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Jacob van Maerlant

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The greatest Flemish poet of the Middle Ages, b. about 1235; d. after 1291. Of his life little is known. His name he seems to have derived front Maerlant on the island of Voorne, where he lived for some time employed as a sexton, whence his surname "de Coster". Later he resided at Damme, near Bruges, where, according to tradition, he held the position of town-clerk. Maerlant's earliest works were chivalrous romances, such as were in vogue at that time in courtly circles, and were adapted from French or Latin sources. Such are "Alexanders Geesten" (written c. 1257), from the Latin of Gauthier de Chastillon; "Historie van den Grale" and "Merlijns Boeck" from the French of Robert de Borron: the "Roman van Torec", from a lost French original; and the "Historie van Troyen" (ab. 1264), from the French of Benoit de Sainte More. But this kind of literature was little to his taste, which inclined to the didactic and useful. So he turned his back on the lying romances, as he called these works in his "Rijmbijbel", and devoted his talent to poems of a didactic and moralizing character. Among the most note-worthy of these poems are "Heimlicheit der Heimlicheden", a treatise on politics, adapted from the pseudo-Aristotelean "Secreta Secretorum"; "Der Naturen Bloeme" a versified natural history based on the "De natura rerum" of Thomas of Cantimpré, and the famous "Rijmbijbel", a rhymed Biblical history, translated from the "Scholastica" of Petrus Comestor, with a continuation "Die Wrake van Jherusalem", adapted from the history of Josephus. He also translated a "Life of St. Francis" (Leven van St. Franciscus) from the Latin of Bonaventure. Maerlant's most extensive work is the "Spiegel Historiael", a rhymed chronicle of the world, translated from the "Speculum historiale" of Vincent of Beauvais. It is dedicated to Count Floris V and was begun in 1283, but was left unfinished at the poet's death. Continuations were given by Philip Utenbroeke and Lodewijc van Velthem, a Brabant priest.

Maerlant is also the author of a number of strophic poems, which date from different periods of his life. Of these the best known is the "Wapene Martijn" (Alas! Martin) so called from the opening words. It is a dialogue on the course of events held between the poet himself and a character named Martin. Altogether there are three parts, of which the above-mentioned is the first. The other two parts are known as "Dander Martijn" (the second Martin) and "Derden Martijin" (third Martin).

Other poems of this kind are "Van ons Heren wonden", a traslation of the hymn "Salve mea! o patrona"; "Die Clausule van der Bible", an allegorical poem in praise of the Blessed Virgin; the "Disputacie van onser Vrouwen ende van den helighen Cruce", which bewails the sad situation of the Holy Land. Maerlant's last poem "Van den Lande van Oversee" was written after the fall of Acre (1291) and is a stirring summons to a crusade against the infidels, with bitter complaints about abuses in the Church. The "Geesten" were edited by Franck (Gröningen, 1882); the "Heimlicheit, etc.", by Clarisse (Dordrecht, 1838) and by Kausler (1844); "Der Naturen Bloeme" by Verwijs (Gröningen, 1878); the "Rijmbijbel" by David (Brussels, 1858-69), the life of St. Francis by J. Tideman (Leyden, 1848); the "Spiegel Historiael" by de Vries and Verwijs (Leyden, 1857-63). Complete editions of the strophic poems were given by E. Verwijs (Gröningen, 1880) and by J. Franck and J. Verdam (Gröningen, 1898).

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