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Godenschemering * Marcellus Emants (1921)

Since I don’t read literature, I didn’t know about the poem “Twilight Of The Gods” by Marcells Emants (1948-1923). When on a Dutch phorum the text was mentioned and I asked my girlfriend about it (who is much better informed about these kind of subjects) she said that she bought an overstock copy from the local library a while ago, but she hadn’t read it yet. Godenschemering is a long poem divided in five songs and deals with Germanic mythology. In my hands I have a 1966 printing with a very long introduction by M.C. van den Toorn. Emants wrote the poem and the first edition was published in 1883. There weren’t too many people well-informed in Northern mythology those days, but at least one critic wrote about the ‘flaws’ in the poem at length. Emants reacted to the critics in the foreword of the second and revised edition of 1885. After this Emants kept revising the text, sometimes slightly, sometimes drastically, in the coming editions of 1910, 1916 and 1921. My 1966 printing is a reprint of the final version, but the introduction speaks about the revisions and the person of Emants at length. The most striking revisions concern the introduction of rhythm in the lines. Herefor Emants sometimes had to make drastic changes. He came to a structure (of which I can’t remember the terms) of alternitally a stressed and an unstressed syllable and this five times per line (a “jambe” of five). This reads very irritatingly and I immediately remembered why I never read poetry! Also Emants introduced “alliteration” (repeating letters) in some parts, a literary trick that I enjoy better.
Then we come to the Northern mythology. Emants used different Eddic poems, such as the one about Balder’s dream, Balder’s death, the Lokasenna, the abduction of Iduna, Ragnarok, etc. He mixed them, changed the order, left things out and came up with new details. During his life Emants was gravely underestimated for his work. People said that he misunderstood the myths and that he misused them. The introducter to my printing sees some strange happening, such as the over-dramatisation which proves in too romantic descriptions of Frigga kissing Odin or a crying Thor; but highly appreciates what Emants has done with his sources. Obviously he understood them very well, because he was really able to play with it, do his own thing and in most cases, the new elements really fit in. Emants came up with ‘kennings’ of his own, new descriptions and names for characters, new details to stories, etc. and only the people really knowing the Eddas well, will be able to see what is new and what is used from the sources. Because Emants had a certain story in mind, his version sometimes becomes crooked and for example the role of Loki’s mother Laufeya is much larger than in the original texts. Nanna dies when she hears about Balder’s death, instead of dying at his funeral, to mention another example. Loki is the main character in Godenscherming which fits in the pessimistic worldview that Emants developped in his later life. The poem was even reworked to a play with the title Loki.
On one hand I liked to see what influence the Nordic myths have had on Dutch literature and with Van den Toorn I appreciate some elements of Emants work. On the other hand, when the story becomes unfamiliar to me, I found it really hard to understand what everything was about, because of the weird writing-style. Highly literary, I am sure, but I had a hard time trying to understand was is conveyed in the odd sentences. For those of you who can read Dutch and want to get an idea for yourself. The text is available online. So far for the first literary review on…

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