Sunday 31 October 2010

A poem by the German writer Reiner Kunze


Two rowing
one boat.
The one
knows the stars,
the other
knows the storms,
the one will
guide through the stars,
the other will
guide through the storms
and in the end, the very end
the sea in the memory will
be blue

Thursday 28 October 2010

Another song from 'Svantes Viser' by the Danish writer Benny Andersen


I’m so tired of myself and all my stoppings.
And my body causes me dismay.
What use is it my liver’s size keeps dropping
When my belly just balloons away.
I’m prone to self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I’m fed up with my name, my thoughts are fleeting.
And my prayers the Lord will all ignore.
What use to me’s a heart that goes on beating
When there’s no one it is beating for.
I’m prone to self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I regret all my past, my birth’s distasteful.
I should not have seen the light of day.
And Nature’s been a damned sight over-wasteful
when I wasn’t strained off straight away.
I hate my self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I’m so tired of my voice and my handwriting
and my brain is leaden, tired and worn.
It would be oh so nice and so inviting
to forget oneself and be reborn –
be freed from self-hating
with a touch of overrating.

To hear the song, go to here.
NB The text has been slightly altered in this more recent version with Poul Dissing. My translation is of the original text.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Another poem by Jeppe Aakjær

Another evening poem, this time by a poet known for writing in Jutland dialect and poems that seem destined to be sung. Many of them have been set to music.
Other poems on the blog can be found at 29.03.10 and 09.08.10. The poem 'Now the day is full of song', at 13.04.10, is the subject of a workshop essay here.


        Still, my heart, now sets the sun,
While the moor is resting,
        Herds now homeward are begun,
And the stork is nesting.
        Still, my heart, now sets the sun.

        O’er the moor-path silence falls
As on roads so winding.
        A late bumblebee is all
Keenest ears are finding.
        Still, my heart, now sets the sun.

        Briefly now the lapwing flies
O’er the bog-pond’s blushes,
        Ere it folds its wings and lies
’Neath a roof of rushes.
        Still, my heart, now sets the sun.

        Eastern window-panes afar
Flare up in the gloaming,
        Moorland ponds like tiny stars
Catch the sunset’s homing.
        Still, my heart, now sets the sun!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Translating a Shakespeare sonnet


That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Many attempts have been made to translate this sonnet. It  is centred on the autumn-evening-dying area of what I call cyclic imagery, and the progression of the first three quatrains serves to heighten and intensify the conic dramatic effect, leading up to the wonderful ‘This thou perceiv’st’ that introduces the final couplet. At the same time, as W. Nowottny once pointed out in her analysis of this poem in ‘The Language Poets Use’, there is also extensive use of metaphor in the poem. The boughs are ‘bare ruined choirs’, i.e. choir stalls in the ruined cathedral of nature when autumn comes; black night is ‘death’s second self’, already playing on the cyclic imagery mentioned above (the imminent winter-night-death); and the third stanza takes this Chinese box effect even further by taking the image of fire (sunset of the day in quatrain two), ashes of youth, death bed and making the mental leap to line 12. As Nowottny says, metaphor within metaphor pulls the carpet out from under the feet of the reader – where is reality?
In all three quatrains, the final line sums up, or makes a comment on, the preceding three lines. So I would insist that this is retained in the translation, as it is a pivotal feature of the poem. There should be no enjambement between the third and fourth line of each quatrain, and the metaphor should not be replaced by a simile.
I would also insist that everything leads up, in a vortex of increasing intensity, to the first words in line 13.

Here are lots of translations. I would like to have included French, Italian and Spanish, for example, but have only been able to find prose translations on the Internet. All contributions welcome!

Which translation do you find the most successful – and why?

Here is my opinion of the two Danish translations:


Nu kan i mig du se den Aarets Tid,
da Gren og Kvist med spredt og gulnet Blad
i Luftens Kulde skælver hid og did,
en søndret Hal, hvor fugle nylig kvad.

I mig den dunkle Skumringsstund du ser,
naar Dagen solforladt i Vesten svinder,
mens Natten sort sig breder mer og mer,
hin anden Død, der alt i Hvile binder.

I mig du ser den matte Flammeglød,
som paa sin Ungdoms Aske hviler stille
og venter halvslukt paa sin snare Død,
fortært i det, som var dens Næringskilde.

Og mere kær du faar mig mod det sidste,
fordi du ved, at du mig snart skal miste.

(Adolf Hansen, 1885)

[Now you can see in me the time of the year,/when branch and twig with spread and yellowed leaves/shiver here and there in the coldness of the air,/a fragmented hall where birds recently sang (chanted).//In me you see the dark twilight hour/when day dwindles sun-abandoned in the west/while night spreads out more and more,/that second death that binds all in rest.//In me you see the dull flame-glowing,/that rests motionless on the ashes of its youth/and waits half-extinguished for its imminent death,/consumed in what was its source of nourishment.//And I am more dear to you of late,/because you know you soon will lose me.]

This is a late-19th century translation, so it must be compared with the nature of Danish language used in the poetry of the time. It is in fact free of literary, archaic language as far as I can see, something that cannot be said of the other translation.
In Hansen’s favour, he has retained the ‘in me thou mayst behold/thou see’est’ repetition of lines 1, 5 and 9 and has refrained from changing metaphors into similes. He has also let the last line of each quatrain comment on the previous three, precisely as Shakespeare does.
He has made ‘bare ruined choirs’ into a ‘fragmented hall’, which is a pity. For the original image shows us the ravaged trees as choir stalls in the ruin of some great church or cathedral. The word ‘choirs’ need not be so difficult to translate – the Danish word ‘kor’ means ‘chorus, choir of singers’ but also ‘chancel, choir’ as part of a church. ‘Et søndret kor’ would have fitted just like that.
I am impressed by the three quatrains, although i think ‘fortært i’ ought to be ‘fortært af’.
What lets Hansen down is the final couplet. The whole poem is leading up to the ‘This thou perceiv’st...’ and the effect of the realisation on the love the other person feels of the older writer – ‘to love that (person) well which thou must leave ere long’. Hansen has lost it. It reads like polite prose rather than the poetic climax to the poem.


Den Aarstid tegner mine Træk til fulde,
Da Løvet fældes gult, der frodigt hang
Paa Grenene, som ryster nu af Kulde,
Et ribbet Hvælv, nys fyldt af Fuglesang;

Jeg er som Dagen, der er ved at blegne
I Vest ved Solfald i sin Skumringsstund
Og snarlig for den sorte Nat skal segne,
Hin Dødens Bror, som sænker alt i Blund;

Jeg er at se som Ildens Rest, som Gløden
Der ligger paa sin Ungdoms Aske lav,
Paa Lejet, hvor den kun skal vente Døden,
Fortært af det, den hented Næring af;

Det ser du, alt med kærligere Øje,
Fordi din Ven gaar fra dig inden føje.

(V. Østerberg, 1944)

[That time of year fully describes my features,/When the leaves are shed yellow that once vigorously grew/On the branches which now shiver with cold,/A
stripped vault, recently full of bird song;//I am as the day that is about to fade/In the west at sunset in its twilight hour/And shortly will pine away in the face of black night/That brother of death who causes all to doze;// I am to be seen as the remains of the fire, as the glow/That lies on the lichen of its youth’s ashes,/On the (death) bed where it only waits for death,/Consumed by what used to nourish it;//This you see, with ever more-loving eye,/Because your friend is leaving you anon.]

This is a mid 20th century translation, so the language must be judged by the Danish used in poetry at that time. It contains many words that were definitely literary and archaic by that time: solfald = solnedgang; hin = denne (dem. pronoun); sænke i Blund = få til at sove; inden føje = snart. Clearly, rhyme is responsible for some of these choices. The style is very ‘retro’.

As mentioned in my translation criteria, lines 4, 8 and 12 should sum up the previous three lines. This Østerberg has done.
Since he has not kept the ‘in me thou mayst behold/thou see’st’ repetition of lines 1, 5 and 9, the force of the progression is lessened. Furthermore, he has fallen into the trap of replacing the metaphor by a simile in lines 5 and 9 (som = as). Once you introduce a comparison, the intensity of the poem is severely affected. The three-stage rocket effect is weakened. Finally, there is too much explanation in quatrain three – the second half of line 11 already starts to interpret instead of just describing.
Østerberg has captured the crucial slot at the beginning of line 13, but this should be followed by a crucial observation ‘which makes thy love more strong’ – ‘with ever more-loving eye’ is a very pale imitation of the original. And his ending is a disaster – ‘inden føje’ is completely unknown to most Danes and I had to consult a very large dictionary to find the expression, which should actually be ‘om føje’.
The first quatrain is definitely the best part of the translation. Certain turns of phrase and choice of vocabulary make me suspect Østerberg knew Hansen’s translation.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Another poem by the Dutch writer Toon Tellegen

I always want to think further,
but I don’t want thinking to come easily
I want obstacles I have to think my way around,
ambushes, ingenious pitfalls,

and I don’t want things to go off well,
that I have a lucky escape,

I want hostile thoughts
that push back, wound, decimate
my thoughts,

I want concepts reduced to ashes and ideas trampled underfoot,
I want my thoughts to be lost,
but feverishly still to be laying plans –
ill-fated plans, wonderful plans –

that’s how I want to think
for as long as I still can.

Thursday 21 October 2010

To -E or not to -E? Some thoughts on translating Goethe's famous poem 'Über allen Gipfeln'

(I refer you to the file that can be downloaded from 'Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 1', 16.10.10)


Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde,
Ruhest du auch.

Goethe’s poem is technically superb. You can see how the rhythm works by disturbing it. Once you do this, sound and sense work against each other, instead of with each other:

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruhe,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Wald.
Warte nur, bald,
Ruhest du auch.

The function of the masculine and feminine line-endings now becomes clear – the way the feminine endings move you on, the masculine bring you to a position of rest. Lines 4-5 are a foreshadowing of 6-7 – just add an unstressed syllable at the beginning and end of 5-6 and you have the rhythm of 6-7. The dactyls are already in place. And they are re-echoed in ‘warte nur’ and ‘ruhest du’. I have looked at all the English translations in the file and not one of them tries to capture this, which is one of the reasons why they fail to convince. There is an intense musicality about the original. Since English lacks unstressed endings (see later remarks), the lilt of the German disappears – and with it something of the message of the text. Out of all the translations, only the Swedish one has paid attention to this, though at the expense of changing the order of the text:

Över bergens kammar
dag dör.
Bland trädens stammar
ej du hör
fåglarnas flock.
I kronorna kvällsvinden somnar.
Vänta, snart domnar,
Hjärta, du ock.

[Over the mountains’ crests (ridges)/day is dying./Among the trees’ trunks/you do not hear/the flock of birds./In the tree-tops the evening wind is falling asleep./Wait, soon will subside,/Heart, you also.]

As soon as you translate the actual Swedish words, the big difference between Swedish and English is immediately apparent – Swedish has vital areas where unstressed syllables are added, while this is not the case in English. More than this: Swedish not only has stress, it has tones. It is Tone 2 (double tone) that gives Swedish (and Norwegian) that characteristic ‘sing-song’ effect. And the Swedish translation has a high proportion of Tone 2. Swedish has many different plural forms of nouns – those ending in –AR (lines 1, 2, 5, 6) have Tone 2. So does the present tense of verbs ending in –AR (lines 6-7). So do polysyllabic nouns ending in –A (lines 7, 8).

Another thing that makes it easier for an unstressed syllable to follow a stressed syllable is that the definite article is placed after the noun in Swedish (and in Danish and Norwegian). This is found in bergens, trädens, fåglarnas, kronarna, kvällsvinden (e.g. the word fåglarnas = fågel + plural + definite article + genitive ending). So the cards are stacked in Sweden’s favour. If you put the two together, Tone 2 + morphological endings, Swedish will find it easier to echo the effect of the original German than English will.
The only (faint) criticism I have of the Swedish translation, which I find very impressive, is the idea of day ‘dying’. Goethe does not mention death in any way in the poem. This is an extension the reader, perhaps, is entitled to make, but I feel it should not be explicit in the translation itself.

(I have just discovered that the translation won a competition in Svenska Dagbladet.
The winner was Axel Gauffin, and his translation published on  26 September 1915)

Monday 18 October 2010

Another poem by the Swedish writer Lars Gustafsson

From a plane’s recollections

Beneath the surface of things
nothing else is concealed

than the surface of things
As long as something

of the surface is left
there is surface. Nothing else.

Saturday 16 October 2010



The three poems to be looked at can be downloaded here.

To hear two of the songs in their best-known versions, go to here (Grundtvig) and here (Benny Andersen).

NB. The Grundtvig verses are to be read vertically, the other two poems are to be read horizontally.



To download the two poems to be looked at - 'Barcarole' (1829) by J.L. Heiberg and 'De Profundis' (1979) by Ida Gerhardt - go to here.

To download the Goethe poem 'Über allen Gipfeln' in many translations, go to here.

Friday 15 October 2010

Poem by the Dutch writer Pieter Boskma


Now that for half a century I’ve walked this masterly earth,
full of wonder and amazement and with the strong idea
that once that once that once I may just grasp my every
step and all the words I’ve written, and all that I have felt
will come together for good to form an adage of love,
now the time comes for me to become a landscape
and be the animal within it that simply gazes all around
since everywhere the beautiful and everywhere the good
extend equally like a tremor in the grass,
and then, softly whining with happiness, that parts
the evening clouds for a sip of light, for it wants no
further darkness, no laboured efforts to conceive things
other than what, in the depths of their being, they – since
the beginning, hovering over dark waters – have always been.

Thursday 14 October 2010

A poem from 'Palimpsest' by the Danish poet Klaus Høeck


throughout my entire
production runs a ribbon
of incomprehen

sibility (like
a milky way) a ribbon
of paradoxes

a thin möbius
strip that binds words and senten
ces and images

together into
the whole that makes the poems

(To see the original painting, go to here)

Friday 8 October 2010

Poem by the Danish poet Ambrosius Stub (1705-58)

You rosebud sweet and fair

        You rosebud sweet and fair!
Close to, let me inspect you!
Each man must needs respect you,
        In you all nature’s art
        And splendour dwell apart;
Each petal’s coloured feather
Leaves us uncertain whether
        Apparel neat and trim
        Says more than splendour’s whim:
A maze where coloured petals –
In paths where each unsettles –
        Add fragrance to the air;
        You rosebud sweet and fair!

        Today, alas, you’re gone,
But yesterday with pleasure
I viewed your thorn-borne treasure;
        I plucked you, whereupon
        Today, alas, you’re gone.
Your bright shades fade and pall
Your dull red tells me all
        Your glory is but brief
        Your beauty held in fief;
You jewel of nature’s crown,
Where now is your fine gown?
        Your blossoming is done,
        Today, alas, you’re gone.

        Come, Phyllis, come and see
My rose does now invite you;
Your beauty won’t requite you;
        Come, Phyllis, come and see!
        Your image view quite freely!
All that’s a source of pleasure
Cheeks crimson beyond measure,
        That mouth, its honeyed ploy
        Those eyes, their sparkling joy
That neat body, those neat hands
That every favour do command
        Do fade; come, Phyllis, see
        Your image view quite freely!

        One beauty outlasts others –
When all else only withers –
And years and age outweathers,
        And gains eternal vales
        One beauty never fails.
Virtue, Phyllis, its name,
Seek it ere time’s no claim!
        And that a spirit true
        May dwell as is its due,
Live but to praise your maker
In virtue be its taker!
        So when all else does wither,
        Your beauty lasts forever.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Here is a translation of a Latin 'dies irae' by Thomas of Celano, 13th century

I can't resist this one - the last religious poem for a while, I promise! The translation dates from 1849 and is by William Josiah Irons, who turns out to be the son of the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather. It's all in the genes!

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
when from heaven the Judge descendeth,
on whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
through earth's sepulchers it ringeth;
all before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.

Lo! The book, exactly worded,
wherein all hath been recorded:
thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,
and each hidden deed arraigneth,
nothing unavenged remaineth.

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
when the just are mercy needing?

King of Majesty tremendous,
who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!

Think, good Jesus, my salvation
cost thy wondrous Incarnation;
leave me not to reprobation!

Faint and weary, thou hast sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me.
shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous Judge! For sin's pollution
grant thy gift of absolution,
ere the day of retribution.

Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
all my shame with anguish owning;
spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!

Thou the sinful woman savedst;
thou the dying thief forgavest;
and to me a hope vouchsafest.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
rescue me from fires undying!

With thy favored sheep O place me;
nor among the goats abase me;
but to thy right hand upraise me.

While the wicked are confounded,
doomed to flames of woe unbounded
call me with thy saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart submission,
see, like ashes, my contrition;
help me in my last condition.

Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning
man for judgment must prepare him;

Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest,
grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

One of the classic hymns by the Danish bishop Thomas Kingo (1634-1703)

Weary of the world, and with heaven most dear

        Farewell, world, farewell
As thrall here I’m weary and no more will dwell,
The manifold burdens that on me have lain,
I wrest them now from me and do them disdain,
I wrench myself free, though am wearied withal:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        And what everywhere
Does this world embellish with visage so fair?
’Tis all merely shadows and baubles of glass,
’Tis all merely bubbles and clattering brass,
’Tis all but thin ice, filth and mischief withal:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        My years what are they?
That furtively dwindle and sidle away?
And what are my worries? My thought-troubled mind?
My joy or my sorrow? My fancies so blind?
And what do my work, moil and toil all recall?
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Oh riches and gold,
You false earthly idol so bright to behold,
You are though among the deceits the world brings
That wax, wane and alter with all other things.
You are but vain glory whate’er may befall:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Ah, honour – ’tis what?
Your crowns and your laurels proclaim what you’re not,
And envy consumes you and sits on your back,
You lack peace of mind and are prone to attack!
You stumble where others contrive not to fall:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Ah, favour and grace
That mist-like enfold us, are gone without trace.
You fickle inflator that puffs up the mind,
You thousand-eyed creature that e’en so are blind,
When viewed ’gainst the sun one can see that you pall:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Ah, friendship and trust,
That knows how to veer vanes to bliss with each gust!
You handsome deceiver, you fortunate pup,
That fails us so often in sorrow’s deep cup
You say what experience has us recall:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Ah, joys of the flesh
That many have fatally snared in their mesh,
You quick-burning tinder, you spark on the wind,
Have sown flames eternal for those that have sinned,
Your cup seems like honey, the drink though is gall:
        ’Tis vanity all,
        ’Tis vanity all.

        Farewell, then, farewell
No more your deceits shall my soul now compel,
Oh world of delusion, I now you dismiss,
Consign to oblivion’s deepest abyss,
My grief and affliction no more me shall chafe:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

        There all of my years
Will start in eternity’s spring without tears,
My days will not dawn with the rise of the sun,
Nor moon’s wax or wane tell when night has begun,
My sun is Lord Jesus with rays like gold staves:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

        My riches and gold
Will always be mine both to have and to hold,
No robber can ever deprive me of them,
No bartering cause me to part with one gem,
I never will find myself left as a waif:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

         My honour is won
From that throne my Jesus is sitting upon,
A crown filled with glory for me is in store,
With blood of the lamb it is gilt ever more,
’Tis mine though the devil me gladly would strafe:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

        With grace I will shine
As one of the angelic host so divine,
No envious eye shall my face ever see,
God’s countenance gaze ever-smiling on me,
There will I pour scorn on death’s envious grave:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

There I have a friend,
My Jesus who loves me I love without end,
My eye will regard him unclouded and fair,
The heavenly torch of his love proffered there,
In spirit Love’s blaze I eternal may crave:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

        My rapture and joy
Are quickened when angels their trumpets employ,
But God is all joy both for me and their kind!
Rejoice then, my soul, all the world leave behind!
Mind well on your heart God his joy will engrave:
        With Abraham safe,
        With Abraham safe.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Poem by the Dutch poet Eva Gerlach


I said to someone
Don’t think it will pass,
that if you pass on or away,
the grass will just come up as usual,
the magpie just pick up prunings
in its mouth, build a nest,
it’s not that easy at all.

No. When you’re no longer there,
when I no longer have your wakery
and sleepsomeness, all will
fall through. For then there will be
no more reason for things
to exist.

And someone began to laugh,
what’s with you, he said, still always
wanting to get somewhere, still
always convinced that in presence
a truth lives greater than that
of just the address?

But the ant, I cried, the way it
runs over the ground, how it
carries its grains of sand, eggs,
builds its nest under the plant, but the fruit
and the root that grows in the sand?

Someone wrote his name on
me right over mine, someone buried himself
in me somewhere I wasn’t aware
it was me.
Then he escaped, then

he never showed up and I stood in the light,
bursting white from my bark and spreading my branches.

Monday 4 October 2010

A poem from 'Rib Cities' by the Swedish writer Eva Ström

To let your pen write on

So delightful to scribble on paper
let your pen write on without stopping to think
enjoy the strokes, the black on the white
neither thinking nor not thinking
just let your hand and thought run on
abreast for a while, out of step for a while
then the hand runs ahead of the thought
then the thought runs ahead of the hand
then they run abreast
then they get tired

a hare zigzagged across the fields
in the colours of last year’s leafs at first invisible
then he became a shadow
gained outline and being
until once more he was swallowed up by
the dusk-grey colour of the land

so delightful to scribble on paper
let something, anything
emerge from the grey
like the hare
without any warning
rush off unknown in a direction one does not
be swallowed up

while the house found shelter from the north wind
where it crouched behind the mountain
pressed down by the fist of the oak
it even shook in squalls
the swans mated hissing
galloping over the surface of the water
took over clattering with outstretched wings
but the hare with its lonely brown eye
and the pen that runs over the paper
in the singing wood of the tiled stoves
runs and runs
comes to a halt

gets itself ready for the night
like an animal
just stops
flattens a circle
and goes to sleep

Friday 1 October 2010

A poem by Hugo Claus


It is recounted that when the noblemen of Flanders
were received at the court of the French king
they were shabbily asked to sit on wooden benches.
At which the gentlemen divested themselves of their coats,
folded and rolled up
those coats of velvet, brocade and ermine
and then sat on them as on cushions
which they left lying there after the assembly.

- ‘Oh, hello there, seigneurs flamands,
you’re forgetting your beautiful expensive coats!’
The Flemings shrugged their shoulders
and said: ‘French gentlemen, regard this
as a small present for your king.’

That was in the thirteenth century, people say.
Today you can hear at night
in the palaces of Brussels our seigneurs flamands
busy with their language conflict,
baiting, snarling, geo-politically opportune.
They grind their teeth
for they’re thinking of their voters
Ye, my lords, see what ye do
and so leave that drab jacket of de Voerstreek
lined with rancune,
sewn in impotence
woven in interests,
behind on the Walloon wooden bench.
A small present.

*De Voerstreek/Les Fourons [Fr.] is an area which is a symbol of the conflict between the Flemish and Walloon peoples.