The recognition of Vondel as the first among equals of poets had already occurred in 1644 when his miscellaneous poems were published at the urging of certain admirers. But, partly in reaction to the appearance of an unauthorised second part (with “false” poems) a few years later, Vondel produced a new edition in 1650, in which he presented himself with great pomp.
The collection proved to be a strong statement about the value and meaning of poetry, already expressed in 1644 on the title page (by his learned friend, the painter Joachim von Sandrart), as well as an exceptional “theoretical” introduction, full of advice for professional literary practice, in the form of the Aenleidinghe ter Nederduitsche dichtkunste (Introduction to Dutch Poetry). This series of recommendations for aspirant poets is built on the adage: “Nature brings forth the poet; Art raises him”.
Vondel cherished poetry and showed an elevated concept of the art. In his view, the ideal poet does not only strive for technical perfection according to the classical standards of the time: he is also the inspired teacher, the conscience and the memory of the society that he serves unconditionally.
From this perspective, Vondel is the perfect writer of occasional poetry, the father of all city poets in his Amsterdam. He was very much the committed writer, “with the breast in full flow” as he said himself. There is a fierce desire for peace and freedom in his poems, coupled with a lively disgust for moral fascism, religious meddling and lust for political power. No other poet has followed the fortunes of their city, their free homeland and Europe so closely and with such jubilation, obstinacy and provocativeness. He took great risks and showed much courage.
This (often critical) focus on current events also implies a warm loyalty towards society and culture. This is demonstrated by the almost rhapsodic texts with which Vondel described the dazzling aspects of the Dutch Golden Age: Amsterdam trade and shipping, the city’s “peace policy”, its intellectual life, architecture, music and painting. No other poet has exalted so much art in such magnificent and finely wrought poems.
Vondels writes in a highly pictorial, opulent and self-assured baroque style. His warmth for his fellow man was also expressed in the form of many strong friendship verses. His moving and very formal funeral poems, both for family and others, still live on in our collective memory and are a cause for much admiration.
Finally, many of Vondel’s poems display a deep religiosity, full of humility for God’s majesty and gentleness. The “Roman” poems – the poet converted to Catholicism in 1641 – did not prevent Vondel from remaining the literary beacon of the Netherlands in his time and long after. This is certainly true for the Southern Netherlands. After 1650, the long-vaunted name of Daniël Heinsius gradually gave way to that of Vondel. The publication of Poems, filled with so many beautiful pieces, certainly contributed to the recognition of Vondel’s great authority as a poet.