Friday 3 January 2014

A poem by the Flemish poet 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.