The poetry of Kees Ouwens is usually received with great admiration and enthusiasm, but at the same time a number of his readers criticize him for writing poetry that is too difficult to understand. Ambiguous syntax, neologisms and abstractions indeed prevent any attempt to interpret this poetry unequivocally. In this article, I will discuss three themes that play a central role in Ouwens's poems: the absolute, imagery (understood as a motif), and the poetic defeat. In doing so, I will interpret several of Ouwens' poems, offer an explanation for the enigmatic aspects of his work and suggest a way to put his poetry in a broader context of literary history.\ud \ud In his work Ouwens accounts of a quest for an experience of the absolute. Such an experience is only temporary and therefore the poet tries to capture it in metaphorical language. Metaphors, in other words, are credited with a mythological function: they can generate fixed, 'absolute' meaning by assigning specific words and concepts that are associated with a familiar image to an unfamiliar one. In this way, imagery does not only allude to the absolute, but also serves as its poetic substitute.\ud \ud Yet at the same time, metaphorical language subverts this mythological function: it complicates and alienates the experience, by conceiving the absolute as something different, something that it is not. Hence the poetic quest fails: metaphors do not establish a fixed meaning, but only complicate and alienate it. This poetic defeat suggests, finally, that Ouwens' poetry is to be understood in the context of the 'aesthetics of the sublime'
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