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Review: Selected Poems, by Georges Rodenbach

This is the first full-length collection of Rodenbach's poetry to be published in English. It may well be the last too as this book, though a selection, is as definitive as one might want. As Will Stone says, Rodenbach's poetry collections tend to be long and repetitious and one would wonder at the point of a larger collection.

Rodenbach is a famous Belgian-not least because David Bowie name-checked him on the 2013 album The Next Day. He strutted his stuff in late Nineteenth Century Belgium and France where he was associated with the Belgian literary revival of the 1880s-La Jeune Belgiques - and mixed with the French Symbolists in the 1890s. Though he found fame initially through a novel - Bruges-La-Morte - Rodenbach was a prolific poet until his premature death in 1898.

Though he never lived there, Bruges is the backdrop of much of his work. Those who have visited the Venice of the North will not find Rodenbach's work a useful guide to its delights unless they are given over to existential angst. Bruges - the dead city is simply the vehicle by which the poet communicates his mood, essentially one of melancholy and world-weariness. The city - a bit like a Yorkshire market town on a wet weekend - is pervaded by an atmosphere of isolation, abandonment and faded glory. It is, in short, the perfect setting for a Symbolist poet like Rodenbach who wrote that 'Symbolist poetry is the dream...where the real is only the point of departure'.

... There is much to be applauded in this brave collection, not least because it makes accessible the work of a poet largely ignored.