Poetry, science and revolution: The enigma of Herman Gorter’s Pan.

Journal of Dutch Literature 10 (1):24-49 (2019)
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Herman Gorter (1864-1927) became famous as the author of May (1889) and Poems (1890). His opus magnum Pan, published in 1916, hardly acquired any readership at all, which is remarkable, given the monumental size and scope of this unique achievement, celebrating the imminent proletarian revolution and the advent of the communist era: a visionary work of global proportions. Gorter’s Pan will be assessed as thinking poetry, more precisely: as dialectical materialist poetry, as a work of art which articulates a dialectical materialist worldview, not only concerning political economy and society, but also concerning nature and the universe as such, from the stars and galaxies of modern astrophysics down to the atoms and molecules of modern chemistry and quantum physics. Gorter’s monumental work is ‘thinking poetry’ in the Heideggerian sense of the term, sensitive to an imminent upheaval of Being as such, as well as a dialectical materialist artwork (albeit with a tinge of Spinozism) contributing (via the ‘school of poetry’) to a dialectical understanding of space, time, life and matter. In this article, I will focus on two crucial recurring motives: the motif of the shining crystal and the motif of the beaming galaxy. Via these motifs, so I suggest, Gorter aspires to bridge the gap between his epic-lyrical poetry and twentieth-century science.

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Hub Zwart
Erasmus University Rotterdam


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