Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A poem by the Dutch writer and painter Hendrik de Vries (1896-1989)

Mijn broer

Mijn broer, gij leedt
Een einde, waar geen mens van weet.
Vaak ligt gij naast mij, vaag, en ik
Begrijp het slecht, en tast en schrik.

De weg met iepen liept gij langs.
De vogels riepen laat. Iets bangs
Vervolgde ons beiden. Toch woudt gij
Alleen gaan door de woestenij.

Wij sliepen deze nacht weer saam.
Uw hart sloeg naast mij. ‘k Sprak uw naam
En vroeg, waarheen gij gingt.
Het antwoord was:

'Te vreselijk om zich in te verdiepen,
Zie: ’t gras
Ligt weder dicht met iepen

Brother of mine

My brother, your life’s close
Is something of which no one knows.
You often lie beside me, vague yet near –
I hardly grasp, and grope and start with fear.

You chose to walk along the elm-lined road.
The birds sang late. And something fearful strode
Behind the two of us. Yet you made known
You wished to cross the wilderness alone.

Last night the bed we slept in was the same.
Your heart beat next to mine. I spoke your name
And asked what was in sight.
The answer was:

‘Too terrible to venture to explain:
The grass
Is fringed with elms again,
Packed tight.’

For the original and an analysis, go to here

Monday, 25 August 2014

A poem by the 17th century Dutch poet Jacobus Revius

Hy droech onse smerten

T’en zijn de Joden niet, Heer Jesu, die u cruysten,
Noch die verradelijck u togen voort gericht,

Noch die versmadelijck u spogen int gesicht
Noch die u knevelden, en stieten u vol puysten,
T’en zijn de crijchs-luy niet die met haer felle vuysten
Den rietstock hebben of den hamer opgelicht,

Of het vervloeckte hout op Golgotha gesticht,

Of over uwen rock tsaem dobbelden en tuyschten:
Ick bent, ô Heer, ick bent die u dit heb gedaen,

Ick ben den swaren boom die u had overlaen,

Ick ben de taeye streng daermee ghy ginct gebonden,
De nagel, en de speer, de geessel die u sloech,

De bloet-bedropen croon die uwen schedel droech:
Want dit is al geschiet, eylaes! om mijne sonden.

He bore our sufferings

’Tis not the Jews, Lord Jesus, they who crucified you,
Nor those who treacherously dragged you to be tried,
Nor those who in your face did spit and you deride
Nor those who struck and pummelled, they who sorely tried you,
’Tis not the Roman soldiers made of you one martyred,
With rod or hammer in their grim fist held on high,
Or the cursed wood on Golgotha raised toward the sky,
Or for your clothes together tossed the dice and bartered:
’Tis I, O Lord, ’tis I who have done this to you,
I am the tree whose leaden load so well you knew,
I am the sturdy rope that on the cross once held you,
The nail, the spear am I, the scourge that you did score,
The bloodied crown of thorns that on your brow you wore:
For my sins are, alas, why all of this befell you.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

A poem from 'Jaja de Oerknal' by the Dutch writer Maria Barnas


A black physiotherapist on Iceland invited me out
for a walk. He looked at my hips

and I saw a future. He said: ‘Your posture is wrong.’
Shoulders back, chest out.

I jolted through the snow pallid as my surroundings
and he moved majestically in the white.

When he showed me the top of the Vatnajökull
the snow scrunched under my feet.

The earth’s crust tore until I was standing
upright under an ice cap. Then over the ice I was just able

to gaze into the world where the physiotherapist
on his knees stretched out a hand to me.

Ice water round my feet splatters into an abyss
into which with a single step I can disappear.

It is white inside my head. Can anyone give me details?
I’m standing in the middle of a baffled universe.

Friday, 22 August 2014

A poem by the Friesian/Dutch poet Tsead Bruinja

burning house

she lives in a burning house
every storm takes a tile from the roof
it is cold her teeth are chattering
outside someone makes up new traffic regulations
an old man goes on cycling
wrapped in newspapers under his clothing
she goes outside with basket of washing
black sheets black blankets black pillowcase
she sees the fields burning too
it makes no sense to be outside
better to go back to the walls
the dancing flames on his portrait
post drops unasked for through the door
crackling fails to reach the mat
her cat jumps up onto her lap
with a plantlike desire to be stroked
she pours more meths over the photo albums
brushes ash from her specs and reads
and reads and reads

To see the originals look under 'Geboorte van het zwarte paard' here

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Another scorpion from HCA - watch out for the sting in the tail

A leaf from heaven

High up in the clear upper air an angel flew with a flower from Heaven’s garden, and as he pressed his lips to the flower in a kiss, a tiny leaf broke off it and fell down onto miry soil in the middle of a forest, and immediately it took root and started to sprout among all the other plants.
‘That’s a ridiculous shoot, that one!’ they said, and none of them would have anything to do with it, neither the thistle nor the nettle. ‘It’s some sort of garden plant!’ they said and laughed at it, and so it was scoffed at as being a garden plant; but it grew and grew, like no other one, and spread out far and wide.
‘Where are you off to!’ said the tall thistles, which had thorns on every single leaf, ‘you’re going about things in a cack-handed sort of way! we can’t stand here and support you!’ The winter came, the snow lay over the plant, but the covering of snow gained a gleam from it as if made translucent by sunlight from below. When spring came, a blooming plant stood there, more beautiful than any other in the forest. Then along came a professor of botany who had an official personal record book to prove he was what he was, he examined the plant, tested it with his teeth, but it wasn’t anywhere in his botanical system; it was impossible for him to determine what class of species it belonged to.
‘It’s some sort of anomaly!’ he said. – ‘I don’t know it, it’s not included in the system!’
‘Not included in the system!’ the thistles and nettles said.
The large trees close by heard what was said, and they too could see that it wasn’t a tree of their kind, but they didn’t say anything, either good or bad, and that’s always the safest thing when one is stupid.
Through the forest a poor, innocent girl now came – her heart was pure, her intelligence great through faith, her entire inheritance in this world was an old bible, but from the leaves of this book God’s voice spoke to her: If people wish you ill, remember the story of Joseph: ‘Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.’ If you suffer injustice and are mocked, recall him who was the purest and best, he who was derided and nailed to the cross, where he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’
The stopped in front of the wonderful plant, whose green leaves smelled so sweet and refreshing and whose flowers seemed in the bright sunlight to be an explosion of different colours; and a sound came from each one, which concealed the deep well of melodies that has not been exhausted over thousands of years. With pious devotion she gazed on all this divine magnificence; she pulled down one of the branches so as to view the flower more closely and breathe in its fragrance, and it illuminated her mind and did her heart good; she would dearly have liked to own a flower from it, but she couldn’t bring herself to break it off, for then it would soon wither; and so she only took a single one of the green leaves, carried it home with her and placed it in her bible, where it lay fresh, forever fresh and incapable of withering.
Among the leaves of the bible it lay hidden; with the bible it was placed under the little girl’s head when weeks later she lay in her coffin, with the holy seriousness of death on her pious face, as if it showed itself in earthly dust that she now stood before her God.
But out in the forest the marvellous plant bloomed, soon it had the appearance of a tree, and all the migrating birds came and bowed down to it, particularly the swallow and the stork. ‘It’s foreign affectation!’ the thistle and the burdock said, ‘here where we live we can’t posssibly behave like that!
And the black slugs spat on the tree.
Then the swineherd came along, he jerked up thistles and shoots so as to burn ashes of all the green vegetation; the whole wonderful tree, pulled up by all its roots, was also included in his sheaf; ‘that’ll do some good too,’ he said, and no sooner said than done.
But for more than a year and a day the king of the country suffered from extreme melancholy; he was diligent and hard-working, but it did no need; profound treatises were read aloud to him as well as the very lightest literature that could be found, but it did no good. Then there came a message for one of the wisest men in the world; people had approached him on the subject and he had told them that there was a sure way to soothe and cure the sufferer. ‘In the king’s own realm there grows in the forest a plant of divine origin, such and such it looks like, there’s no mistaking it’, and a drawing had been included of the plant – it was very easy to recognise! – ‘It is green both winter and summer, so take – every evening – a fresh leaf from it and place it on the king’s forehead, then his thoughts will lighten and a lovely dream at night with strengthen him for the day that lies ahead!’
Now that was clear enough, so all doctors and botanical professors set out into the forest. – Yes, but where was the plant?
‘I had it somewhere in my sheaf!’ the swineherd said, ‘it must have become ashes long ago, but I didn’t know any better!’
‘Didn’t know any better!’ they all said. ‘Ignorance! Ignorance! how great you are!’ and those words the swineherd could take to heart – he and nobody else, they felt.
There was not a leaf to be found, the only one lay in the coffin of the dead girl, and no one knew about it.
And the king himself came in all his misery out to the place in the forest. ‘This is where the tree has stood!’ he said, ‘it is a holy place!’ –
And the plot of land was fenced in with golden railings and a sentry was posted there, both day and night.
The botanical professor wrote a thesis about the divine plant, and that gilded his reputation, which gave him great pleasure; and it became both him and his family well – which is the most positive thing about the whole story, for the plant was gone and the king was miserable and sad – ‘but he was already that in advance!’ the sentry said.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A sonnet by the 17th century Swedish writer Georg Stiernhielm

över författarens sinnebild, en silkesmask

Håll stilla mitt förnuft, dig saktelig besinna,
vad detta vara må. Du sir här en figur,
en usel, naken kropp, en mask, ett kreatur,
som ingen skapnad har, där intet är till finna,

som ögat lyster se. Men märk: här ligger inna
mer än en tänka kan, en nyttig, ädel, pur,
en sällsam, underlig av Gud beredd natur:
en mask, dess spis är blad, dess id är artigt spinna,

dess spunna silkes-tråd, dess verk och väv är siden.
Av blad gör han en skatt, till dess han, tom och mager,
invecklat in-dör i sin väv och livet stäcker.

Men si, en ny figur, med vingar prydd, med tiden
här kommer fram igen, uppkvickter, fin och fager,
en livlig sol hans själ med kraft en gång uppväcker.

on the emblem of the writer – a silk-worm

My reason stay awhile, reflect ere you propound
what this perhaps may be. What you see here’s a figure,
a paltry naked hulk, a silk-worm, a mere creature
without appearance and where nothing can be found

designed to please the eye. Yet note: there lies within
more than a mind can grasp, a useful, fine, pure nature
of rare and curious kind in each God-given feature:
a worm whose food is leaves, whose sole delight to spin,

whose spun thread, toil and web on silk are all inclined.
Of leaves it treasure makes, till empty, thin and abject,
cocooned within its web its own life it then takes.

But look, a brand-new figure, graced with wings fine-lined,
in time will re-emerge, refreshed and fair of aspect,
once a vivacious sun its soul now re-awakes.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A famous HCA this time - 'Big Claus and Little Claus'

Little Claus and Big Claus

In a town there once lived two men who had exactly the same name, Claus, but the one owned four horses and the other only one horse; so as to be able to tell them apart, the one who had four horses was called Big Claus, and the one with only one horse, Little Claus. Now we are to hear how they both fared – for this is a true story!

To see the whole tale, go to here

Friday, 15 August 2014

Andersen could write about anything at all - this time a shirt-collar

The shirt collar

There was once a fine gentleman whose entire personal effects consisted of a bootjack and a comb, but he had the loveliest shirt collar in the world and this is a story about that shirt collar. It was now so old that it was thinking of getting married, and it so happened that it ended up in the wash along with a garter.
‘Upon my soul!’ the shirt collar said, ‘I’ve have never before set eyes on anyone so slim and so fine, so soft and so dainty. May I make so bold as to ask you your name?’
‘I won’t tell you!’ the garter said.
‘Where do you come from?’ the collar asked.
But the garter was extremely bashful by nature and thought that was a strange thing to be asked to reply to.
‘You must surely be a girdle!’ the collar said, ‘some sort of underneath girdle! I can clearly see that you combine utility and adornment, my little miss!’
‘You’re not allowed to speak to me!’ the garter said, ‘I’m sure I have not in any way given you occasion to!’
‘Oh yes, when you are as pretty as you are!’ the collar said, ‘that’s occasion enough!’
‘Don’t come so close to me!’ the garter said. ‘You look so masculine!’
‘I’m also a fine gentleman!’ the shirt collar said, ‘ I own a bootjack and a comb!’ and that wasn’t strictly true, for it was his master that owned them, but it was boasting.
‘Don’t come close to me!’ the garter said, ‘I’m not used to that sort of thing!’
‘Prude!’ the shirt collar said and then it was taken up out of the wash; it was starched and hung over the chair in the sunshine and then placed on the ironing board; and a hot iron was applied to it.
‘Madam!’, the collar said, ‘little widowed lady! I’m getting overheated! I’m becoming quite transformed, I’m almost outside myself, you’re burning a hole in me! oh! I ask you to marry me!’
‘Ragged individual!’ the iron said and proudly flattened the collar, for it imagined it was a steam engine that was to be used on the railway to pull carriages.
‘Ragged individual!’ it said.
The shirt collar frayed a bit at the edges, and so the paper scissors came along to cut off the frayed ends.
‘Oh!’ the shirt collar said! ‘You must be a prima ballerina! how you can stretch your legs! You are the most elegant thing I have ever seen! No human being can possibly emulate you!’
‘I know,’ the scissors said.
‘You deserve to be a countess!’ the shirt collar said, ‘All I have is a fine gentlemen, a bootjack and a comb! If only I had a shire of my own!’
Proposing, is he!’ the scissors said, got very angry and gave the collar a hefty snip, and that was being rejected with a vengeance.
‘It looks like I’ll have to propose to the comb! It’s remarkable how you manage to keep all your teeth, my little miss!’ the shirt collar said. ‘Have you never considered becoming engaged!’
‘Yes, indeed I have!’ the comb said, ‘for I’m engaged to the bootjack!’
‘Engaged!’ the shirt collar said; now there was no one left to proposed to and so he despised it.
A long time passed, and eventually the shirt collar ended up in a box at the paper mill; there were rages of all sorts there, the fine ones separated from the coarse ones – as it should be. They all had a great deal to tell, but the shirt collar most of all, for it was a proper boaster.
‘I’ve had such a vast number of sweethearts!’ the shirt collar said, ‘I was never left in peace! But I was also a fine gentleman, complete with starch! I had both a bootjack and a comb that I never made use of! You should have seen me back then, when I lay on my side! I’ll never forget my first sweetheart, she was a garter, so fine, so soft and so delicate, she plunged into a tub of water for my sake! There was also a widowed lady that was white-hot for me, but I left her standing to get black! There was the prima ballerina, she was the one who gave me the gash I bear to this day, she was so fierce! my own comb was in love with me, she lost all her teeth when our affair came to an end. Oh yes, I’ve experienced a great deal of that sort of thing! but what pains me most is the garter, I mean the girdle that ended up in the tub of water. I have a lot on my conscience, I could well do with being turned into white paper!’
Which they all were, all the rags were turned into white paper, but the shirt collar became precisely the sheet of white paper we see here, on which the story has been printed, and that was because it boasted so terribly afterwards about what never had happened in the first place; and we should remember not to behave in the same way, for indeed we can never be sure that we don’t end up too in the rag box and are turned into white paper and have our whole story printed on it, even our deepest secrets and afterwards have to run around telling others about them, like the shirt collar.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

And today's HCA is about a thistle

What the thistle came to experience

Close to the lordly manor there lay a beautiful well-kept garden with rare trees and flowers; at which visitors to the estate expressed their delight at them, local people from countryside and market towns came on Sundays and public holidays and asked for permission to see the garden – and even entire schools came to pay similar visits.
Outside the garden, next to the palings facing the gravel road, there was a huge thistle; it was so large, with a number of branches stretching out from its root so that it spread out, could well have been called a thistle bush. Nobody looked at it, except the old donkey that pulled the milkmaid’s milk-cart. It stretched its neck out towards the thistle and said: ‘You’re lovely, I could eat you!’ but the tether wasn’t long enough for the donkey to be able to reach out and eat it.
A large party was held at the manor, with distinguished relatives from the capital, fine young girls, and among them was one from a long way off – she came from Scotland, was of noble birth, rich in money and possessions, a bride well worth having, more than one young man said – likewise their mothers.
The young guests romped around on the lawn and played croquet; they went walking among the flowers, and each of the young girls picked a flower and put it in the buttonhole of one of the young gentlemen; but the young Scottish lady searched for a long time, rejected one flower after the other, none of them seemed to appeal to her; then she looked out over the palings, outside stood the large thistle bush with its red-blue, hardy flowers. She saw them, she smiled and asked the son of the house to pick her one of these.
‘It is the flower of Scotland!’ she said; ‘resplendent in the country’s coat of arms – give it to me!’
And he fetched the loveliest one and in doing so pricked his fingers, as if it had been growing on the thorniest of roses.
She placed the thistle flower in the young man’s buttonhole, and he felt highly honoured. Every one of the other young gentlemen would gladly have exchanged their own magnificent flower to be able to wear this one, personally presented by the young Scottish lady. And if the son of the house felt honoured, how much more did the thistle bush – it was as if dew and sunshine went through it.
‘I’m something more than I’ve always thought!’ it said to itself. ‘I really belong inside the palings and not outside. One can be most strangely placed in this world! but now I have a place of my own inside the palings, and in a buttonhole, no less!’
It told every bud that sprouted and unfolded about this event, and it did not take many days before the thistle bush heard – not from humans, or chirruping birds, but from the air itself that stores and spreads sounds far and wide, right from the innermost paths and the garden and rooms of the manor where windows and doors stood open – that the young gentleman who got the thistle flower from the hand of the fine young Scottish lady now owned her hand and heart as well. They made a fine pair, were a good match.
‘I’m the one who brought them together!’ the thistle bush felt, thinking of the flower it had given for the buttonhole. Every flower that bloomed was told of the event.
‘I’m sure to be planted in the garden!’ the thistle thought, ‘perhaps in a pot which pinches, that’s the greatest honour of all!’
And the thistle bush thought so intensely about this that it said with utter conviction: ‘I’ll end up in a pot!’
It promised every little thistle flower that came out that it too would end up in a pot, perhaps in a buttonhole: the highest thing that could be achieved; but none of them ended up in a pot, let alone a buttonhole; they drank air and light, basked in sunshine during the day and bathed in dew at night, flowered, were visited by bee and botfly that were searching for a dowry, the honey in the flower – and they took the honey and left the flower where it was: ‘Pack of thieves!’ the thistle bush said. ‘If only I could impale them on my spikes! but I can’t.’
The flowers hung their heads, wilted, but new ones came instead.
‘You come as if called for!’ the thistle bush said, ‘at any moment I expect us to move inside of the palings.’
A pair of innocent camomiles and a long, slender plantain stood and listened to this in great admiration and believed everything the thistle said.
The old donkey from the milk-cart looked out of the corner of its eye at the thistle bush from the roadside, but its tether was too short for it to be able to reach it.
And the thistle thought hard and long about Scotland’s thistle, to whose family it felt it belonged, and finally it believed itself to have come from Scotland and that its parents were themselves incorporated in the national coat of arms. It was a grand thought, but a grand thistle is probably entitled to have grand thoughts.
‘One often comes from so fine a family that one doesn’t dare acknowledge it!’ the nettle that grew close by said, it too had a kind of vague idea that it could become a ‘nettle cloth’ if treated in the right way.
And the summer passed, and the autumn passed; the leaves fell off the trees, the flowers got brighter coloured and their scent grew weaker. The gardener’s boy sang in the garden, over the palings:

‘Uphill, downhill, so it goes,
That’s life, everybody knows!’

The young fir-trees in the forest were beginning to long for Christmas, but there was still a long way to go.
‘I’m still standing here!’ the thistle said. ‘It’s as if no one has a thought for me, even though I brought the pair together; they became engaged, and they’ve held their wedding, a week ago now. Well, I won’t make a move, for I’m unable to.’
Several more weeks passed; the thistle stood with it last, single flower, large and full-bodied. It had sprouted down close to the root, the wind blew chill over it, its colours faded, its glory faded, its calyx, the size of an artichoke, stood out like a sunflower all in silver.
Then out into the garden came the young couple, now man and wife; they walked alongside the palings, the young lady looked out over them.
‘The large thistle’s still standing there!’ she said. ‘Now it hasn’t any more flowers!’
‘Yes, it has, there is the ghost of the final one!’ he said and pointed to the silver-gleaming remains of the flower, though still a flower.
‘It’s lovely, isn’t it!’ she said. ‘Such a flower must be carved into the frame around our picture!’
And once more the young man had to climb over the palings and break off the calyx of the thistle. It pricked his fingers; after all he had called it ‘the ghost’. And it came inside the garden, up to the manor and into the hall; there a picture stood: ‘The young Married Couple’. A thistle flower had been painted in the bridegroom’s buttonhole. There was much talk of this, and of the flower calyx they brought in, the last thistle-flower that now gleamed like silver, it was to be used to make the carving in the frame.
And the air spread this talk, far and wide.
‘What one can come to experience in this life!’ the thistle bush said. ‘My first-born ended up in a buttonhole, my last-born ended up in a frame! What will become of me?’
And the donkey at the roadside looked at it out the corner of its eye.
‘Come to me, my luscious lovely! I can’t come over to you, my tether’s not long enough!’
But the thistle bush didn’t answer; it stood there more and more thoughtful; it thought and it thought, right up until Christmas, and then its thinking produced its own flower.
‘When one’s children are well inside, a mother can make do with standing outside the palings!’
‘That’s an honest thought!’ the sun’s ray said. ‘You too shall find a good place!’
‘In a pot or a frame?’ the thistle asked.
‘In a fairytale!’ the sun’s ray said.
And here it is!