Guido Gezelle Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Born in Bruges on May 1, 1830, the year the kingdom of Belgium was established, Guido Gezelle was to become an important leader of and spokesman for the Flemish literary revival. Having inherited his father’s literary sensibility and his mother’s strong Roman Catholic devotion, Gezelle was destined to become a poet-priest. After he was graduated in 1846 from Sint Lodewijkscollege in Bruges, he continued his training in theological studies at the Minor Seminary in Roulers (1846-1849) and at the Major Seminary in Bruges (1850-1854). He was ordained to the priesthood on June 10, 1854.

In August, 1854, he was appointed to teach sciences and languages at the Minor Seminary in Roulers. Quickly thereafter, in 1857, he was promoted to professor of poetry, a position he held until August, 1859. These two years were marked by unusual creativity. Gezelle formed a eucharistic confraternity with some of his students in an effort to revive medieval devotion to Jesus Christ through adoration of Christ’s Sacrament of Love. This confraternity provided both his students and himself with a poetic-mystical atmosphere enabling Gezelle to pursue his poetic goal—namely, to revive a kind of medieval Flemish “school” of poetry in an age when French was more prestigious and Flemish poetry virtually nonexistent. Gezelle was successful in encouraging some of these students to become poets, and during these years, he produced several collections of poetry himself: Kerkhofblommen (churchyard flowers), Dichtoefeningen (poetic exercises), XXXIII Kleengedichtjes (thirty-three small poems), and Gedichten, gezangen en gebeden (poems, hymns, and prayers).

Despite these early achievements, Gezelle met with criticism from all sides. His pedagogical approach ran counter to the rigid format of his day. By his unstructured classroom methods, he threatened an educational system which stressed adherence to uniformity of methods and conformity to previously set standards. Moreover, his close ties with students belonging to the confraternity raised eyebrows among those of his religious superiors who considered suspect any friendship between students...

(The entire section is 889 words.)