Grief and Emotional Suffering in the Elegiac Poems by Jeremias de Decker and Michiel de Swaen, c. 1650-1700


  • Cornelis van der Haven Ghent University



elegy, poetry, emotional suffering, Counter-Reformation, Pietism, death


Both Protestantism and Catholicism of the seventeenth century experienced the influence of theology that stressed the importance of inner devotion, which went hand in hand with a strong emphasis on the emotional experience of faith. In dealing with death, however, the discourse of comfort was still dominant, designed to suppress the pain of loss rather than bringing that feeling to the fore. This ‘emotional regime’ also affected funeral elegiac poems in which feelings of joy and delight about the deceased’s heavenly destination dominate the initial period of grief. This article aims to understand whether these emotional regimes induced a form of emotional suffering and, if so, to what extent this was visible in contemporary funerary poetry: did, for example, it stick to grief and the inner pain of loss instead of suppressing it?  The essay focuses on the elegiac poems by Jeremias de Decker (1609-1660) in the Dutch Republic and by Michiel de Swaen (1654-1707) in French Flanders. It examines the striking differences between the elegies written after the passing away of a public person, such as befriended priests and preachers, and the poems about a death in the private sphere in which poetry functioned more as a means of emotional refuge.


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Author Biography

Cornelis van der Haven, Ghent University

Cornelis van der Haven is associate professor at Ghent University in the field of early modern Dutch literature. He studied Comparative Literature at Utrecht University and wrote a dissertation about the institutional dynamics of early modern theatre repertoires in the context of urban culture. He has published widely about the history of Dutch and German theatre and literature in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a strong focus on the role of literary texts in shaping cultural and social identities. He is currently working on a book with the provisional title Enlightenment at War. Epic Poetry, the Citizen and Discursive Bridges to the Military (1740-1800).





How to Cite

van der Haven, C. (2021). Grief and Emotional Suffering in the Elegiac Poems by Jeremias de Decker and Michiel de Swaen, c. 1650-1700. Early Modern Low Countries, 5(1), 134–152.