Christine D'haen (b. 1923 in Gent, Belgium) studied in Gent, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh. She taught English for many years and spent a major part of her academic career studying classical history and literature. She wrote an autobiography of the nineteenth-century Belgian poet-priest Guido Gezelle which became an instant standard work, and she has published a number of prose and poetic works, all of which demonstrate her deep interest in and extensive knowledge and appreciation of classical philosophy and literature. The best known of her poetic works are Mirages (1989; see WLT 64:3, p. 473) and Morgane (1995; see WLT 70:3, p. 709). For her publications she has received several prestigious literary prizes, such as the C. W. van der Hoogtprijs, which was presented to her by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on 28 October 1992.
D'haen's verse is highly sophisticated in terms of content, style, and language and can be fully appreciated only by readers with a sound knowledge of the classics. Her poems require and are indeed frequently accompanied by explanatory notes enabling the reader to comprehend the poet's thoughts better and to appreciate her incredible erudition and ability to exploit and combine classic themes and modern poetic techniques. These qualities are also distinctly present in Dodecaeder / Dantis meditatio, a twin publication in more than one sense of the word: the two parts complement and contrast with each other. Dodecaeder (Dodecahedron) refers to the spatial mathematical construct consisting of twelve pentagonal surfaces, a figure which has intrigued philosophers through the ages and is regarded as representing the culmination point of and solution to the relationship of reason and mystery. Dantis meditatio can be regarded as a extended tribute, in long, unbroken verse form, to Dante's masterpiece La divina commedia. The dominating tone in both parts of the book is one of harmony, solemnity, and majesty, the state D'haen is constantly attempting to accomplish in all her works. Specifically in the present work, she successfully merges classical material and modern linguistic and philosophical systems to illuminate reciprocally both basic components while at the same time creating a new masterpiece.
Dodecaeder consists of twelve so-called douzains, poems of twelve lines each-here, three quatrains. Each poem refers to a famous national or international character from a classic work of art. Poem number 8, for example, portrays Michelangelo's Adam in Rome's Sistine Chapel, a figure which, she explains in the endnotes, represents "a God in a developing state-i.e., consciousness." Poem 4 is, according to the notes, a conversation involving Erasmus, Spinoza, Kant, Descartes, Leibniz, Hegel, Thomas, Schopenhauer, and Heidegger. For this interpretation she is inspired by Hans Holbein's Portrait of Erasmus (Paris); she concludes her short note on this particular poem with the lament "A philosopher is what I have always wanted to be." The twelve poems together form, again in her own words, "a sort of self-portrait."
The motto at the beginning of the book, "Sing me frumsceaft," (Sing to me of the origin), is a maxim which elucidates not only the present volume but also the sentiment expressed in Christine D'haen's works in general.
Martinus A. Bakker
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|Author:||Bakker, Martinus A.|
|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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