Hothouses by Maurice Maeterlinck
Poems, 1889 (Facing Pages)

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Synopsis

On May 31, 1889, a young Belgian lawyer from a wealthy bourgeois family in Ghent published a book of 33 poems in 155 copies. Maurice Maeterlinck's legal career was floundering but his road to literary greatness had begun. Long overshadowed by the plays that later won him the Nobel Prize, Serres chaudes (Hothouses) nonetheless came to be widely regarded as one of the cornerstones of literary Modernism after Baudelaire. While Max Nordau soon seized upon Maeterlinck's--tumult of images--as symptomatic of a pervasive social malaise, decades later Antonin Artaud pronounced, "Maeterlinck was the first to introduce the multiple riches of the subconscious into literature."

Richard Howard's translation of this quietly radical work is the first to be published in nearly a century, and the first to accurately convey Maeterlinck's elusive visionary force. The poems, some of them in free verse (new to Belgium at the time), combine the decadent symbolism and the language of dislocation that Maeterlinck later perfected in his dramas. Hothouses reflects the influence not only of French poets including Verlaine and Rimbaud, but also of Whitman. As for the title, the author said it was "a natural choice, Ghent . . . abounding in greenhouses."

The poems, whose English translations appear opposite the French originals, are accompanied by reproductions of seven woodcuts by Georges Minne that appeared in the original volume, and by an early prose text by Maeterlinck imaginatively describing a painting by the sixteenth-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel.

A feat of daring power extraordinarily immediate and inventive, Hothouses will appeal to all lovers of poetry, and in particular to those interested in Modernism. Maeterlinck's enormous fame may have faded, but twentieth-century writers such as Beckett are still our masters who testify to its undying influence.

 

About Maurice Maeterlinck

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Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. Richard Howard was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 13, 1929. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1951 and studied at the Sorbonne as a Fellow of the French Government in 1952-1953. He briefly worked as a lexicographer, but soon turned his attention to poetry and poetic criticism. His works include Trappings: New Poems; Like Most Revelations: New Poems; Selected Poems; No Traveler; Findings; Alone with America; and Quantities. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1969 for Untitled Subjects. He is also a translator and published more than 150 translations from the French. He received the PEN Translation Prize in 1976 for his translation of E. M. Cioran's A Short History of Decay and the American Book Award for his 1983 translation of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. In 1982, he was named a Chevalier of L'Ordre National du Mérite by the government of France. He teaches in the Writing Division of the School of the Arts, Columbia University.
 
Published March 10, 2003 by Princeton University Press. 128 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Long overdue for reconsideration is Hothouses: Poems 1889, the book of poems published in French by Belgian lawyer Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), who later went on the win a Nobel Prize.

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