Although known primarily as a poet, Guido Gezelle also wrote numerous essays on language, literature, art, and Flemish culture. These works were published during his lifetime in such Flemish journals as Reynaert de vos, ’t Jaer 30, Rond den heerd, Loquela, and Biekorf. In addition, he published in 1886 a Flemish translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (1855) and, in 1897, a Flemish translation of Monsignor Waffelaert’s Latin treatise Meditationes theologiae (1883). These translations, as well as his poetry and surviving letters, appear in the nine volumes of Jubileumuitgave van Guido Gezelle’s volledige werken (1930-1939).
Although Guido Gezelle is one of Flanders’s greatest poets and holds a prominent place in Netherlandic literature by being one of its leading nineteenth century poets and a significant forerunner of modern Dutch poetry, he won his fame primarily after his death. Some of his former poetry students helped to promote his art.
Especially instrumental in doing so was Hugo Verriest (1840-1922), who followed in Gezelle’s footsteps by becoming a teacher and a priest. Verriest brought Gezelle’s poetry to the attention of his own brilliant student Albrecht Rodenbach (1856-1880), a leader of a student group interested in preserving Flemish culture. While at the University of Louvain, Rodenbach became acquainted with Pol De Mont (1857-1931), a student-writer who had important connections with an artistic movement in Holland. This group of young artists, who called themselves the Men of the Eighties, was interested in setting new trends by breaking with the literary conventions of the past. They admired Gezelle and made the North (Holland) receptive to his poetry. De Mont was also involved with a group of artists in the South (Flanders), called Van Nu en Straks (of today and tomorrow). One of their goals coincided with that of the Men of the Eighties—that is, they wished to break with their past. Furthermore, they wished to revive Flemish consciousness in general and were, in fact, very successful in so doing. In their journal, Van nu en straks, they...
Ironically, though Tijdkrans and Rijmsnoer never refer even once to Gezelle’s patriotic goal of reviving Flemish literature, it is precisely these two collections which stimulated that revival, especially after the poet’s death. These collections were at first neither admired nor clearly understood, but later they were praised for their innovativeness in language and style. No longer resorting to those monotonous rhymes, conventional stanzaic patterns, and didactic techniques which characterize some parts of the earlier Dichtoefeningen and Gedichten, gezangen en gebeden, the collections Tijdkrans and Rijmsnoer from beginning to end are truly inspired rather than consciously made. Their poems are fluid and varied, unforced and free, quickening and slowing their pace in accordance with the natural rhythms of colloquial speech. They are daringly innovative in their language as well. In them, Gezelle stretched his own Flemish idiom to its very limits, coupling contemporary words to medieval roots, transforming verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs, or simply combining different parts of speech. Through these two collections in particular, Gezelle became recognized far and wide.
King, Peter. Gezelle and Multatuli: A Question of Literature and Social History. Hull, England: University of Hull, 1978. A critical assessment of the works of Gezalle and his contemporary Multatuli, also known as Eduard Douwes Dekker. Includes bibliographical references.
Van Nuis, Hermine J. Guido Gezelle, Flemish Poet-Priest. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. A brief biography and critical study of Gezelle’s life and work.
Van Roosbroeck, G. L. Guido Gezelle: The Mystic Poet of Flanders. Vinton, Iowa.: Kruse, 1919. A short study of Gezelle’s place in the history of Flemish literature.