Maurice Maeterlinck Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Maurice Maeterlinck, in his first published work, Serres chaudes, poèmes (1889; Hot Houses, 1915), demonstrated his substantial abilities as a poet. Throughout his life, he continued to write chansons (lyrics in a folksong style) for collections and for inclusion in his plays. Maeterlinck’s prose, both in his plays and in his essays, always perches on the edge of verse in its rhythmic fluidity and rich imagery. Although he proved himself a lucid writer of expository prose with three scientific studies on bees, ants, and termites, it was in the realm of self-expression that he made his mark. Not since Ralph Waldo Emerson (whose works profoundly influenced Maeterlinck) has anyone been as able as Maeterlinck to combine the lyric with the metaphysical in essay form. The Belgian poet’s essays constitute a major contribution to the genre.

The link between Maeterlinck’s essays and his dramas is significant, especially in the essays in Le Trésor des humbles (1896; The Treasure of the Humble, 1897). For example, in the essays “Le Silence” (“The Silence”), “Emerson,” and “L’Étoile” (“The Star”), he outlines an important aspect of his dramatic aesthetics—his belief in the insufficiency of words: “words fail in great part to express what they really should.” Although various analyses have been written explicating the plays of Maeterlinck, none succeeds more revealingly than his own essays.


Until Maurice Maeterlinck appeared on the scene, Symbolism had created no viable theater—indeed, no drama at all except for a fragment by Stéphane Mallarmé and the hardly performable closet drama Axël (c. 1885-1886) by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. In the five years between 1889 and 1894, Maeterlinck created several first-rate works that are in full accord with Symbolist aesthetics. Maeterlinck is inevitably cited by scholars as a playwright who is important primarily because of his historical significance and whose works are never performed. Nevertheless, one of his plays is still performed worldwide, almost intact, and usually untranslated from the language in which he wrote it. Indeed, his Pelléas and Mélisande may be performed more frequently throughout the world than any stage work by any other French playwright of Maeterlinck’s generation. In 1902, Claude Debussy based his only completed opera on Pelléas and Mélisande.


Courtney, W. L. The Development of Maurice Maeterlinck and Other Sketches of Foreign Writers. London: G. Richards, 1994. A collection of sketches on late nineteenth century and early twentieth century foreign writers that appeared in The Daily Telegraph.

Knapp, Bettina Liebowitz. Maurice Maeterlinck. Boston: Twayne, 1975. A concise examination of the life and works of Maeterlinck. Bibliography.

Lambert, Carole J. The Empty Cross: Medieval Hopes, Modern Futility in the Theater of Maurice Maeterlinck, Paul Claudel, August Strindberg, and George Kaiser. New York: Garland, 1990. Lambert examines the influences that medieval thought had on the works of modern dramatists including Maeterlinck. Bibliography.

McGuinness, Patrick. Maurice Maeterlinck and the Making of Modern Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. McGuinness discusses the influence of Maeterlinck on modern theater. Bibliography and index.

Mahony, Patrick. Maurice Maeterlinck, Mystic and Dramatist: A Reminiscent Biography of the Man and His Ideas. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man, 1984. A biography of Maeterlinck that focuses on his concepts as expressed through his drama.