Maurice Maeterlinck

Banquet speech

As the Laureate was unable to be present at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1911, the speech was given by Mr. Charles C.M.A. Wauters, Minister of Belgium


The absence of my illustrious countryman, Mr. Maurice Maeterlinck, whom a serious illness retains at home, has – as Count Mömer has already said, caused great disappointment to all those who admire his remarkable literary work and who were eager to meet him in person.

I know that his own disappointment is no less than yours. He was quite eager himself to come and to receive the laurels which have been bestowed upon him and to see this country which fascinates him.

Although Mr. Maeterlinck’s absence has given me the honour to receive from the hands of His Majesty the King the Prize awarded to him and to speak to you in his name, nobody regrets his absence more than I do. I would have been happy to meet again a countryman, a fellow citizen from Ghent, and a fellow student from college days; and I know how difficult it is to try to replace him by evoking his image.

Tall, robust, of athletic appearance, with a full face and a dull complexion, easily excited, always bareheaded, he hardly gives the impression of a dreamer, poet, or philosopher. For those who know him well, he is a thinker and a shy man who reveals himself only to his friends. One recognizes here the author of his works; endowed with an extreme sensibility, he rises above the abyss of rationalistic scepticism to a height where morality and logic, with a touch of paradox and antithesis, almost assume the sense of a religion without dogma.

Although Flemish and from Flanders, Maeterlinck wrote French in a most flexible, subtle, and harmonious manner. Still, he is the genius of his race, the incarnation of the Flemish soil.

Those who have travelled through Belgium only by train or car cannot appreciate the intimate and fascinating charm which characterizes the Flemish plains-strewn with monuments in stone whose facades recall the lacework that Flemish peasant women do on their lace pillows, sitting on the threshholds of their houses. Often one hears, in the calm of the countryside, strong, deep voices singing slow and dreamy chants. And in the old towns of Flanders with their winding and picturesque streets, the silence of night is interrupted at regular intervals by the clear sound of bells which, silvery and poetic, impart a sense of medieval times, of centuries of glory, heroism, and prosperity.

Into this milieu Maeterlinck was born, here he grew up, and here lie the sources of his talent and his genius. It is here that I have known him, that I have seen, in the back of a flower garden, the row of hives whose inhabitants he studied and described.

Maeterlinck’s success justly adds to the glory of French literature, but also to the glory of his country. The Swedish Academy, in awarding the literary Prize to him, has paid tribute to the French form of a Flemish idea.

I thank the members of the Nobel Institute and ask them to accept the expression of profound gratitude of my absent countryman, whose glory reflects on the country whose representative I have the honour to be.

Prior to the speech, K.A.H. Mörner, Director of the Royal Institute of Medicine and Surgery, expressed his disappointment that Maurice Maeterlinck, «a writer universally known and esteemed, whose poetic creations have filled us with enthusiasm», was unable to be present because of illness, and he asked the Minister of Belgium, Mr. Wauters, to convey to him the regrets of those present and their respect.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1911

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