Leo Vroman (1915–2014) was a poet, biologist and artist, one of the most multifaceted creatives of his time. He referred to himself as a ‘science guy’, but his poetry, his art and his personal life with his beloved Tineke and their daughters Peggy and Geri were just as important to him. He fled the Netherlands at the beginning of WWII and eventually settled in America. He became well known there as a scientist but at home his poetry was famous, which was published by Querido from 1947.
“Will you tell me by evening chimes
how the war was outworn
Tell me, tell me, a hundred times
And every time I will mourn’” (From: Peace, Sleepwalking, 1957)
These famous lines from the poem ‘Peace’ were written by Leo Vroman (1915–2014). One of the most important and multifaceted Dutch poets.
Leo Vroman’s work was referred to many times during the recent war Remembrance Day on the 4th of May 2020 in the moving television programme ‘Na de Dam’, that the NPO broadcast after the National Remembrance Day ceremony from Dam Square in Amsterdam.
Vroman was not only a poet, he was also a biologist, artist, Jewish, opinionated, curious, funny. His work is universally playful and imaginative, he wrote just as happily about death as he did of the profound love he felt for his wife Tineke. His poetry is fearless: he ignores all the conventions and embraces beauty as much as ugliness.
He was awarded many literary prizes, from the Lucy B. and C.W. van der Hoogt prize for his collection ‘Poems, early and later’ (1949) to the P.C. Hooft prize in 1964 and in 1996 the VSB Poetry prize for ‘Psalms and other poems’. In 1989 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Groningen. He wrote prose as well as poetry (de adem van Mars, Snippers, Het Carnarium), theatrical pieces, diaries and other autobiographical works (Warm, red, wet and sweet; Blood), he also made drawings and illustrations.
There are a number of remarkable documentaries about Leo Vroman.
Worlds (‘Werelden’), made by VF board member Jetske Spanjer, was first broadcast in 1995 by IKON, to commemorate Leo’s 80th birthday. Click here or on the photograph for short clips from the documentary (about 10 minutes).
The Human network broadcast the documentary ‘Sometimes love lasts forever’ by Ike Bertels ('Soms is liefde eeuwig') In June 2009. A wonderful piece about Tineke and Leo and their life in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Click here or on the photograph to see the whole documentary (about 35 minutes).
The mini documentary about Leo and Tineke Vroman from the VPRO is also worth watching, it is from the series On the Nightstand (Op het Nachtkastje; about 5 minutes) from March 2010.
He writes in all of his work primarily from his perspective and about himself. About his past and his world view. About the green field in Gouda during his adolescence, about Tineke’s ‘hidden’ breathing and how much he missed her during the war. His fascination with the blood he examined on microscope slides, mathematical series, intestines, his daughters' rooms, his reaction to current events: earthquakes, rapes, murder and violence. About his ageing limbs, his organs, his caressing fingers, his curiosity about death. He wrote his poem “End” a few days before he died.
“I despite everything love this world
for its tenuous borders
over which I carefully tread;
That’s why my faith is universal,
I love to be, for a few seconds,
a Jew to
hear a joke and I am actually
quite catholic in churches
although not always the right ones
(I don’t notice small differences)” (from: ‘About poetry’ Two Poems, 1961)
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