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This review is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

ET IN BELGICA EGO Hugo Claus, The Sign of the Hamster/Het Teken van de Hamster, translated from the Flemish by Paul Claes, Christine D'Haen, Theo Hermans and Yann Lovelock (Leuvense Schrijversaktie, Leuven)

Flemish Belgium bulks about as large in our consciousnesses as the map of Europe suggests it will; its literature proportionately less. Yet it begins to look as though an exception will have to be made in the case of Hugo Claus, now in his late fifties and clearly the most gifted writer of the post-war generation. The Sign of the Hamster reinforces what the recent Aquila Selected Poems (reviewed in PNR 53) set out to demonstrate: that in responding to the exacting demands of his first love, poetry, Claus achieves complex and memorable effects which, in French or German, would have won him a more widespread following long ago. Claus must often have ruefully reflected that 'poetry makes nothing happen'; certainly he has experimented very diversely with less equivocal proofs of his capacity to influence an audience. But the available evidence suggests that he thrives best where most threatened, and it is as a poet that he seems most likely to make an initial thrust into our sense of what and where matters.

The Sign of the Hamster first appeared in book form as the longest and most recent of Claus's Collected Poems 1948-63 (1965). It consists of a two-line epigraph from the Dutch Renaissance poet Bredero, a five-line coda modelled on the formulaic conclusion used by Latin writers of familiar letters, and nine hundred and ninety-nine lines of verse that, in spite of his many subsequent volumes, still sound like a last will and testament. The ...

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