Tuesday 30 April 2019

Herman de Coninck: 'Vader' in English translation


De dingen die voorbij zijn, blijven rustig verder leven,
sereen, omdat ze niet meer zo acuut
en niet meer slechts zo heel heel even
moeten gebeuren van minuut tot minuut.

Zo ging mijn vader, sinds hij stierf
ook in mijn dromen al en paar keer dood, maar trager,
er niet de tijd voor nemend, maar een eeuwigheid,
en leeft hij toch nog verder, verder en wat vager.

Hij zegt niets meer, hij is een sfeer, mijn vader,
met ouwe woorden, het woord 'altegader',
het woord 'gelaat' en 'schoot' (van ons gezin) en 'schoon';

Zo rustig wil ik ook wel sterven, een keer of zes, zeven
in de dromen van mijn zoon,
tot ik gewoon blijf leven.


The things that now are past just go on quietly living,
serenely, since they now no longer need
be so acute or at this very 
very minute in the way that they proceed.

And so my father after death
died several times too in my dreams, though staidly 
not taking the due time but an eternity
and living on yet further, further though more vaguely.

He speaks no more, he is a sphere, my father,
with old-time words, such words as ‘altogether’
and ‘countenance’ and ‘bosom’ (family) and ‘shun’;

I’d do my dying six or seven times without misgiving
in the dreams had by my son
until I simply go on living.

Saturday 27 April 2019

HCA: 'Solskinshistorier' in English translation

Sunshine Stories

‘Just you listen to this!’ the wind said.
‘If you don’t mind,’ the rain said, ‘it’s my turn now! You’ve been standing long enough at the street corner howling away for all you are worth!’
‘Is that all the thanks I get,’ the wind said, ‘when as a favour to you I’ve turned many an umbrella inside-out, even snapped it in two, when people didn’t want to have anything to do with you!’
I’m telling the next story!’ the sunshine said, ‘be quiet!’ and it was said with brilliance and majesty, so that the wind lay down flat, but the rain shook the wind and said: ‘Are we to put up with this! she’s always breaking in is My Lady Sunshine. We won’t put up with this! it’s not worth the trouble to listen to!’
And the sunshine told her story:
‘A swan once flew over the rolling ocean; every feather of its body gleamed like gold; one feather fell down onto the large merchant vessel that glided past all sails set; the feather fell onto the curly hair of a young man, the man in charge of the goods, known as Supercargo. The feather of the bird of good fortune touched his forehead, became a quill pen in his hand, and soon he became the rich merchant who could probably buy golden spurs for himself, transform gold dishes into an escutcheon – I have shone on it!’ the sunshine said.
‘The swan flew across the green meadow where the young shepherd, a seven-year-old boy, had lain down in the shade of the old, lone tree out here. And in his flight the swan kissed one of the tree’s leaves, which fell into the boy’s hand, and that one leaf turned into three, then ten, became an entire book, and in it he read about the wonders of nature, about his mother tongue, about faith and knowledge. When bedtime came, he placed the book under his head so as not to forget what he had read, and the book carried him to the school bench, to the table of learning. I have read his name among the scholars!’ the sunshine said.
‘The swan flew into the solitude of the wood, rested there on the quiet, dark lakes where the water lilies grow, where the wild crab apples grow, where the cuckoo and wood pigeon have their home. A poor woman was gathering firewood, branches that had fallen down; she carried them on her back, her baby she held at her breast and she was on her way home. She saw the golden swan, the bird of good fortune, rise up from the rushy shore. What was gleaming there? A golden egg. She place it to her breast and it stayed warm – there was clearly life in the egg. Indeed, inside there was something pecking, she could feel it and thought it must be her own heart beating.
Back home in her humble living room she took out the egg. ‘Tick! tick!’ it said, as if it was a precious gold watch, but it was an egg with something alive inside it. The shell cracked and a small cygnet, feathered as if with pure gold, stuck out its head; round its neck it had four rings, and since the poor woman had exactly four boys, three at home and the fourth that she had carried with her outside into the solitude of the wood, she immediately realised that here there was a ring for each of her children, and as she realised this, the small golden bird started to fly off.
She kissed each ring, let each child kiss one of the rings, placed it by the child’s heart, placed it on the child’s finger.
‘I saw it!’ the sunshine said. ‘I saw what happened next!’
One of the boys sat down in the clay pit, took a lump of clay, shaped it with his fingers and it turned into a Jason figure, the one who had fetched the golden fleece.
The second boy immediately ran out onto the meadow, where the flowers stood in every conceivable colour; he picked a handful, squeezed them so tightly that the juices squirted into his eyes, moistened the ring, which tingled and prickled in both thoughts and hand, and in the course of time the great city came to talk about the great painter.
The third boy held the ring so firmly in his mouth that it resounded, an echo from the depths of his heart; feelings and thoughts rose up in musical notes, soared like singing swans, dived like swans down into the deep lake, the deep lake of thought; he became a great composer – every country can now think: ‘he belongs to me!’
The fourth, infant child, well he was the outcast of the family; he was barmy, they said, he ought to be soused in pepper and butter like the sick chickens! they did not mince matters: “Pepper and butter!” Which he got; but from me he got a sunshine kiss,’ the sunshine said, ‘he got ten kisses for every one the others got. He was a poet by nature, he was cuffed and kissed; but the lucky ring he had received from the golden swan of good fortune. His thoughts flew out like golden butterflies, the symbol of immortality!’
‘That was one long story!’ the wind said.
‘And a boring one!’ the rain said. ‘Blow on me, so I can recover!’
And the wind blew, and the sunshine went on: ‘The swan of good fortune flew over the deep bay where the fishermen had put out their nets. The poorest of them had thoughts of getting married and marry he did.
To him the swan brought a piece of amber; amber attracts, it attracted hearts to the house. Amber is the loveliest of incenses. It emits a fragrance as from a church, a fragrance from God’s nature. They truly knew the happiness of home life, contentment with the common round, and their whole life was a sunshine story.’
‘I think we can stop here!’ the wind said. ‘Sunshine has been telling his story for long enough. I’ve found it quite boring!’
‘Me too!’ the rain said.
‘And what do the rest of us who have heard the stories say?’
‘We say “now they are common property!”’

Friday 26 April 2019

Martinus Nijhoff: 'De Danser' in English translation

The Dancer

Beneath my skin a captive beast is fenced
That thrashes and would bite a pathway free;
Its dark blood throbs, and muscles highly tensed
Tremble in such confined extremity.

Until its pain like heat flows through my veins
And forces gestures out whose tempered haste
And maintained elegance screw up its pace
Still more before it hurls aside its chains.

One must be powdered so that in one’s face
The black of open-scorching eyes alone
Betrays the madness of the inner beast.

The mouth, upturned and reddened, must display
A pride so godlike everyone should know
Its broad smile is now totally released.

Herman de Coninck: 'Zoals (2)'

Zoals (2)

Zoals ik graag knoflook heb bij lamsvlees,
zo wil ik tabak bij lucht: om adem te kruiden
en pas nadien uit te blazan, als was het elke keer
mijn laatste.

Ik heb het tijdelijke met het eeuwige
vaak genoeg verwisseld in mijn poëzie
om te weten dat ik het tijdelijke wil.

Betekenis: dat is wat een blootgewoelde vrouw
aan lakens over zich heen trekt.
Ik trek ze weer weg.

Just as (2)

Just as I like garlic with lamb,
I want tobacco with air: to spice the breath
and only then exhale, as if every time were
my last.

I have sufficiently confused the temporal
for the eternal in my poetry
to know the temporal is what I want.

Meaning: that is what a naked woman who’s kicked
the bedclothes off will pull back over her.
I pull them off again.

Herman de Coninck: 'Opgevoed in zwijgzaamheid'

Opgevoed in zwijgzaamheid.
Het is sindsdien mijn vak: woorden zoeken
die zwijgen. Die je niet hebt,
maar alleen kunt krijgen.

Misschien leerde ik het van mijn moeder.
‘Jongen, je weet wel,’ zei ze toen ik ging trouwen.
Ik heb er bundels en vrouwen
over gedaan om zo weinig te zeggen.

Om het geinige af te leren, vervolgens
het chagrijnige, om ten slotte thuis
te komen in het weinige.
Van de lenige liefde in de enige.

Raised in observing silence.
My job ever since: to search for words that
stay silent. Ones you don’t have,
but can only obtain.

Maybe I learnt it from my mother.
‘Well, you know, lad,’ she said when I wed.
It’s taken me volumes of poems
and women to say so little.

To get rid of the quirky, and then
the murky, to come home
at last in what is little.
From pliant love to solely reliant.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Herman de Coninck: 'Dood, ik zal sterven, maar da's alles wat ik doe voor jou'

Dood, ik zal sterven, maar da’s alles wat ik doe voor jou.
Ik zal niet bang zijn, veel plezier ga je er niet aan beleven.
Ik zal niet zuchten en niet huilen en niet beven.
Dood, ik zal sterven, maar da’s alles wat ik doe voor jou.

Ik heb gearbeid in de wijngaard van het leven.
En van die wijn komen de vlekken op mijn huid.
Drie vrouwen zijn me komen wassen, hier zo even,
en kregen er die vlekken niet meer uit.

Laat mij dus zo maar wachten, als een bruid.
Want ik zal sterven, maar da’s alles wat ik doe voor jou.
Ik laat je niet veel over. Mijn gezicht is grauw.

Ik zal je aankijken met twee ogen van glas.
En als je ligt te pompen op mijn arm karkas
zul je wel merken dat je niet de eerste was.

Death, I shall die, but that’s all I’m prepared to do for you.
I won’t be scared, much pleasure won’t be yours just for the taking.
I won’t give way to sighing and to weeping and to quaking
Death, I shall die, but that’s all I’m prepared to do for you.

In life’s own vineyard I have laboured resolutely.
And stains from that same wine my skin have dyed.
Just now three women came and washed me mutely
and could not get those stains out when they tried.

So let me go on waiting like a bride.
For I shall die, but that’s all I’m prepared to do for you.
I will not leave you much. My face is ashen too.

I’ll look you squarely in the face with two glass eyes.
And when on my poor carcass you then fall and rise
That you are not the first won’t come as a surprise.

Herman de Coninck: 'Nee, liefde is niet blind'

Nee, liefde is niet blind. Ik zie ook met één oog
je lelijkheid en andermans verfijnde charme.
Ik ken zelfs alle sproeten op je armen
en hoe je ogen veel te ver uiteenstaan, en je wenkbrauwen te hoog

om mooi te zijn. Nee, liefde is niet doof,
ik hoor ook met één oor je domme conversatie
en voel met handen, huid en haar je povere bibberatie
die grote passie moet verbeelden, hier in mijn alkoof.

En toch hou ik van jou veel meer dan omgekeerd.
En dat dit liefde zijn zou, heb ik nooit beweerd.
Dit is veeleer een soort eenrichtingsverkeer

waarin steeds ik het wijf ben, jij de heer.
En dat de wereld daarmee lacht, kan mij niet raken.
En als ik al te lijden heb, zijn dat mijn eigen zaken.

No, love’s by no means blind. And I see with one eye 
your ugliness and others people’s urbane charm.
I even know the freckles you have on each arm
and how your eyes are far too wide apart, your brows too high

for loveliness. No, love’s not deaf, and with one ear
I cannot help but hear your stupid conversations
and feel with hands, skin, hair your paltry palpitations
that simulate great passion, in my bed recess here.

And yet I’m fonder of you than the opposite.
To call it love I’ve never claimed is apposite.
A kind of one-way traffic is much apter, where

I always am the wife and you’re the boss.
And that the world derides I couldn’t care a toss.
And if I do the suffering, well that’s my own affair.

Herman de Coninck: 'Pointillisme'


Voor Laura en Tom

Sloten onder kroos, pointillisme
van groen, stilliggend geril
van begin, natuur die vijf miljard puntjes tegelijk
op haar i's zet.

Ik op mijn buik langs zo'n sloot.
Geef me mijn bril eens. Puntjes op de i inspecteren
is mijn beroep en vooral: daarbij op mijn buik liggen.
Hoeveel puntjes heb je nodig voor groen?

Hoeveel zandkorrels, zandkorzels, voor strand?
Hoeveel mensen voor mensheid?
Iemand met sproeten, en iemand die ze telt.


For Laura and Tom

Ditches under duckweed, pointillism
of green, still-lying shivers of
beginning, nature that dots her five billion i’s
at one and the same time.

I on my stomach along such a ditch.
Just hand me my specs. Inspecting such dots
is my trade and especially: while on my stomach.
How many dots do you need for green?

How many sand-specks, sand-flecks, for a shore?
How many humans for humanity?
Someone with freckles, and someone who counts them.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Ed Leeflang: 'IJsvogel'


Een zondagmorgen, altijd ruist de beek;
wij liepen door de wei, geen van ons keek
erg uit zijn ogen. Daar kwam van rechts
oranje blanje bleu hij uit een duister
groen gevlogen. God wat een schrik.
Wat je in liefde voelen wil, de jubel
van het ogenblik. Hijzelf schoot weg
stroomafwaarts onder elzetakken
over de kleine brug. Schot in de dag.
Hé, ach, oh, denk hem terug.


A Sunday morning, the stream purling as always;
we walked through the meadow, our gazes
wandering. When from stage right –
orange-white-blue and out of green darkness –
he flashed into view. God what a shock.
What you wish for from love – the jubilant rush
of the moment. As for him, he shot off
downstream under branches of alder
over the small bridge. Shot a day’s eye.
Hey, aah, ooh, re-call him.

Herman de Coninck: 'Ligstoel'

                                 (Voor Jan Fabre)

Het is een soort niets dat ik zoek. Wat je overhoudt
als je uit de kom van je beide handen hebt willen drinken:
je beide handen. Geuren lanterfanten door de tuin.
Ik heb een ligstoel onder me waarin ik zo laag als ik maar

in mezelf kan liggen, op mijn rug, het onderste wat ik heb, lig.
Hoe is dit liggen? Zoals je een cognac afmeet door het glas
horizontaal te leggen, zo is dit liggen, ik heb niet veel van mezelf
nodig om vol te zijn, wat ik nodig heb is vooral: weinig.

Er is te weinig weinig. De vergevensgezindheid
van het niets waarin wij, als we eveneens
niets zouden zijn, zouden passen.

De lucht is zo blauw als vergeetachtigheid.
De lucht is zo blauw als blauwsel waarmee destijds
linnen werd gewassen om witter te zijn.

Deck chair
                                 (For Jan Fabre)

It’s a sort of nothing I’m looking for. What you’re left with
when you’ve wanted to drink from both your cupped hands:
both your hands. Scents idle and sidle through the garden.
I’ve a deck chair under me in which – as low as I’m able

to lie in myself, on my back, the bottommost part of me – I now lie.
What is this lying like? The way you measure a brandy by placing
the glass on its side, that’s what it’s like, I don’t need much
of myself to be full, what I need above all is: little.

There is too little little. The forgivingness
of the nothing in which we, if we likewise
were to be nothing, would fit.

The sky is as blue as forgetfulness.
The sky is as blue as the bluing once used
when washing to make linen whiter.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Herman de Coninck (1944-97): 'Vingerafdrukken op het venster'

Vingerafdrukken op het venster

Ik denk dat poëzie iets is als vingerafdrukken
op het venster, waarachter een kind dat niet kan slapen
te wachten staat op de dag. Uit aarde komt nevel,

uit verdriet een soort ach. Wolken
zorgen voor vijfentwintig soorten licht.
Eigenlijk houden ze het tegen. Tegenlicht.

Het is nog te vroeg om nu te zijn. Maar de rivieren
vertrekken alvast. Ze hebben het geruis
uit de zilverfabriek van de zee gehoord.

Dochter naast me voor het raam. Van haar houden
is de gemakkelijkste manier om dit alles te onthouden.
Vogels vinden in de smidse van hun geluid

uit, uit, uit.

Fingerprints on the window

I think that poetry is something like fingerprints
on the window, behind which a child unable to sleep
stands waiting for the day. From earth comes mist,

from distress a sort of aah. Clouds
provide twenty-five kinds of light.
Though really they hold it back. Backlight.

It is still too early to be now. But the rivers are
already on the move. They have heard
the murmur from the silver factory of the sea.

Daughter by me at the window. To love her
is the easiest way to remember all this.
To find birds in the smithy of their sound

out, out, out.

 Hear the poem beautifully read in the original at this website

Monday 22 April 2019

Elisabeth Eybers: 'Voorjaar' in English translation


Kyk, al die klein skerp trekswaeltjies kom terug,
swart weerhakies geprik op mika lug.

Klein en verkluim in hierdie leeë ruim,
gesnavel en gewiek en somersiek
spits sy haar dag na dag in teëvlug.
Sy soek ’n nis wat tussen newels is
en sak al aweregser van die drang
om neer te tol of een nog deernisvol
sy hande hol hou om haar op te vang.


Look, the pin-pointed swallows are all returning,
black barbs pricked out on a mica sky.

Small and chilled in these empty heavens,
beaked and winged and summer-sick, day
after day sharpening themselves in counterflight.
Seeking an alcove midst the clouds
and falling ever more contrarily from the urge
to spiral down than out of compassion someone
might cup his hands to catch them safe.