Encounter at the crossroads of Europe
Will Stone, translator of Stefan Zweig‘s Nietzsche [a gorse read of 2013], on Zweig and Emile Verhaeren.
In Berlin, apart from his studies and bohemian indulgences, Zweig sought a more expansive freedom in literary terms, and caught the bug of translation. He began to explore further afield, even translating poets such as Keats and Yeats and producing with other translators a collection of Verlaine’s poetry to which he added a critically acclaimed introduction. But all the time he was moving closer to Belgium, drawn by the rich crop of its home grown artists and writers who seemed to integrate their works in fresh and creatively productive ways. So in the summer break of 1902, long anticipating a visit to the ‘little land between the languages’, Zweig made his move.
The vital importance of Zweig’s meeting with Verhaeren in relation to his ensuing career as a writer, emissary of humanism and key proponent for the higher ideal of a Europe of cultural unity, cannot be underestimated. The contrast between Verhaeren’s openness, curiosity, vitality, not to mention the explicit visionary credentials he held, and the self conscious dandified Viennese poetry circles Zweig had moved within was extreme. It was if Zweig himself had suddenly been released from a reserve of pampered elites into the rawness and unpredictability of the wild and could finally breathe real air, taste real food and appreciate the creative potential of risk and unpredictability. In Verhaeren’s verses he saw bold new vistas opening up which seemed to strike a necessary chord with the rapidly transforming epoch, as the fabled ‘golden age of security’, guarded by the Hapsburg realm unceremoniously gave way to something far more restless, ominous and uncertain.