Wednesday 27 April 2011

Another poem by the Dutch poet Alfred Schaffer

All work and no play

How busy it is on the road, what a strange tune you’ve got
there in your head, in a little while you’ll hear cries of despair,
classical languages. Radio-play sounds without love. Warm love,
palms upright and waving. Many daytrippers, unable

to ask you the way. I should actually draw a map of this
ancient site, with columns and temples on it, that the water
is blue everywhere, the commotion by that water, the litter
left lying on the beach, the empty Ferris wheel. And the desire,

I must learn this terrestrial globe by heart like the clappers
before I stand stuttering before my children’s children, yes, just you
laugh, your father stood his ground the old-fashioned way,

he photographed almost the entire war. But that was
before stupidity arrived. Strange, that I always want to speak to you
in the past tense – your father would have found it splendid here.

Tuesday 26 April 2011


The formal requirements of a heroic crown of sonnets (or sonnet redoublé) is a sequence of sonnets, each of which explores one aspect of the theme, and is linked to the preceding and succeeding sonnets by repeating the final line of the preceding sonnet as its first line, and by having its final line be the first line of the succeeding sonnet, and with the final binding sonnet made up of all the first lines of the preceding fourteen, in order.

In other words, each sonnet obeys the conventions normally imposed on the sonnet; each first line of a succeeding sonnet is a repetition of the last line of the former; and the final sonnet is made up of all fourteen of the first lines.

This is the starting point of Inger Christensen’s Sommerfugledalen (The Valley of the Butterflies). This verse form has a precedent in Danish literature: Klaus Høeck’s ‘Ulrike Marie Meinhof. Winterreise’.

What conventions does each Christensen sonnet observe? She writes a 11-10-11-10-11-10-11-10 octet. the sestet varies between 10 and 11 syllables. The rhyme scheme is always: ABAB CDCD EFE GFG.

These are the formal conventions Inger Christensen observes. They follow closely those invented by the Siena Academy of 1460.

Such are the restraints within which any translation of Inger Christensen’s poem should operate, since the form and content fuse in the original. And, as far as I know, only one attempt has been made to translate her poem cycle on these terms. It appeared in Leviathan Quarterly, number 8, June 2003
To see the Latin names of the butterflies mentioned, go to
And to see images of all the butterflies, go to here.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Another poem by the Dutch poet Willem Jan Otten


I have been let up on a dune-top deep slanting under me,
square to the wind and to a string-jerk of a child
aloft in the above-dune power. This was Friday.
Now I wait swaying for his message. I am the secret
by origin, the one who raised aloft at any rate was I,
I paid out my own navel to him, he caught the wind
and climbed then out of me, and the small island at his foot,
it also caught the wind and ending hanging from a slender line,
a knot, and I stood windward in the selfsame wind,
from me he then unwound till finally paid out. I stand,
not to be hauled back in, at the end of his allotted single
line. His is at liberty to let me loose, everything in him
will understand me by seeing who I am when he casts me
far from him, he will not know that one real tug
will rip his line, he wants to be the real rip himself,
he is not to realise standing free in me, me
standing arms outstretched at his end becoming a beginning.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

A poem by the Dutch poet Alfred Schaffer

They must be prepared to go to the utmost

For this occasion they have
selected a mountain cabin that is only reachable
along a slithery, worn-out path that follows a ravine.

They agree to let each other have their say
and not to interrupt each other
without first raising a hand.

If one of the two fails to understand a word
the other bursts out laughing and will write the word
in capitals on a piece of paper that he holds up
so that the other can learn the word by heart.

Earlier that day it began to snow heavily.
They explain their dreams whenever
they feel they have a need to do so.

Monday 18 April 2011

All wrong! It was Theobald Hock. Here's another poem

A lovely woman and a lovely horse
are similar in four particulars

Orlando rode a wingèd horse.
Called Hippogriffus, of great force,
He used to ride most everywhere
Through hill and dale, up in the air.
Young Perseus did likewise ride
A horse with wings, and stole as bride
Andromeda the fair,
A maid beyond compare.

The horses are all long since gone,
Now by a knight’s fine mount outshone,
A matchless stallion, no less,
A suitor’s horse his cause to bless.
Its master God good fortune brought
So on it he his Lady caught,
And from her a Favór
Is granted per Amór.

A lovely woman, lovely horse,
Must have these attributes perforce:
A beautiful and comely mane,
A strong and powerful chest domain,
A splendid gait, and one thing more
Would fain be ridden – that makes four.
Attractions I profess
These creatures should possess.

Though both should also in a trice
Decide one rider may suffice,
Like Alexander’s horse so sound,
Once its true master had been found,
All those who’d mount it did repel.
Those who keep horse and woman well
Are Cavaliers of course –
Even without their horse.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Early baroque German poetry in English? Why not! Guess who the author is!!

On the arduous life of humankind

The start, the middle and the close
Of human life so fleeting
Are all beset with fear and woes,
Regret, grief, cares unceasing.
Though each design at first seems fine,
’Tis but a vain illusion,
If viewed without confusion,
’Tis all misfortune’s shrine.

Our earthly life each single day
Is nought but dust and ashes.
Like sheep that in their fields do stray
We dart in frantic dashes
On savage wave – in peril grave
Both sail and anchor lacking
Around the cauldron tacking
Though Fortune would us save.

Our every action is forlorn
In futile toil we languish,
’Twixt hope and doubt we here are torn,
But live in constant anguish.
All woes that rend death first can end
Whereas all joy that cheers
Within this vale of tears
The will of God contends.

Should we decide to set things straight,
Our former life to chasten
It in some measure expiate
Then we must start to hasten.
A fruit so great, that grown by Fate,
Is what the Sister shows us:
That death its due won’t owe us
No flight can obviate.

Fame, profit, gain are nothing worth,
All is from nothing coming;
And all that’s come therefrom on earth
Will back thereto be homing.
Wherefore it might be more than right
Had man as man ne’er started
Since once his life is charted
His time on earth’s so slight.

Monday 11 April 2011

Another poem by the Danish 19th century poet B.S. Ingemann

Earth's lovely sun to night's consigned

Earth's lovely sun to night's consigned,
But hosts of stars now are gleaming.
The splendour of a world divine
Through darkness downwards is streaming.

Like some great church the world entire
Cloud-covered, arches to heaven,
God’s templed earth, in green attire
Like woodland leaf now is hidden.

The smallest leaf in greatest wood
Is home for all that's begotten,
Where God's law reigns, life's as it should,
The smallest are not forgotten.

God! In your hand the great is small,
Though welcome the smallest bidden.
The childlike soul is safe withal
That in your great realm is hidden!

Saturday 9 April 2011

Poem by the Dutch poet Eva Gerlach


This is your eye. This is the sun. This tugging
cold, draught from a window left ajar.
This is water that fits you like a glove

That is the kettle singing on the stove
above the four knobs that control the gas.
Here you’ve the breadknife in its board’s long groove.

All of these things you need to keep a grasp of.
Today, or soon, their say will make their sense.

(from the collection 'Een kopstaand beeld', 1983)

Monday 4 April 2011

Today's calendar poem is by the Dutch writer C.O. Jellema


Does god exist still, small sarcophagus
of faith, as vacant as
the Doric temples at Paestum:
a hiding place their columns for other birds
than gods – when I ask for him?

Small mummy of stone
with no heart, tabernacle,
with no place for sacred candle, do you
protect our landscape with your body
as a floor for heaven? I’m only asking.

Silent soundbox for outside, for godwits
in June, lowing dairy cattle at the gate –
so closed, I sit one evening in the grass
among your tombstones, you are loveliest so:
shut tight, the unforthcoming answer’s shrine.

For more poems go to here.

Friday 1 April 2011

A typical tour de force by the Dutch poet Gerrit Komrij

Villanelle for the Dutch East India Company

Always keep eldorados within sight.
Yet sail, on profit bent, with each high tide:
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

In foreign climes they often did alight
In search of pepper, nutmeg, plucked and dried.
Always keep eldorados within sight.

Debit and credit was their chief delight,
Although sweet dreams as stowaways did hide.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

They killed, as many bandits uncontrite
Who in the far East saw a new-decked bride.
Always keep eldorados within sight.

Rounding the Cape, their salty shanty’s flight
Was spiked with a new sound, as yet untried.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

They sailed weighed down with lead and dynamite
Yet in a magic boat did homeward glide.
Always keep eldorados within sight.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

The poem of the day in 'Dagkalender voor de poëzie 2011' is Komrij's poem 'Atlas' from 'The Ox on the Bell-Tower'. For a parallel text of this poem and the entire cycle go to here