acrimony of his tone, as well as his split personality, make him a true exponent of his era. In the guise of consistently different characters, either historical or fictive, Slauerhoff aligns with the modernist tradition of Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Pessoa.
Born and raised in Leeuwarden, capital of the province of Friesland, Slauerhoff studied medicine in Amsterdam. He made his debut in 1923 with the collection Archipel (Archipelago), in which almost all the elements present in his later work can already be found. After completing his study, he became a ship’s doctor on Dutch vessels sailing to East Asia. His poor health was repeatedly the cause of broken employment contracts. Accordingly, he led an itinerant life. ‘Nowhere but in my poems can I dwell,/ Nowhere else could I a shelter find’ are the first lines of one of his most renowned poems (‘Homeless’), which can be regarded as characteristic of his life and work.
His work also displays a certain restlessness, which he not only depicts in the content of the work but also substantiates in the form of his poetry. His verses are often ‘unfinished’. Unlike most of his contemporaries Slauerhoff adhered to classical verse forms, but his verse structure is often irregular. A deliberate cynicism or grotesque imagery contributes to the coarse nature of his poetry, in which a vulnerable sensitivity shines through the thin membrane of the verse.
Slauerhoff, who is referred to as the only poète maudit in Dutch literature, was influenced by French poets (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Corbière), the Czech/German Rilke, and several Chinese poets (Bai Juyi, Li Po), whose work he translated.
Besides poems, J. Slauerhoff (1898–1936) also wrote stories, novels, and a play. In addition, he published travelogues and reviews. Ten collections of his work were published during his comparatively short life. The last, Een eerlijk zeemansgraf (An Honourable Seaman’s Grave), appeared shortly before his death after a long illness, in a private clinic in The Netherlands. Despite his ‘violations’ of verse technique, Slauerhoff was regarded by his contemporaries as a genuine poet with a completely distinctive voice. Nowadays he is one of the few poets from the previous century whose work is still widely sold.
‘His best poems resemble long sobs, but they are tears that reflect an entire cosmos. His poetry covers the whole world and the history of the coagulation of the earth’s crust up to the present and even beyond: to Doomsday.’
W.F. Hermans in Slauerhoff and the Past
‘Slauerhoff makes you understand that it does not matter whether or not you write in the sand, roam through the countryside like a mendicant, or wait for a woman who does not exist, as long as you don’t waste your own life.’
Arnon Grunberg in the NRC Handelsblad
‘His restless soul still shivers through in Dutch literature, incomparable to anyone.’
Cees Nooteboom in Nootebooms Hotel
Archipel, P.N. van Kampen & Zoon, Amsterdam, 1923
Clair-obscur, Palladium, Haarlem, 1926
Oost-Azië, ps. John Ravenswood, De Gemeenschap, Utrecht, 1928
Eldorado, Van Dishoeck, Bussum, 1928
Fleurs de marécage (collection of French poems), A.A.M.Stols, Brussels, 1929
Saturnus, Hijman, Stenfert Kroese en Van der Zande, Arnhem, 1930
Yoeng poe tsjoeng, A.A.M. Stols, Maastricht/Brussels, 1930
Serenade, The Halcyon Press (= A.A.M. Stols), Maastricht/Brussels, 1930
Soleares, A.A.M. Stols, Maastricht, 1933
Een eerlijk zeemansgraf, Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, 1936
Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen (Selected Poems), Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 1978
Alle gedichten (Collected Poems), Nijgh & Van Ditmar , Amsterdam, 2005
Het lente-eiland (Kau-Lung-Seu) (short stories), A.A.M. Stols, Maastricht/Brussels, 1930
Schuim en asch (short stories), Van Dishoeck, Bussum, 1930
Het verboden rijk (novel), Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, 1932
Het leven op aarde (novel), Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, 1934
De opstand van Guadalajara (novel), Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, 1937
Prose translations by Slauerhoff (selection)
Ricardo Güiraldes, Don Segundo Sombra, translated from the Spanish, A.A.M. Stols, Maastricht/Brussels, 1930
J.M. Eça de Queiróz, De misdaad van Pater Amaro, translated from the Portuguese with R. Schreuder, Querido, Amsterdam, 1932
Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Dokter hoe is het mogelijk, translated from the Spanish, P.N. van Kampen & Zoon, Amsterdam, 1933
Martín Luis Guzmán, In de schaduw van den leider, translated from the Spanish with G.J. Geers, Boucher, The Hague, 1937
Jules Laforgue, Hamlet, of De gevolgen der kinderliefde, translated from the French, Moussault, Kartons, Amsterdam, 1962
Slauerhoff’s prose and poems have been published in translation in Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, English, Esperanto, French, Frisian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian.
‘In Memoriam mijzelf’
Slauerhoff on Youtube
A poem in translation by A.Z. Foreman
Short story and general information
Christina Branco sings Slauerhoff