Postma, Obe 1868–1963

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Postma, Obe 1868–1963

PERSONAL: Born March 29, 1868, in Cornwerd, Friesland, Netherlands; died June 26, 1963, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Education: University of Amsterdam, Ph.D., 1895.

CAREER: University of Gröningen, Gröningen, Netherlands, teacher of mathematics and physics, c. 1900–40.

AWARDS, HONORS: Gysbert Japicx prize, 1947, for "It sil bistaen"; Rely Jorritsma prize, 1954, for "Fan de Fjouwer eleminten."


Lets over uitstraling en opslorping (poems), J.B. Wolters (Gröningen, Netherlands), 1895.

Fryske lân en Fryske libben (poems), A.J. Osinga (Snits, Netherlands), 1918.

De friesche kleihoeve: bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van den cultuurgrond, vooral in Friesland en Gröningen, met veertien kaarten, [Leeuwarden, Netherlands], 1934.

Over het ontstaan der oudste Friesche geslachtsnamen (nonfiction), Van Gorcum (Assen, Netherlands), 1941.

Samle fersen (poems), two volumes, Brandenburgh (Snits, Netherlands), 1949.

Eigen kar (poems), Laverman (Drachten, Netherlands), 1949.

It fryske doarp as tsjerklike en wraldske ienheit foar 1795 (history), Brandenburgh (Snits, Netherlands), 1953.

Fan wjerklank en bisinnen, Laverman (Drachten, Netherlands), 1957.

(Translator) Twofold: Ten Poems of Emily Dickinson in Frisian Translation (poetry in English and Frisian), Friese Pres Boekerij (Leeuwarden, Netherlands), 1982.

What the Poet Must Know: An Anthology, translated by Anthony Paul and Jabik Veenbaas, Tresoar (Ljouwert, Netherlands), 2004.

Also translator of works by others.

SIDELIGHTS: Obe Postma is generally considered the greatest poet to write in the Frisian language. Born in 1868 in Friesland, a northern region of the Netherlands, Postma published his collections of poetry between the years 1918 and 1957. He was especially known for his ability to depict the simplicity of rural Frisian life, often adding philosophical and cosmic elements to his verses. That ability earned him praise from critics, as well as several literary awards, including the Gysbert Japicx prize in 1947 and the Rely Jorritsma prize in 1954. In addition to writing poetry, Postma translated the work of other poets, including Rainer Maria Rilke and American poet Emily Dickinson, the latter with whom Postma felt a kinship. Despite his love for poetry and literature, Postma nearly chose another path in life. After growing up in the seaside village of Cornwerd, he studied physics and mathematics at the University of Amsterdam. Under the tutelage of professor and Nobel Prize winner J.D. Van der Waals, Postma earned his doctorate in 1895 and quickly became a respected figure in the scientific community. During this period, he worked with some of the most important Dutch scientists of the day. However, a scientific life proved too confining for Postma, and he yearned for the life of a poet and philosopher. He returned to his Frisian homeland and became a teacher at the University of Gröningen, where he continued to teach for forty years.

Postma began to write poetry sometime around 1900, and his first volume of poems, Fryske lân en Fryske libben, appeared in 1918. Postma's verse was not overly aesthetic and rarely rhymed. Instead, he concentrated on the small details of life, depicting them in a straightforward way. For example, in the poem "What the Poet Must Know," Postma wrote, "Oh, the joy of harvesting, stacking the spacious loft with the world's wealth!" In another poem, "Al myn libbens freugden," he expanded on the theme: "All the delights of my life are in the flowering cherry with a single yellow leaf that is trembling, / In the clouds from the south pushing up across the sky," The poem continues: "It is the light-glimmer of the water in the gully, the opulent smell of the dungheap in the springtime, / The singsong cry of the brent geese on the flats."

Jabik Veenbaas, who translated much of Postma's poetry into Dutch, commented on the appeal of the author's work in a biographical sketch for the Frysk Letterkundich Museum Web site. "Postma wrote, soberly and simply, about the Frisian landscape he loved—the meadows, the little villages, life in and around the farm," Veenbaas said. "He was the poet who witnessed and recorded the experiences of the Frisian people, and placed those experiences within a broader context, that of the all-embracing soul."

Postma, who continued to publish through the remainder of his life, died in 1963 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. In 1949 a large number of his poems were collected and published in the two-volume Samle fersen. Postma's influence has since expanded outside the Netherlands; in 1997 a selection of his poems was published in Dutch translation, and the work proved so popular that a German translation appeared a year later. In 2004 the first English-language collection of his poems was published. Henry J. Baron, reviewing What the Poet Must Know: An Anthology in World Literature Today, wrote of the collection that "to read much of Postma's poetry, not unlike Robert Frost's, is to be led back by the poet to the time of one's childhood, when visions are fresh and senses acute. It is to rediscover the people and places and sounds and smells that stimulated and enriched our young years and, whose memories having been reawakened in later years, upon recollection enrich us even more."



Nowele, Volumes 28-29, 1996, Phitti Beruker, "Die Bedeutung Nordfrieslands," pp. 19-37.

World Literature Today, January-April, 2005, Henry J. Baron, review of What the Poet Must Know: An Anthology, p. 102.


Frysk Letterkundich Museum en Dokumintaasjesintrum, (March 15, 2001), "The Poetry of Obe Postma, Poet of Friesland," and Jabik Veenbaas, "Obe Postma."