Monday 30 November 2020

ALS: 'De waarheid'



On the secondary road I am overtaken by a sports car that I can’t catch up with afterwards. I reckon the car is doing 120 kph – I stick to the permitted speed, eighty. I’m furious with myself for being so docile, so obedient. Ten kilometres further along the road the sports car is on the verge, the traffic police have intervened. The driver is standing next to the policemen – it is a woman, a female driver. I know her, she was a teacher of mine at the upper secondary school in Haarlem, where my mother worked in the administration. Her subjects were Greek and Latin – she could tell us everything about Homer and Cicero. She was unmarried, but a school is an ant-hill with a thousand eyes. She was seen late at evening in the town centre with a young man from my class. Not a unique occurrence, she was seen with him on several occasions. This love affair spanned twenty years – a scandal in both senses of the word. The rumours could not be denied, the headteacher kept well out of reach. Not because he was lazy, but because he was civilised. He tried to exclude everyone’s opinions about anything outside the school, but in this case he was unsuccessful.

So he had to invite her to come to his office, which he did with reluctance. They were on friendly terms. He had got to know her at a gathering of classicists. She had just completed her university studies and was looking for a job. He asked her to apply, it proved a success. After four impeccable years this happened. No one has ever found out what the headteacher and the female teacher discussed. The young man in question passed his final exams and the teacher carried on teaching there until she retired. Years later, when my mother stopped working, she told me that the headmaster had told her that he never knew what the nature of the relationship was between the female teacher and her pupil. He said:


‘The fundamentalist legitimises his intolerance by making a claim on absolute truth. According to the 15th century jurist, philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cusa, truth does exist, but it remains unknown to us’


I have always felt this is a splendid point of departure and I wanted to walk over to the female driver of the sports car. Would she be willing to tell me about really happened back then? But I didn’t do so, the police would probably have objected.

Saturday 28 November 2020

N.F.S. Grundtvig: 'Velkommen igen, guds engle små'

Our welcome once more, angelic throng 


Our welcome once more, angelic throng,

from Heaven’s halls descending,

arrayed in pure sunlight all day long,

as down to us you’re wending!

Despite a keen frost, a year that’s strong

for birds and seeds portending.


Well met, ’neath the clouds on church paths here

where midnight snow’s still lying!

As Christmastide guests our homes revere,

on this we are relying;

Oh, shun not our door should you be near,

such hurt be us denying!


Our dwelling is low, as is our door,

just poverty resides there,

but you have as humbly dwelt before,

our thoughts of this abide there,

our bread may be dry, our clay jug poor,

but angels will not chide there.


With friendliest eyes of sky-blue hue

in beds or cradles resting,

we little ones have as fine a view

as flowers in meadows nesting;

Oh sing for all those, as larks trill too,

whose song they’re long requesting!


Of Bethlehem then their dreams will be,

although they’re scarcely able,

in dreams they the infant’s home will see –

a manger in a stable –

share Christmas with all those playfully

whose song seems like a fable. 


Then mildly they’ll wake with morning dew

and hours will cease their stealing,

and Christmastide songs we’ll hear anew

which share the heart’s true feeling,

and sweetly on high the sound breaks through

of Christmas bells’ glad pealing.


On hymn tunes God’s angels then will climb,

ascending and descending,

His peace will Almighty God sublime

to seekers then be sending;

and Heavens’ gates open, ending time,

His true realm apprehending.


Oh could we but only see such bliss

ere our eyes close for ever!

As infant cries mothers’ pangs dismiss,

may pain cease altogether.

Oh Lord God, our Christmas wish is this:

us from all grief now sever!

Friday 27 November 2020

Pia Juul: First poem from the collection 'Avuncular' (2014)

What is an ‘onkel’

A Danish word

look it up

but wait a bit before looking it up

let me feel something first

onkel’s far removed from all definitions

a longing for a moment feeling safe in

childhood but not a person a state is

what’s contained in the word, perhaps an o

maybe an letter o pronounced å. Oh Åh. Oh you onkel.

Oh my onkel. Åh ånkel. Mon oncle Jules, a title that occurs

to me, Uncle Tom, Uncle Anders, Uncle Sam and all the

other uncles one knows without knowing them, also my

own uncles and yours, but…

(I’ll say it straight away:

comfy uncle

the most uncomfortable word in my dictionary,

closely followed by: playful uncle)

… but it’s not only childhood, the safe feeling of childhood

isn’t what it is

Eastern window-panes afar* each time I read this I sing I think

Åh, onkel Jeppe, but without thinking it even so , for he’s

not my uncle though I don’t call anyone anything just for

fun, but Flare up in the gloaming, it’s the uncle-like feeling I’ve mentioned

not the longing but the fulfilment of it, a full and round

moment as round as an uncle, and what’s more I don’t know if he borrowed

aunt Agnes’ money, and that’s uncle-like although he was younger than

she was and had this large poet’s head of hair, Moorland ponds like tiny stars

Catch the sunset’s homing.

Out in the twilight of the garden I see a yellow leaf fall to the ground,

it floats rather than falls, it takes its time


* Quotation of last verse of Jeppe Aakjær’s poem ‘Aften’.

   To see it in the original and in English, go to here.

Klaus Høeck: 'The human condition' from 'Palimpsest'


Thursday 26 November 2020

Pia Juul: 'Du sover'


You’re asleep

and I see the elephant-bird

flying heavily above the strange trees

The long-legged ape

that isn’t an ape

leaping fearlessly from tree to tree

Extinct. No longer exists.


I’m cold in the mouth

Yesterday it was full

of oysters, and I thought

to croak like that, choked in

the soft innards of that

hard crustacean.

Now the cold, where’s it

coming from, for all

the other parts of my body

are on fire as always

blazing away

flushed red with rage

heart-swelling tenderness

but cold in the mouth

that’s what I am today

Pia Juul: 'Jeg lægger mit uundværlige ur'


I place my indispensable watch

in the tray so that it won’t

beep when I walk through. They

confiscate one of my lighters as

it’s too dangerous with two.

‘The other one,’ he says helpfully

looking up from the screen, ‘is right next to your apple.’

Then I eat the apple in the taxfree and throw

away the core and wonder if

it will prove useful or

just be incinerated, where will it

end up? And in my deepfreezer

back home in the outhouse with

all those berries that will be used for

stewed fruit but when? and me

too what will become of me

and why?

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Pia Juul: Poem from 'AVUNCULAR onkelagtige tekster' (2014)

The first time I saw a mouse

I was a child and shouted: ‘A rat!’

All the women screamed, my

uncle’s new lady-friend jumped up on a chair

and my father came with a broom.

I still shout rat for a mouse

but no one comes any more with a broom.


I got into this story like Pontius Pilate got

into the creed. I was simply there. It could have been

someone else.

I also wash my hands. Second to none, actually.

I don’t condemn anyone to death either and couldn’t dream

of pardoning anyone, anyone at all. Certainly not mice.

What do we know about Pontius Pilate?

Did he have a family?

Procurator. Prefect. Brutal. Handwash.


I’m such a nice person. Even so, I’m really mean

on mice.

Pia Juul: 'Men jeg ville heller ikke det jeg ville'


PIA JUUL (1962–2020)


But I didn’t want what I wanted either


But I didn’t want what I wanted either

And I didn’t know what it was I wanted

I so much wanted to have you

Then I got what I wanted

well and truly, and what do you do then 

Then you shout out happiness and

cry yourself to sleep in broad daylight

You say you saunter through

the meadow, and the meadow isn’t a

meadow, but something completely different

Can you perhaps pick

flowers where none are to be found?

Yes. And then you throw yourself

into it, bite that happiness

into a thousand pieces, smack your lips, gnaw and

rattle out of breath, suck it

off and feel sick. Stumble

over the words, swallow the food,

use your three wishes too

quickly and wrongly. Stupid and infatuated.



Sunday 22 November 2020

ALS: 'Suikerbieten'

 Sugar beets


Next to my house a vast stack of sugar beets has appeared. Heavy tractors have spent two days clearing the surrounding land. The noise has been immense. A man comes to look, perhaps he’s an inspector, perhaps a chance passer-by. I also standing looking at it, for this is the biggest mountain of sugar beets I’ve ever seen. We happen to start chatting about America. He is worried about the way things are going there. He has a daughter in the vicinity of Paterson, New Jersey, she’s already lived there for twenty years. She is divorced, they have two children who live with her. Although he regularly pays them a visit, they are worried about him. He always votes Democrat, but this time Trump was his favourite, and he goes on supporting him, even after his defeat. It seems as if he has really changed, she plans to return with her children to Europe, to be on the safe side. When the sugar-beet inspector walks away, I think of the witticism made by a character in a novel by Saul Bellow:


‘Seven per cent in this country is committing suicide by alcohol. Another three, maybe, narcotics. Another sixty just fading away into dust by boredom. Twenty more who have sold their souls to the Devil. Then there’s a small percentage of those who want to live. That’s the only significant thing in the whole world today. Those are the only two classes of people there are. Some want to live, but the great majority don’t… They don’t, why else all these wars? I’ll tell you more… The love of the dying amounts to one thing; they want you to die with them. That’s because they love you. Make no mistake about that.’


I see the man is slowly disappearing into the distance. I ask myself whether he would agree with Saul Bellow.

Gaston Durnez: 'Probatie'

 The try-out


I’ve received a golden pen.

My name is on it, in golden letters.

A festive pen, a birthday pen!

A present from the children

who are also golden.

I’m overjoyed.


Now I simply have to try it out.

Not much success at first,

it still feels a bit stiff,

it writes two invisible letters.

Then the ink flows freely:


’All the birds have left the nest

save me and thee.’


The last two lines are a variation of the first known 'poem' in the Dutch language.

To see the original, go to here.

Friday 20 November 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: 'Sonnet dat de feestvreugde bederft'

Sonnet that dampens the party spirit

in which Trump has lost the election


Stories where evil’s vanquished by the force

of good are definitely quite compelling,

the stuff of myth and sagas for the telling –

real life though rarely follows such a course.


But now it seems it’s too good to be true.

Holed up in her ice-palace lair the witch

declares the lost election is a snitch

and, spewing venom, vows there’s no adieu.


Alas, indeed it’s too good to be true.

For almost half of the electorate

has not viewed Trump as evil and all those


who’d hoped a second term was more than due

are businessmen, and the whole party’s weight

and apparatus still make powerful foes.

To see the original sonnet, go to here


Thursday 19 November 2020

Dan Andersson: 'I timmerkojan på Sami'

In the timber hut at Sami


Fireside time’s great on a pitch-black night

when winds through the roof-hole are squeezing

and seizing the quick-leaping flames in flight

while the forests are mumbling and wheezing.


Cold’s on the prowl round each earth-cladded rent

to seek a way in for some biting;

finds one as well – when the fire’s warmth is spent

frost scrawls on the walls its white writing .


Heavy from our labour, a close-knit crew,

till peat-turfs’ last flickers stop spreading

and cold shakes us awake, night scarcely through,

we sleep on our brushwood bedding.


Hard is the lot we are forced to endure –

its aim – there’s but God’s explanation!

Mists that drift slowly and clouds that obscure –

no one knows their destination.


Nurtured by forests with never a claim,

our lives grew murky and gasping,

Men without friends, poor folk without name,

cogs in a wheel always rasping.


Our fate we should never call ill-starred,

we have warmth and food in good measure!

The needy are many, their lives are hard –

none but the dead peace may treasure.

To see the original poem, go to here

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Bert Bevers: 'In volle werking'

 In full swing


That man there, in full swing, has never

learnt anything else than to do what he does.

What he must do. He saw that well, the onlooker.


He already suspected it when young: your youth is

never large enough. The creative urge? Check.

The heat of young blood? Check. He stuck to


his guns. He wanted to get away from sheer white

and black. Wished for the vast secrets

of song-thrush-egg-blue and sunflower-yellow.


For the rough idiom of forgotten sermons.

He already knew early on, and lived accordingly:

it makes no sense to dig in lifeless fields.

Drawing by Vincent van Gogh

(Omtrent Vincent, Pien Storm van Leeuwen, p. 98)

Sunday 15 November 2020

Albert Hagenaars: 'Zelfportret - Vincent van Gogh'




Vincent van Gogh


Kijken tot waar het moeten ontstijgt

aan wat men meent te zien,


tot waar een wuivend graanveld

vlaagloos overgaat in het wezen

van de wind, het zaad in de zak

van de zaaier in kiemkracht


en het donkerend landschap

in een zelfportret,

op verblindend moment

als dat van u zelf herkend:


in bloedgeel en hoerengroen,

in graanrood en kraaienblauw,


in hemelzwart.






Vincent van Gogh


Gazing at where compulsion arises

from what one thinks one sees,


at where a swaying field of grain

shifts unflurrying into the being

of the wind, the seed in the sower's

pouch in germinative force


and the darkening landscape

in a self-portrait,

at a blinding moment

as that self-recognised:


in blood-yellow and whore-green,

in grain-red and crow-blue,


in sky-black.

ALS: 'Huwelijk'



The parking spot at the edge of the wood has small stones, there are carefree people’s empty cars standing there. There are also two people on bikes facing each other, at a distance. The woman is young, the man is older than her father. They are putting an end to their relationship, the woman stays silent, the man talks. I’m standing next to my car, I can’t hear what he is saying, I can see from his back that he is talking. A man who is older than his wife wins from a separation. They have been married eight years, that’s not long enough for a balance. Later I see them walking in the park, they’ve left their bikes behind at the parking spot. What really surprises and even disturbs me is what I see: he is fishing, he’s standing there fishing. Everyone knows that fishing in this park is prohibited. Everyone knows that the foresters here are strict. I walk towards them to warn them, even though I don’t know him. But when I see that his young wife is sitting waiting on a bench, I keep walking – I hesitate, have I misinterpreted the situation? I go to the park a couple more times with the intention of apologising, but I don’t see them again. I want to tell them that they must turn up, for I am leaving for West Flanders for a long time, where the farmers uncover unexploded grenades every day when ploughing. But I don’t see them again, it’s a great disappointment to me. When I’ve got back from West Flanders, I’m older. When visiting the park for the first time I see the woman’s bike at the parking spot. This time I wait for her in my car. I talk to her. She tells me her husband is a philosopher, with Ludwig Wittgenstein as a speciality. To me question as to whether he still fishes in the park unpunished, she laughs delightedly and gives a proud nod. It must be a good marriage, I was mistaken.

Friday 13 November 2020

ZKV 98

shepherd’s pie


Ma is a dab hand at shepherd’s pie. I ask her how she makes it. Minced lamb of course, otherwise there’s no shepherd. Mixed with a sliced onion, and with pepper and salt, for no other spices exist in her kitchen. No frivolities like tomato added. She gives me the job of doing the mashed potatoes. Are they organic? Yes, they are. Look at the eyes in them. The potato peeler is pointed at the end to deal with them in summary fashion. ‘Salt in the water,’ Ma tells me. ‘Turn the gas down when they boil and wait till they’re fairly soft.’ The bit I like best is to use the potato masher, a spherical metal plate at the bottom with elongated holes in it and a sturdy handle, topped in wood painted yellow with green rings. ‘Add a knob of butter and some milk first!’ After the initial assault, I move over to a fork and whip the potatoes into a creamy froth. Then Ma takes over, covering the meat and twitching up the mash into a host of small spikes that will catch the heat in the oven and turn it into a host of brown peaks.

‘Now we just pop it into the oven.’ ‘How hot?’ I ask. ‘Around medium.’ ‘For how long?’ ‘Until it’s done.’ 


I wanted to ask Ma about life too. Now it is a quarter of a century too late, but I know her answers would have been the same.


Tuesday 10 November 2020

Dan Andersson: 'Döden'




At the back of beyond, depths of forest the setting,

in my hut out at Sami, twilight’s gleam a mere token,

I’ve met with who’s strongest, with death I have spoken,

and he came there to teach me both rest and forgetting.


And I said to him: - "You, all sleepers’ own brother,

you may call yourself strong, come and go at your leisure,

you are dreams, you are smoke, just a notion’s your measure,

and a tired man’s thinking’s your feeble old mother.


And if this is not so, I would ask you to answer

your own and life’s riddle, so long in your keeping:

why things never come true , why so many stand weeping,

why the strong and young gravewards still follow the dancer?”


And he spoke like smooth honey which angels delight in

and his words made one drowsy, were powerful and leaden

as when aspen leaves sing their farewell when they redden

was the wayfarer king of the night’s voice inviting.


“You stare at the earth that will lull and conceal you,

that’s deepest and largest and last put together,

and one day when your questioning eyes break for ever

is earth the black answer needed to heal you.”




In my hut out at Sami, my smoked pipe beside me

like a dreamer I heard now the grave-man still speaking,

and when all becomes nothing there’ll be no comfort-seeking,

then his drowsy truth’s easily grasped here inside me.

To see the original, go to here