Hendrik Marsman

Biography of Hendrik Marsman

Hendrik Marsman (Zeist, 30 September 1899 – English Channel, 21 June 1940) was a Dutch poet and writer. He drowned while escaping to Great Britain, when the ship he was on was torpedoed by a German submarine.

Marsman studied law and practiced in Utrecht, but after 1933 he travelled in Europe and devoted himself to literature. Under the influence of the German Expressionists, Marsman made his literary debut about 1920 with rhythmic free verse, which attracted notice for its aggressive independence. The collection Verzen (1923; “Verses”) expresses an antihumanist, anti-intellectual rebelliousness, which the poet called “vitalism.” As editor of the periodical De Vrije bladen (“The Free Press”), he became in 1925 the foremost critic of the younger generation. His next collection of verse appeared in 1927 with the English title Paradise Regained and was greeted as a major artistic achievement. Another cycle, Porta Nigra, dominated by the idea of death, appeared in 1934. His last book of verse, Tempel en kruis (1940; “Temple and Cross”), an autobiographical account of the poet’s development, reaffirms humanistic ideals. Marsman was drowned during World War II when his ship was torpedoed in the English Channel.

His poetry is vitalistic and expressionistic, and (fear of) death, as a metaphor for defeat in life, is a recurring theme. His "Herinnering aan Holland" (Remembrance of Holland): "Denkend aan Holland zie ik breede rivieren traag door oneindig laagland gaan," Thinking about Holland, I see broad rivers slowly moving through endless lowlands. In 2000, the Dutch people chose this as the "Dutch Poem of the Century."

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