Hélène Swarth

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Hélène Swarth (by Rosa Spanjaard)

Stéphanie Hélène Swarth (1859-1941) was a prolific Dutch poet active from 1879 to 1938. She is considered one of the Tachtigers and acquired a reputation as a sonneteer.[1]


Stephanie Hélène Swarth (when she was married, Lapidoth-Swarth) was born in Amsterdam, 25 October 1859. Her father was a merchant, Eduard Swarth, who for a while was the consul for Portugal in Amsterdam, and her mother was Maria Jacoba Heijblom. She grew up in Brussels, where her father was a banker, and lived in Mechelen until her marriage to Dutch author Frits Lapidoth, which lasted from 1894 to 1910.[2] This unhappy marriage is the subject of a monograph by Jeroen Brouwers, Hélène Swarth. Haar huwelijk met Frits Lapidoth, 1894-1910 (1986).

Her poetic debut was a collection of poems in French influenced by Alphonse de Lamartine, but she switched to Dutch-language poems on the advice of Pol De Mont. An early admirer was poet Willem Kloos who called her "the singing heart of Holland" and published her poems in his magazine De Nieuwe Gids. She died in Velp on 20 June 1941.


Engraving by E. A. Tilly, 1898

After two collections in French, Swarth published a Dutch volume of songs and sonnets, Eenzame bloemen ("Lonely flowers", 1883). A reviewer in De Gids thought the songs frequently too sentimental (and in the vein of Heinrich Heine), but appreciated the sonnets.[3] Conrad Busken Huet saw in her second Dutch collection, Blue Flowers ("Blue Flowers", 1884), a poetry receptive to nature and a female spirit which would make whichever man she chose as a lover very happy;[4] a reviewer for De Gids saw worthwhile thoughts and images in only a few of the sonnets.[5] Lodewijk van Deyssel likewise criticized the volume's songs and praised the sonnets—even to the point of prophesying that her name would be blessed.[6]

By the time Sneeuwvlokken ("Snow flakes", 1888) was published, she had gained a reputation for a poetry of love and suffering. By this time she had moved to Mechelen. A review in De Gids compared her work favorably to "sweet, homely poetry", which he likened to a sweet little tune on a fiddle, whereas Swarth's "deep, full poetry" was like hearing Beethoven played by a full orchestra. Again, especially her sonnets were praised.[7] An overview article in Vlaamsche School (1889) pointed at the influence of Pol de Mont, who had advised her to forgo reading narrative and epic, and instead focus on lyrical poetry, sonnets. The origin of the sadness in her poetry was located in a "loss of faith and bitter disappointments".[8]

At least one critic gave her entire oeuvre (including the anthologized "Jeux Innocents"[9]) an autobiographical reading: Swarth supposedly gave her heart to a young poet but he was unfaithful to her. According to Jacob Ek Jzn, this particular cause of sorrow speaks in all her work, without becoming a distraction or a bore since she found many different ways and forms of expressing both the initial sentiment and its recollection.[10] Swarth and her poetry figure in Ina Boudier-Bakker's best-known novel, De klop op de deur, as a female poet unafraid to express her suffering for love.[11]

A key line from "Jeux Innocents" was cited in 1954 by then-foreign minister Johan Willem Beyen during a discussion on European unification: "Wij speelden pandje met ons leven" ("we bargained with our lives") was used to emphasize that all countries, even small ones, had much at stake in the era of globalization.[12]


  • Fleurs du rêve (1879)
  • Les printanières (1882)
  • Eenzame bloemen (1883)
  • Blauwe bloemen (1884)
  • Beelden en stemmen (1887)
  • Sneeuwvlokken ("Snow flakes", 1888)
  • Rouwviolen (1889)
  • Passiebloemen (1891)
  • Nieuwe gedichten (1892)
  • Bloesem en vrucht (1893)
  • Verzen (1893)
  • Blanke duiven (1895)
  • Diepe wateren (1897)
  • Stille dalen (1899)
  • Najaarsstemmen (1900)
  • Premières poésies (1902)
  • Octoberloover (1903)
  • Nieuwe verzen (1906)
  • Avondwolken (1911)
  • A. de Musset, De nachten (1912)
  • M.M. de Lafayette, De prinses de Clèves (1915)
  • Eenzame paden (1916)
  • V. Hugo, Hernani (1918)
  • Keurbundel (1919)
  • Late liefde. Liederen en sonnetten (1919)
  • Octobre en fleur (1919)
  • Hans Bethge De Chineesche fluit (1921)
  • Dagen (1924)
  • Episoden (1924)
  • Morgenrood (1929)
  • Natuurpoëzie (1930)
  • Beeldjes uit vrouwenleven (1938)
  • Sorella (1942)


  1. ^ Braak, Menno ter (1938). "Helene Swarth". Vaderlandartikelen (in Dutch). 
  2. ^ "Stéphanie Hélène Swarth (1859-1941, schrijfster)". Biografisch woordenboek Gelderland: bekende en onbekende mannen en vrouwen uit de Gelderse geschiedenis. Verloren. 1998. pp. 98–101. ISBN 9789065506245. 
  3. ^ Beaufort, Willem Hendrik de (1884). "Letterkundige kroniek". De Gids (in Dutch). 48: 562–70. 
  4. ^ Huet, Conrad Busken (1885). "Nieuwe Nederlandsche letteren". Litterarische Fantasien en Kritieken (in Dutch). 21. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink. pp. 185–218. 
  5. ^ "Letterkundige kroniek". De Gids (in Dutch). 49: 191–96. 1885. 
  6. ^ Deyssel, Lodewijk van. "Hélène Swarth". Dietsche Warande (in Dutch). n.s. 5: 139–45. 
  7. ^ "Letterkundige kroniek". De Gids (in Dutch). 52: 517–21. 1988. 
  8. ^ Claerhout, Julien (1889). "Zesmaandelijksch overzicht". Het Belfort (in Dutch). 4: 118–19. 
  9. ^ Jacob Nicolaas van Hall, ed. (1898). Dichters van dezen tijd: gedichten (in Dutch). Van Kampen. pp. 52–53. 
  10. ^ Ek Jzn, Jacob (1898). "Van Hélène Swarth". In Foeke Buitenrust Hettema. Taal en letteren (in Dutch). 8. J. H. van den Bosch, Roeland Anthonie Kollewijn. W.E.J. Tjeenk Willink. pp. 433–56. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  11. ^ Boudier-Bakker, Ina (1931). De klop op de deur (in Dutch) (9 ed.). Amsterdam: Van Kampen. p. 357ff. 
  12. ^ "40ste Vergadering -6 Mei '54" (in Dutch). Eerste Kamer der Staten-Generaal. 1954. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 

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