Friday 26 July 2013

Translation of a poem by Gottfried Keller (1819-98)

Time does not pass

Time does not pass, it stands quite still,
It’s us that travel through; 
It is a caravan, and we
The pilgrims there on view.

A something without shape or hue,
Assuming form alone
Where you appear and disappear
Until once more you’re gone.

A drop of morning dew may glint
in sunlight, gain new gloss;
A day can be a pearl whereas
A century just dross.

Time is a parchment blank and white
And we must, come what may,
Write on it with our own red blood
Until we’re borne away.

To you, you world so wonderful,
You beauty without end,
I too my love-letter on this
Same parchment write and send.

I am so glad that I a flower
Within your wreath have been;
In thanks I’ll leave the spring still clear
And praise your wondrous sheen.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Tulips are red, philosophy is grey - says Dèr Mouw

I’m comfortably ensconced in my arm-chair,
the sun-drenched red-plush table cloth close by;
unread I let Planck’s quantum theory lie –
my life’s prime scientific aim – and stare:

for I see tulips, see a mighty storm
of flames both light and dark; before I know it,
my hand’s a hare in silhouette – I show it
nibbling and munching from the blazing swarm;

and the front oblong of a match-box blurs
into a patch of hyacinthine blue,

with hazy silver lustres, as if dew
sifted across the field like fresh spring spray...

I start at this my sudden thought, perverse:
tulips are red, philosophy is grey.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Poem by the Dutch writer Eva Gerlach

There is the road and there is the
dissolving of the road. There is fear
and the expectation of fear. By means of telling
and listening you see the direction, there is
straight on and there is the wrench of
turn around and back. There is the tale
and there is the telling of roughly that kind of a tale,
there is the road and there is the
walking up the road and somewhere someone sits
who says ‘your tongue or no further.’

Sunday 7 July 2013

A poem in couplets by Dèr Mouw! With a touch of the opening of Faust about it.

It’s stock-still in the house. Dawn’s drawing near.
The clock-tick and gas hissing’s all I hear.

The pendulum seems madly on the go,
it flares up, gleams more dully, to and fro.

In this small, stupid thing I seem to see
wise time nod earnestly its No at me.

The table’s full of opened books I’ve pondered:
through seeking wisdom all my life I’ve squandered.

The arching pages look like snowy peaks,
the chilly heights of knowledge that man seeks.

In lowlands I’d envisaged a wide view:
infinity stretched further, grew and grew.

Around the lamp cigar-smoke’s bluish trail
coils like vague reveries to no avail;

from smoke-wreathed lampshade the dull light falls chill
on snowy peaks of science stiff and still.

I sat thus every evening, year by year,
in knowledge rich, a beggar though, I fear.

It was as is so often seen in dreams:
you must find something, but you can’t, it seems.

Out on the balcony, where’er I turn,
here, there and yonder, fireflies’ scared lights burn.

Glowworm Gladness dares rise into the air,
thrashes till dead in life’s pain-web up there.

Orion shines in its vast majesty.
I hate, hate its soulless eternity.

The worlds’ vast glory brings me no relief.
The one who most loved me I caused great grief.

And happiness in life I never earned:
the one I loved most I most cruelly hurt.

I had one solace once: that love of mine
keeps the fond memory as a sacred shrine.

Deep-boring seconds gnawed through, did destroy
what both remembered, and my greatest joy.

Pain’s slid to resignation within me.
Like the dead past, far off, I hear the sea.

I sit down once again; the gas-hiss swells.
Oddly, it’s as if I were someone else.

Things seem unreal around me. Just the glow
of gaslight. The pendulum nodding No.


My main computer has crashed. This means I cannot at present update the Index. But will do so as soon as possible.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Another albatross poem from Dèr Mouw, with echoes of Coleridge and Baudelaire

A stranger to the earth, twixt waves and stars,
the albatross sails on its wide-winged flight,
a dual eternity of air and night
prophesies round its proud and lonely path.

The bird, at home with storm and starry height,
the prudent sailor spares; the other views
its swished-down majesty as farce, and shoos
it, though it saves from shipwreck, into flight.

My love, that storm and starlight greatness gave,
dived at you from the finite’s outer rim;

unsurely steered, your great sails none can trim,
which flutter to bright night where lightnings toss.

Should what is blindly willed break loose, you’re saved
by your unscared off, mystic albatross.

Monday 1 July 2013

Dèr Mouw sonnet, originally with the title 'Metal Tree'

Splendour of metal, frozen out of light
and fire, was hidden in mysterious salt:
in water, as suspended fluid caught,
all colour’s as if drained and lost from sight;

till sacred world-law’s rhythm can unfold,
and in the glass a springtime starts to dawn:
in gleaming resurrection it’s reborn,
as silver poplar and as beech of gold.

In what are tiny grains of memory
graces of sound and line are fixed and stacked
unseen in crystal form own laws impose:

dissolving them in its mobility,
the mind waits for its deepest force to act –
quietly a wood of gleaming sonnets grows.

 For this poem certain background information is helpful. First published in De Amsterdammer, 3 August 1918, with the title ‘Metaalboom’ (Metal Tree).
Certain metallic salts are invisible when they dissolve, but they can subsequently crystallise out in the form of slowly branching, colourful trees. Similarly, the images of memory are stored unseen in the mind of the poet until they acquire their gleaming form in his poems.