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

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.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

A famous Hans Christian Andersen poem

Moderen med Barnet

Hist, hvor Veien slaaer en Bugt,
Ligger der et Huus saa smukt.
Væggene lidt skjæve staae,
Ruderne er ganske smaa,
Døren synker halvt i Knæ,
Hunden gjøer, det lille Kræ,
Under Taget Svaler qvid’re,
Solen synker — og saa vid’re.

I den røde Aftensol
Sidder Moder i sin Stol;
Kinden luer dobbelt rød,
Barnet har hun paa sit Skjød.
Drengen er saa frisk og sund,
Æblekinden rød og rund!
See, hvor hun i Spøg ham banker
Paa de søde Pusselanker.

Katten staaer og krummer Ryg,
Men forstyrres af en Myg;
Barsk han den med Poten slaaer,
Og igjen som Hofmand staaer.
Moder klapper Barnets Kind;
See hvor sødt det sover ind,
Drømmer om de Engle smukke
I sin lille pene Vugge.

Mother and child

At the bend made by the road
Lies a lovely old abode.
All its walls are slightly skew
Window panes are small and few,
Door that’s now begun to sag,
Dog that barks, the scallywag,
’Neath the eaves are chirping swallows,
Setting sun – you know what follows.

In the evening sun’s mild glare
Mother’s sitting in her chair;
Both her cheeks flame rosy red,
On her lap the child’s been fed.
Such a fit and healthy boy,
Apple-cheeked and full of joy!
See, how blows she now is feigning
On his tiny toes she’s raining.

Arching high its back, the cat
Is much bothered by a gnat;
Hits it with a hefty paw,
As a courtier stands once more.
Mother strokes her baby’s cheek;
See, in no time it’s asleep,
In its cradle now lies beaming,
As of angels it is dreaming.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Eighth sonnet of the 40-sonnet cycle by the Swedish poet Erik Lindegren


the tired tree cannot lift itself from the blood
and irresolution cannot raise its branches

false simplicity cannot speak the truth
and scourges itself in vain into a witness of blood

the precious stones tempt with the dried-up river-bed of oblivion
but the path to life passes through a different desert

where alone with the sun I recall the world
and comrade Orestes who cannot speak for sand

where alone with the woman I forget the sun
and its tired trees in the fiery cave

its scorched eyes that waken towards evening
when the desert freezes in spring’s mourning-band coat

when the invisible drama takes up its position in the wings
and in the silent desert a sea of humanity swells

To see the whole cycle, go to here

Monday 4 August 2014

Poem by Leo Vroman


If everyone turned all at once to flowers
they would be large-sized flowers with trailing whiskers.
Emaciated flies, dead beetles
would end entangled in their hairs.
Toothpicks, surreptitiously sprouted
would swell into turned table-legs,
buds of cotton would burst open
into plush hearts that smelled of fringes,

And on the mountains plaster pillars stand
weeping spates of plaster grapes.

Cardboard leaves would drift upon the water,
The butterflies fall apart into loose wings
And all the flowerbeds shrivel up with scent
If everyone turned all at once to flowers.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Another Dutch poem, this time by Arjen Duinker


On the one hand there’s the thing.
On the other hand there’s the mystery.
More about the thing and the mystery I do not know.

How in the name of whatever,
How can I know anything more about them?
And this knowledge is small knowledge, I would add,
A small idea at most, small
In its consequences for time.
If on the one hand there’s the thing
And on the other hand the mystery,
The world is explicit.

The street is the street where I come across friends,
The flowers bloom as they must bloom, with blossoms,
The wind blows wherever it wishes,
And the lack of more knowledge
Than that on the one hand there’s the thing
And on the other hand the mystery
Is to me an inexhaustible source of joy.

Friday 1 August 2014

A poem by Nachoem M. Wijnberg

Soft skin

Children have a calming effect.
They have a soft skin.
They sleep on your grave.
They have big eyes.
They look more calmly.
They sleep next to each other.
You give each child a dead animal
to teach it to fall asleep holding onto an animal,
face pressed against face.
When the animal has lost all its hair
you take the animal away from the child and place
at night a living animal beside its curled-up body.