P/P | r2c | June: Seeing the World Firsthand

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Looking for Chamois, the Alps "...I am a spectator looking out /
   from a high tower,
A space divides me from the /
   rest of the world,
That I see as small and as very /
   far away...."

from The Wanderer, a
poem by Martinus Nijhoff

This week, an image called
Looking for Chamois.
Also: six new translations
of a Lowland poems.

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Zes Gedichten; Six Poems

The guest poems for this week are new English translations of a set of six Dutch pieces.
The featured poets are,
J.C. Bloem, Hans Andreus, Victor Vroo, Judith Herberg,
Remco Campert
and Martinus Nijhoff

Seeing the World Firsthand

Nowadays, it seems as if everyone prefers to experience the world secondhand. Instead
of going out to have a look for oneself, we'd evidently rather have small, bite-sized
portions of reality served up for us like a cheese sandwich on the radio or television
(and now the Internet): there's no strain, one can easily sustain the illusion of control, and,
most importantly, disturbing facts can be avoided. After a while, however, this second-
hand approach to life does begin to crack at the seams. As we become increasingly out
of tune with our surroundings, frequently the comfort of illusion gives way to the
suffering of isolation.

I like to think that there's perhaps no better therapy for all that ails 2nd-hand man than
walking. Go out and experience the world first hand. Get wet; get dirty. Find out for one-
self. As the Japanese poets say, "
If you want to know the mountains, go to the mountains."
One of the things I enjoy most about walking is the chance encounters along the way
with what I've come to think of as the
in situ observer. Around the world, but especially
in Europe and North America, this is indeed something of an endangered species, someone
who is as much a part of his or her world, and who knows and cares as much about it, as
does a grouse or spruce tree. I think of them as the true poets of place. And well, there's
nothing secondhand about what they have to say, which can be as refreshing as water
from a clear, fast-flowing, stream.

We rightly expect something similar from a poem. Nothing secondhand will do. That's
why, after encountering Rilke masterpieces like
Loneliness or Autumn Day, which
seem to emerge directly and spontaneously out of some deeply-felt emotional landscape,
we can't help but feel somewhat cheated when we first read his more self-consciously
stylized literary pieces composed to fill-out sequences, especially the ones with Biblical
themes. Here, Rilke becomes, instead of a guide, something of a spiritual tourist himself,
bringing back with him little collections of snapshots that seem disappointing and overly
sentimental when compared with his best work. (To my ear, this is also revealed in their
labored rhythms and somewhat heavy-handed end-rhymes.)

Like Rilke himself said some hundred years ago,

   "Whoever you are: step out in to the evening
   out of your living room, where everything is so known;
   your house stands as the last thing before great space:"

One could almost generalize this as a key feature of the modernist program of
the past century. Take poetry out of academia and the smoke-filled parlor rooms
with a scratched recording of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood repeating end-
lessly in the background and get it out into the streets and byways of the world.
Dutch poetry has been and still is an important part of this movement. Like Hans
Andreus has it in his charming miniature,
Translation, speaking with Allen Watts
and the Chinese Taoist,

   "...leave alone that which
   in itself exists,
   like an animal goes about its business,
   people sometimes laugh,
   or somebody crazy screams,
   a child fills up a wall
   with drawings of every
   day a new house."

Or Judith Herzberg, who stays at home, inviting the 'what is' of the world inside,
and offering striking visual imagery for the strange world of mechanical noise
that surrounds us:

   "Sounds of the city on a warm night
   have, as in a painting, a background.
   An airplane roars against a substratum of cars,
   a motorbike shoots clamorously down to the left.
   I like to hear it, it makes me think of
   the 22nd of June 1964, which is this evening."

Nothing secondhand about that! Dutch, with its unique combination of a logician's
straightforward syntax and a landscape painter's rich repertoire of idiomatic
expressions, is an ideal language for this kind of direct expression. Let us look
and listen then, and find out for ourselves where our set of six translations
takes us:

Het Huisje in de Duinen

Muurbloemen bloeiden voor het lage raam.
Het late middaglicht was warm en bronzen,
en de ongerepte stilte klonk als gonzen
van vele kleine vleugelen te zaam.

En achter het beschutte, kleine huis
verhieven zich de wit-geblaakte duinen:
een strakke hemel stond boven hun kruinen;
haast niet te horen was het zeegeruis.

Hier scheen de macht van 't onheil te vergaan,
één ogenblik. Hier scheen 't geluk bereikbaar,
de lome druk der daaglijksheid ontwijkbaar
binnen de grens van een beperkt bestaan.

Welke is die mensen ingeschapen drang,
die geen vervulling duldt van het begeerde,
maar altijd van hun zwakke harten weerde,
waarnaar zij joegen, heel hun leven lang ?

J.C. Bloem
The Cottage in the Dunes

Wallflowers blossomed in front of the low window.
The late afternoon sunlight was warm and bronze,
and the undisturbed silence sounded like a hum
of many small wings beating together.

And behind the small, protected house
rose up the bleached-white sanddunes:
a clear sky stood above their crowns;
almost inaudible was the surf of the sea.

Here, the power of misfortune seemed to fade,
for a moment. Here, happiness seemed obtainable,
the heavy pressures of daily life avoidable
within the borders of a limited existence.

What is this obsession so ingrained for people
that it will not allow for the fulfillment of desire,
that they are by their weak hearts refused
that which they chased after, all their lives?


met rust laten wat
uit zichzelf bestaat,
zoals een dier z'n gang gaat,
mensen soms lachen
of een gek schreeuwt,
een kind de muren
vol tekent van iedere
dag een nieuw huis.

Hans Andreus

leave alone that which
in itself exists,
as an animal goes about its business,
people sometimes laugh,
or somebody crazy screams,
a child fills up a wall
with drawings of every
day a new house.


Zoals ze daar 's morgens
op de stoep tegen elkaar
aan geleund warmte zoekend
in hun plastic jassen
staan te wachten, grijs,
vormeloos, vol afgedankt
leven, tegelijk broos
en weerloos. Je zou ze
weer naar binnen willen
halen, je ouders
wachtend op de bus.

Victor Vroo
Garbage Bags

The way they in the morning
on the sidewalk lean against
each other as they seek warmth
in their plastic coats,
standing there waiting, gray,
formless, full of thrown out
life, at the same time fragile
and defenseless. You almost
want to bring them back
inside, your parents
waiting for the bus.


Stadsgeluiden in de warme nacht
hebben, als op een schilderij, een achtergrond.
Een vliegtuig ronkt tegen een fond van auto's
een bromfiets schiet luidruchtig links omlaag.
Ik hoor het graag, het doet mij denken aan
22 juni 1964, dat is vanavond.

Judith Herzberg,
uit: Beemdgras (1968)
Sounds of the City

Sounds of the city on a warm night
have, as in a painting, a background.
An airplane roars against a substratum of cars,
a motorbike shoots clamorously down to the left.
I like to hear it, it makes me think of
the 22nd of June 1964, which is this evening.

from Meadow Grass

Ook de liefde

'Though lovers be lost love shall not'—
Dylan Thomas

Ja, zij die liefde maken
tot een brandend slagschip of een mooie roos
gaan verloren
in het water reddeloos
of in de aarden kuil van de seizoenen.

Maar de liefde gaat verloren
met de makers, de minnaars.

O ons lieve lichaam
en de woorden die wij aan elkaar spendeerden
en alle goede bedoelingen en ook de kwade
en de tranen,
de drift en de begeerte,
het vlammen van het schip,
het geuren van de roos

het is niet en nooit genoeg.

Remco Campert

And Also Love

"Though lovers be lost love shall not"—
Dylan Thomas

Yes, those who make love
into a burning flagship or a beautiful rose
are lost
beyond rescue in the water
or in the earthen hole of the seasons.

But love is lost
with the makers, the lovers.

O our dear body
and the words which we spent upon one another
and all the good intentions and also the bad
and the tears,
the drive and the desire,
the flaming up of the ship,
the smell of the rose

it is not now and never enough.

De Wandelaar

Mijn eenzaam leven wandelt in de straten,
Langs een landschap of tussen kamerwanden.
Er stroomt geen bloed meer door mijn dode handen,
Stil heeft mijn hart de daden sterven laten.

Kloosterling uit den tijd der Carolingen,
Zit ik met ernstig Vlaamsch gelaat voor 't raam;
Zie menschen op een zonnig grasveld gaan,
En hoor matrozen langs de kaden zingen.

Kunstenaar uit den tijd der Renaissance,
Teken ik 's nachts de glimlach van een vrouw,
Of buig me over een spiegel en beschouw
Van de eigen ogen het ontzaglijk glanzen.

Een dichter uit den tijd van Baudelaire,
Daags tusschen boeken, 's nachts in een café
Vloek ik mijn liefde en dans als Salome.
De wereld heeft haar weelde en haar misère.

Toeschouwer ben ik uit een hoge toren,
Een ruimte scheidt mij van de wereld af,
Die 'k kleiner zie en als van heel ver-af
En die ik niet aanraken kan en horen.

Toen zich mijn handen tot geen daad meer hieven
Zagen mijn ogen kalm de dingen aan:
Een stoet van beelden zag ik langs mij gaan,
Stil mozaïekspel zonder perspectieven.

   Martinus Nijhoff
The Wanderer

My lonely life wanders in the streets,
Along the countryside or the walls of the room.
No blood flows anymore in my dead hands,
Silenced, my heart has let deed die away.

Cloister monk out of the time of the Carolines,
I sit with a serious Flemish face by the window;
I see people go their way on the sunny fields,
And hear seamen singing along the canals.

Artist out of the time of the Renaissance,
I draw at night the smile of a beautiful woman
Or bend myself over a mirror and observe
The considerable shine of my very own eyes.

A poet out of the time of Baudelaire,
By day among books, at night in a café,
I curse my love and dance like Salome.
The world has its opulence and its misery.

I am a spectator looking out from a high tower,
A space divides me from the rest of the world,
That I see as small and as very far away
And that I cannot touch and cannot hear.

Once my hands no longer moved to act,
My eyes saw all the many things clearly:
A trail of images I saw as they passed me by,
Silent pathwork-play without perspective.

   (all tr. Cliff Crego)

featuring my English translations
of Rainer Maria Rilke, presented together
with a collection of images from the Alps,
very close to where much of his later poetry was composed

Please follow r2c {Straight ROADS.
Slow RIVERS. Deep CLAY.]
on twitter . . .

Dutch literary webpages and pdfs,
of interest to
r2c readers...

(1) Group of 8 Dutch poets meets American Beats (1982)
an essay in English by Dutch author Hans Plomp

"In the spring of 1982, a group of Dutch poets toured the U.S., as a part of the celebration
of 200 years of American independence. The tour included many important cultural centers:
St. Mark's, Nuyorican, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Berkeley, Bolinas, etc. There were several
performances with congenial American poets like
Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima, Ira Cohen,
Amiri Baraka
, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. All this made our journey a magnificent

The cover of the City Lights Books anthology "Nine Dutch Poets" states: "Like the Provos'
in Amsterdam who came to symbolize protest & peace in the world, these Dutch writers-two
of whom are internationally famous as painters-here carry their own very special poetic
messages far beyond the boundaries of their own tiny Netherlands, to spread that 'peace
virus' known as HOLLANDITIS.""

(2) A Walk on the Wild Square: Poetry of the 1980s en 1990s
Paul Demets [an English translation by author]

Herman de Coninck (1944-1997) Paul Demets is a poetry critic for the Flemish weekly
Knack. He also contributes regularly to literary journals such as Poëziekrant, Kunst en
Cultuur and Ons Erfdeel.

(3) "Anne Frank's Literary Connections: pdf (69k)" in The Low Countries, arts and
society in Flanders and the Netherlands (2000), pp. 177-189.
Dr. Broos has published
extensively on Dutch literature with emphasis on the 18th century and the connection with art
history. He teaches Dutch language and literature on all levels and a special course: "Anne Frank
in Past and Present." from http://www.lsa.umich.edu/saa/publications/courseguide/winter/357.html 


"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 |
| Map | TOC: I-IV | TOC: V-VIII | Image Index | Index | Text OnlyDownload Page | Newsletter | About P/P | About Cliff Crego |

Photograph/Texts of Translations © 2001 Cliff Crego
VI.24.2001) (revised VII.24.2003) Special thanks to
Michael Heesbeen of the Eindhoven who pointed a mistake
in my Campert translation. I stand corrected.