Sunday 1 November 2020

A.L. Snijders: 'Houtstapelaar'


Wood stacker


For the first time I have bought firewood, four cubic metres, beech and acacia. I don’t know how much space that takes up. I sit waiting for the young man to bring it on his tractor and trailer. He phones to tell me he’ll be coming a bit later. His nephew turns up earlier in a delivery can. He’s a young man who’s studying Classics. I ask him if we is going to become a teacher. No, he studies out of interest, when he’s finished, he’ll think about what to do next. From the conversation, I gather that he finds Greek more interesting than Latin. I show him a collection of Greek epigrams and choose Asclepiades of Samos, who lived from 320BC to 290BC. In the commentary it says. He mainly wrote love songs and drinking songs, in a simple style that has a strange charm.’ Since we are interested in that strange charm, we read a love poem.


Tempting Didyme has carried me off. Alas! And now

I melt when I look on her beauty, as wax in the fire.

What is it to me that she is black? So are coals,

but when lit they shine like the petals of roses.


While we talk about the strange charm, which has a different cause in him than in me, the tractor stops with its load of wood. They get down to work. I quickly look up another epigram, this time by Meleager of Gadara, Palestine (130BC to 60BC). A cynical philosopher and one of the most important poets of the love epigram.


I am felled. Set in triumph your foot

on my neck, oh fierce demon.

I know you, yes, and how to bear its weight;

I also know your singeing arrows. Feel free

to continue shooting them into my heart:

they will no longer scorch it –

it is already nothing but ash.


I’m curious to see the reaction of the classical scholar, but he has changed into a sober wood stacker, proud of his pyramid under the lean-to roof.

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