Feasts Of Fear And Agony
by Paul Van Ostaijen
Translated from the Dutch by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym
With a contribution by Paul Van Ostaijen
Paul Van Ostaijen (1896-1928) was one of the leading figures of the modernist vanguard in Holland and Belgium, the restless, almost spasmodic quality of his work giving early shape and direction to the expressionist and dadaist tendencies in the Low Countries after the First World War. Feasts of Fear and Agony, a cycle of nineteen poems, was written in 1918-20, when he was with the Belgian occupation forces in Berlin. Van Ostaijen, himself active in leftwing revolutionary circles in Antwerp as well as the Flemish nationalist movement, was deeply affected by the turmoil in Germany. Indeed, the earliest sections of Feasts of Fear and Agony were written at the time of the Spartacist uprising and reflect his bitter, passionate response to the violence of the time. Other poems evidence Van Ostaijen’s preoccupation with religion and metaphysics and the interpenetration of the sacred and profane. After 1920, when Van Ostaijen had arranged the individual poems of Feasts of Fear and Agony into a cohesive whole, he copied them out by hand in an exercise of calligraphic experimentation. For commercial reasons, however, the work was never published in this form during his lifetime. In this its first rendering into English from the original Flemish, samples of Van Ostaijen’s calligraphy, reproduced in facsimile, accompany the opening lines of each poem.