Bruges, like so many other places in the Flanders region of Belgium, has long sought to define its linguistic and cultural position: balancing the French and Flemish parts of its identity.
For centuries, poets and writers have tried to create a distinctly “Flemish” literature; most prominently among them Guido Gezelle (for which the central Gezelleplein square in Bruges, pictured above, is named).
Gezelle, a Roman Catholic priest born and bred in Bruges, sought to create a distinctive West Flemish language distinct from the Dutch to which Flemish is closely related: writing deeply religious and mystical poetry inspired by local dialects. He is also famous for translating Longfellow's “Song of Hiawatha” into Flemish.
Today – despite his efforts to divorce Flemish from Dutch – he is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets in the Dutch canon, as well as a significant figure in Flemish letters.
One of his most celebrated poems is the deeply sensual “The Night and the Rose” which reads in part:
“I have many a flower for you
read and given, and, like a bee, with you, with you,
drank honey from it; but never an hour as sweet with you,
as long as it could last, but never an hour as sad for you,
when I had to leave you, as the hour when I close to you,
that night, sitting down, heard you talking and said to you
that which our souls know.”