In his poems, from 'Jeunesse blanche' (1886) to 'Vies encloses' (1893), Rodenbach set down a series of themes which all attest to the same feeling of morbid stillness: melancholy, reclusion, ritual and awareness of movement within a dead life are all declined in repetitive images.
They will come to a successful conclusion in 1891 with Bruges-la-Morte. The writer petrifies the story as the painter - Khnopff whose participation in the development of the novel was decisive – suspends it. The state of essential stillness is suggested by a series of images – views of Beguine convents, silent waters, action reduced to a state of dullness – are intertwined in a set of analogies, which little by little becomes clearer and finds its meaning in the form of a ‘real fantastic’.
Polyphonic, the images answer each other as symbolic matches. Signs and nuances are painted in values and tones which preclude any precise definition.
(from Michel Draguet, in 'Le Symbolisme en Belgique', Brussels, RMFAB, 2010, p. 163)
English Translation by Marianne Reynolds (2010)