October: Every Leaf a Poem
(click on image to enlarge photo)
Cottonwood Leaf, October "Endless world, incomplete universe
And without beginning, but where each part
Image is of the whole and a lightshow //
Along the eternal ways..."

from Cycle, a
poem by Albert Verwey

This week, a wayside image called
Cottonwood Leaf.
Also: nine new translations
of a Lowland texts.

The guest poems for this week are new English translations of a set of nine Dutch texts.
The featured poets are,
M. Vasalis, Gerrit Achterberg, Multatuli and
Albert Verwey

Every Leaf a Poem

   Idee 34.
Myn Ideeën zyn de "Times" van myn ziel.


   Idea 34.
My ideas are the "Times" of my soul.

Walt Whitman used to say, "
Every leaf a miracle". Who would argue, especially
with the coming of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere and latitudes. But it is not just
the spectacle of color; there is also something extraordinary about the form of the leaf
itself. Here I would just remark on the beautiful way that a leaf's structure of veins—
and again, this is especially clear during the autumn months—reflects on a much smaller
scale the structure of the tree itself.

Of course, just as how we see leaves depends on what they mean to us—a thing of
great beauty and source of rich loam, or, as is common in the vast suburban tracts
of N. America, a scourge to be cleaned up as quickly as possible much like foul spots
on a livingroom carpet—so too our view or perception of a poem greatly depends
on what it and poetry as a whole mean to us. Is a poem something hard to understand,
found only in books? Or is it something else, something different? Perhaps in this context
we might try thinking of a poem as something so brief, so reduced to essence, that
it could easily write itself on the surface of a single small page or leaf. So the image
of a group of poems is not then a hardbound volume, but more of the nature of a
collection of paintings, each of which can be moved around and is to some extent
independent of the others. Or we might indeed think of a tree composed of many
such leaves, and go on to imagine the sound and the sense of the poems moving
out into the world in mysterious ways, much like a leaf is carried about by a
seemingly capricious wind: Where it comes to rest, and by whom it is read, we
can never know for sure, can we?

The little group of texts I've brought together here in new English translations might
be thought of in this way. I find each piece striking in and of itself, having something
of some moment to say, and yet each is as soft-spoken as a leaf itself. (The
idea series is offered by way of contrast, and also to call attention to the poetry-like
qualities of aphorism.) We can either pick it up and take it along with us, much as a
child might do, or simply listen for a while, and then continue on along our way:


Teeder en jong, als werd het voorjaar
maar lichter nog, want zonder vruchtbegin,
met dunne mist tusschen de gele blaren
zet stil het herfstgetijde in.

Ik voel alleen, dat ik bemin,
zooals een kind, iets jongs, iets ouds,
eind of begin? Iets zo vertrouwds
en zoo van alle strijd ontheven—
niet als een einde van het leven,
maar als de lente van den dood.

De kruinen ijl, de stammen bloot
en dit door stilte en mist omgeven.

    M. Vasalis

Tender and young, as if it were spring
but lighter yet, not burdened with new fruit,
with thin mist between the yellow leaves,
quietly the time of fall begins.

I feel alone, that I love
like a child, something young, something old,
end or beginning? Something so known
and so undone of all conflict—
not as an end of life,
but as the spring of death.

The rarefied crowns, the naked trunks,
and this surrounded by silence and mist.


Ik heb de linde heilig doen verklaren,
die ik gedurig voor een vrouw aanzie.
Ver genoeg weg wordt het verschil nihil:
de stam het lichaam, klederen de blaren
en goud haar de bloesem bovendien.

Liet zich het juiste ogenblik uitsparen
van de verandering, dan zou ik zien
hoe zij tot stand komt uit haar effigie
en dat fotograferen en bewaren.

Daarvan een film opnemen, het proces
was dan hanteerbaar, ik kon eigenmachtig
bedoelde phase zoveel widescreen geven,

dat zij spontaan de boom ging overleven,
de schijn ontsnapte en zichzelf deelachtig,
mij tegemoet liep uit die blinde bres.

Gerrit Achterberg
Spel van de wilde jacht (1957)

I have declared this Linden to be holy,
that I continue to see as a woman.
Far enough away there's but little difference:
The trunk is the body, the clothes leaves,
and above all the golden hair is the blossoms.

If the right moment might be spared
from change, then I could see
how she emerged out of her effigy
and make a photograph of this to save.

A motion picture could be made, the process
would be manageable, I could give self-willed
the intended phase so much wide screen

that she would spontaneously outlive the tree,
having escaped appearance and herself partaking,
out of the blind breach walking to meet me.

Idee 39

Tussen ziel en taal ligt de lengte van een trompet.
Ik gis -- en geloof byna -- dat weinig trompetten zo
kort zyn als de hollandse.

Idee 58

Er zyn weinig boeken waaruit men niet leren
kan hoe men niet schryven moet.

Idee 63

Jezus heeft veel schoons gezegd. Maar 't schone
dat hy gezegd heeft, beslaat geen half vel druks.
(7 1/2 cent.)

Idee 65

Jezus is slecht getekend in den bybel. Wie dat niet
voelt, is Jezus' vriend niet. Om Jezus te waarderen
moet men den bybel wegwerpen.

Idee 68

't Idee dat men daad'lyk begrypt
is veelal 't begrypen niet waard.

Idee 71

Een veldheer schreef aan z'n luitenant: vermoord
al de inwoners, en houd de rest gevangen.
De luitenant dacht dat die veldheer gek was,
maar hy uitte z'n mening niet, omdat hy de
gramschap van den veldheer vreesde.
Natuur is alles. Wat er meer is, noemt men
metaphysiek, bovennatuurkunde, d.i. buitenissigheid.
't Is nog niet heel lang, dat de luitenants zo'n
veldheer een dwaas durven noemen.

(Eduard Douwes Dekker)
Idea 39

Between the soul and language lies the length of a trumpet.
I guess—I almost believe—that few trumpets are as
short as that of Dutch.

Idea 58

There are but few books from which one
cannot learn how not to write.

Idea 63

Jesus said many beautiful things. But the beautiful
part of what he said takes up less than half a page.
(7 1/2 cents.)

Idea 65

Jesus is poorly sketched in the Bible. Whoever does
not feel this is not Jesus' friend. To appreciate Jesus,
one has to throw away the Bible.

Idea 68

The idea that one actually understands
is frequently not worth understanding.

Idea 71

The general wrote to his lieutenant: kill
all the inhabitants, and hold the rest captive.
The lieutenant thought that the general was crazy,
but he kept his opinion to himself because he
feared the wrath of the general.
Nature is everything. All that which is more is called
metaphysical, supernatural, that is, freakish.
It won't be much longer before the lieutenant
can call such a general a bloody fool.


Ik ben een vonk die doelloos, richtingloos,
Geworpen in 't heelal mijn vaart begon,
Toen bond me aldra aan zich een andre zon
En wentlend leef ik ongemeten poos,

Een kern van leven, in zichzelven voos,
Vol van de kracht die in en rond mij spon.
O dat ik zonder weten eeuwig kon
Wentlen in de onbegrepen stralenroos.

Oneindge wereld, onvoltooid heelal
En onbegonnen, maar waarin elk deel
Beeld van het heel is en een lichtgespeel

Langs de eeuwge banen, zeg, zal eenmaal, zal
Ooit zijn het eind van uw gestaadgen brand,
Gij diamant in 't holle van een hand?

   Albert Verwey

I am a spark without goal, without direction,
Thrown into the universe as my journey began,
Before long another sun bound itself to me
And turning I lived for an unmeasured while,

A kernel of life, empty in itself,
Full of the energy that around me spun.
O that I could without knowing for centuries
Turn within the ungrasped radiating rose.

Endless world, incomplete universe
And without beginning, but where each part
Image is of the whole and a lightshow

Along the eternal ways, tell me, shall once, shall
Ever there be an end to your steady fire,
You, a diamond in the hollow of a hand?

(all tr. Cliff Crego)

From other websites on the Dutch Internet,
perhaps of interest to
r2c readers...

* Gerrit Achterberg en de
De "
Gerrit Achterberg-fietsroute

"De beroemde dichter Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962)
heeft samen met Cathrien van Baak zeven jaren in de
buurtschap Hoonte in de gemeente Neede gewoond.
In de schitterende natuur rondom de herenboerderij
"Mariahoeve" kwam hij tot rust. In Neede produ-
ceerde hij zo'n negentig procent van zijn literaire
werk. Op 27 juni 1946 trouwde hij met Cathrien in
het gemeentehuis van Neede, met letterkundige
Ed. Hoornik en uitgever Bert Bakker als getuigen.
In Neede schreef Achterberg onder andere het
beroemde gedicht 'Hoonte' (bundel 'Hoonte',

...De "
Gerrit Achterberg-route
" van de VVV voert
fietsers en wandelaars langs plaatsen in Neede waar-
door Achterberg zich liet inspireren. Op vijf plaatsen
zijn van hem gedichten op een plaquette geplaatst:
", "Hoonte
", "Watertoren
", "Waterval
" en
Groeten uit Neede
* Gerrit Achterberg and the
Gerrit Achterberg bicycle route
" [Dutch webpage]

The famous poet Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962)
lived with Cathrien van Baak for a period of seven
years in the neighborhood of Hoonte in the village
of Neede. In the wonderful natural setting around
the country estate, "Maria Farmstead", Achterberg
found the peace and tranquility he needed to write.
It is said that in Neede he produced approximately
90 percent of his literary output. On the 27th of
June in 1946 Achterberg married Cathrien in the
city hall of Neede, with the writer Ed. Hoornik
and publisher Bert Bakker as their witnesses.
Among other works, Achterberg wrote his
famous collection, "Hoonte" (1949), in Neede.

...The "
Gerrit Achterberg Route" of the VVV
[the Dutch tourist organization] takes bikers and
walkers along places in Neede that were special to
Achterberg. At five different places, boards with
one of his poems are on display: "
Village", "Hoonte"
(see above), "
Water Tower", "Waterfall" and
Greetings from Neede"." (tr. Cliff Crego)

Max Havelaar [A well-known foundation in the Lowlands, taking its name and inspiration
from the famous work of the same title by Multatuli.)

Mission statement

"Max Havelaar strives towards fair and just relations world-wide. Central to
its policy is sustainable production, trade and consumption.


Offering access to international trade with good conditions for farmers and
workers in disadvantaged parts of the Third World so that they can build a
better future for themselves. This means consumers and retailers must also
pay enough to cover social and environmental costs.


Max Havelaar is not a brand but it is a trademark for fair trade.


Multatuli Museum in Amsterdam
[A Dutch website with a nice selection of
texts in English]
(ps. E. Douwes Dekker, 1820-1887)

"Eduard Douwes Dekker was too restless to be a scientist or a real scholar. In
his youth he couldn't stand the "Latijnse school" (a kind of grammer school)
and left after three years. Similarly, he couldn't maintain his job at the office
of a textile trading-firm for longer than three years and at an age of eighteen
years he left for the Dutch Indies (Indonesia). At that time the Indies were a
resort for folk who got stuck in the Dutch society. He had a career as a civil
servant and at first it seemed he had found his destination in life. However,
he had some dispositions that were incompatible with the Civil Service. [...]

"He returned to Europe where he wrote his most famous book, the Max Havelaar.
It is the account of his experiences in the Dutch Indies. The composition of the
book is very intriguing and powerful. And it was liked by the general public for
that reason only, but Multatuli didn't get the support he had hoped to gain from
publishing it.

In many ways he was too much ahead of his time, and in this very conservative
country he was only valued in the small circle of freethinkers. It was only later,
in our century that he is more generally appreciated as one of the greatest Dutch
writers, if not as the greatest."
[Not translated by Cliff Crego]


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

| See also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
A presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters

| # listen to other recordings in English and German of eight poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page (# Includes instructions)
| back to r2c | back to Picture/Poems: Central Display |
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Photograph/Texts of Translations © 2001 Cliff Crego
X.14.2001) Comments to crego@picture-poems.com