P/P | r2c | July: Flowforms in Granite and the Poetry of Place

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Flowform in Granite "As Orpheus with his lyre sang the stones
began to move, the branches of powerful oaks
wanted to reach out to each other with hands,
the wild animals of the forest appeared
who in listening nestled down near to him..."

from Orpheus, a poem
Ida Gerhardt

This week, an image of Flowforms
in Granite:
Also: eight new translations
of Lowland poems.

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Acht Gedichten; Eight Poems

The guest poems for this week are new English translations of a set of eight Dutch pieces.
The six featured poets are,
Ida GerhardtGerrit Achterberg, B.J. Pot, C.S.
Adama van Scheltema
, Jan Hanlo,
and A. Roland Holst : 

Flowforms in Granite and the Poetry of Place

(listen to Intro in RealAudio c. 4')

What I find so striking about the sometimes marvelously fantastic forms
of river rocks is the way their contours so perfectly reflect the movements
of fast-flowing water. We sense that such a stone is completely at home in
its place in the world. Even if the stone were to be taken away from its river,
or if the water were for some reason silenced, say, because of a dam, we
would still sense in the manifest shape—almost feel or hear—the forces
that brought it into existence.

In a similar fashion, one can easily imagine an art or a poetry which is
shaped by the no less real, albeit less palpable, spirit of a place. At the same
time, much of the culture of the present era disappoints in especially this regard.
So one could say that, instead of reflecting in a subtle, indirect way, something
of the character of a place, much of contemporary art reflects more our
rootlessness and resulting disorientation.

This is perhaps one of the primary reasons why poetry in translation can be
so revealing. We are, after all, exposed to a place—and, of course, a language—
with which we are largely unfamiliar. But then, how is Dutch poetry different
from English? Instead of approaching the question directly, I think perhaps a
movement of circumambulation, one which follows each individual poet and
poem individually, might be more appropriate. This week's poems when taken
together as an octet, lead us through a confusion of modern images, grammars,
and landscapes. From a dreamy Orpheus and Mozart, we move on to the more
certain ground of old-fashioned lyrics about the highly desirable daughters of
rich ladies and the fancy-free ways of the vagabond. (Notice that the two Vaga-
bond pieces are the only poems of the set of eight that are firmly situated out-of-
doors.) Then there's the beautiful piece by Jan Hanlo,
Not Unlike, where he
compares the features of a beloved to the movements and trajectories of flying
birds. The sequence ends with a powerful poem by Ida Gerhardt, marking the
death of her fellow poet, Gerrit Achterberg. Here she gives voice to this uneasy,
uniquely contemporary feeling that many artists experience when forced by the
turning-point events of life—birth, marriage or death, say—to reenter the vestigial
holy places of a culture which they largely see as bankrupt.

Indeed, pondering the smooth surfaces of waterworn granite may well help us
make sense of this art which is so distinctly shaped by both the dark and the
lighter, more lively and exhilarating aspects of such chaos:

De Herschepping

Als Orpheus bij de lier zong gingen stenen
bewegen, takken van machtige eiken
wilden met handen naar elkander reiken,
de wilde dieren van het bos verschenen,
die luisterend zich bij hem nedervlijden
en bomen kwamen nader op de tenen.
Een witte wolk is daar zómaar gedaald.
Dit had mijn ouder zusje mij verhaald;
zij zei: `hij zingt het, maar het heeft géén woorden.'
En die nacht droomde ik van een groot geruis,
en dat, terwijl ik Orpheus spelen hoorde,
mijn ouders wandelden door het trappenhuis.

Ida Gerhardt
The Transformation

As Orpheus with his lyre sang, the stones
began to move, the branches of powerful oaks
wanted to reach out to each other with hands,
the wild animals of the forest appeared
who in listening nestled down near to him
and trees came all the way to his toes.
A white cloud descended out of nowhere.
My older sister told me this;
she said: "he is singing, but the song has no words."
And that night I dreamt of a great noise,
and that, as I heard Orpheus play,
my parents journeyed along the staircase.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Terwijl hij onder de vleugel sliep
alsof geen morgen hem meer riep,
begonnen zacht op 't wit en zwart
van 't doodstil glanzend mechaniek
de snelle maten van het lied
dat in zichzelf verdronken sliep,
dat in zichzelf verzonken zag
naar wie het riep
met klare, jubelende kracht.

Haastig en diep gelukkig schiep
Mozart zijn kleine nachtmuziek.

Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962)

Eiland der Ziel (1939)
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

While he slept beneath the piano
as if no morning would ever call to him,
began softly upon the white and black
of the deadly quiet glistening keys
the quick measures of the song
that in itself was drowned in sleep
that in itself submerged had seen
he who it called
with clear, joyous power.

Hastily and deeply happy Mozart
created his little night music.

Suffering of the Soul (1939)


De dikke dames eten taarten
bij Lensvelt achter 't winkelraam.
Des avonds gaan zij samen kaarten
bij kennissen van goede naam.

De dikke dames hebben mannen
met bank en rekening-courant,
en ieder jaar vacantieplannen,
voor wintersport in 't buitenland.

De dochters van de dikke dames
studeren kunstgeschiedenis,
maar nimmer deden zij examens
daar wetenschap hun doel niet is.

Ach, dikke dames met uw duiten,
uw dochters en uw volle bord,
ik sta bij Lensvelt voor de ruiten
en hoop dat ik uw schoonzoon word.

B.J. Pot

The portly ladies are eating cake
at Lensvelt behind the shop window.
In the evening they'll play cards together
at the homes of affluent friends.

The portly ladies all have husbands
with big bank accounts and ample credit,
and every year plans for vacation,
and for going skiing in the Alps.

The daughters of the portly ladies
are all studying the history of Art,
but hardly ever take the exams
since knowledge is not their goal.

Ah, portly ladies with your farthings,
your daughters and your replete plates,
I stand at Lensvelt in front of the windows
and hope your son-in-law to be.

De Vagebond

Van morgen woei de wind uit 't Zuiden,
 Van middag woei het uit de hel
Ach! dat heeft niet veel te beduiden,
 Wij leven ons leventje wel!

Van middag was het wel wat treurig,
 Maar nou komt mijn hart uit de plooi! -
Ach, leven we niet te kieskeurig,
 Wat duivel! het leven is mooi!

En van avond melk ik mijn koetjes,
 Die geven geen melk en geen room! -
Ach mijn hart! mijn hart! maak dat 'k zoetjes
 Van nacht van iets gelukkigs droom!

C.S. Adama van Scheltema
Van Zon en Zomer
The Vagabond

This morning the wind blew from the South,
 This afternoon it blew from Hell
Ah! that doesn't mean all that much.
 We live our little lives so well!

This afternoon it was a bit sad,
 But come now my heart out of the fold!—
Ah! let's not live too persnickety,
 May the devil care! life is not so bad!

And this evening I'll milk my cows,
 They give no milk and no cream!—
Ah my heart! my heart! make that I sweetly
 Tonight about something happy dream!

Of Sun and Summer

Niet Ongelijk

Niet ongelijk is de lijn van je ogen
aan de lijnen van meeuwen of vooral die van visdiefjes
Toeval? Een romantisch bewijs voor één Schepper?
Ik weet niet Wel weet ik dat je ogen al lang weer
verweg zijn gevlogen Zonder spoor of contact
zomin als kiekendieven of de langzaam maar /
   zekere tochten
van spitsgevleugelde valken iets te maken hebben
met de treinen die ze passeren

Jan Hanlo
Not Unlike

Not unlike the line of your eyes
are the lines of seagulls or especially terns
Chance? A romantic proof of one Creator?
I don't know I do know that your eyes have flown
far away again Without a trace or contact
just as little as harriers or the slow but /
    sure turns
of sharp-winged falcons have something to do
with the trains that they pass by.


Je toonde me vannacht de kamers weer;
geheel dezelfde. 't Werd de eerste keer
dat ik ze zag van duizend malen meer.
Jij was toen nog mevrouw en ik meneer.

We stonden waar wij later zouden leven.
Er was nog niets over ons heen geweven.
Zo is het tussen ons een tijd gebleven
en daarna kwam je voornaam op een keer.

In deze doodsslaap heb ik terug gekund
door andere adressen voor te geven
en weg te gaan eer ik ontwaken zou.

Dan was ik nu misschien handelsagent
of bij mijn vader op het dorp gebleven
en trouwde later een gewone vrouw.

Mar nu ik wakker ben is om het even
wat op die drempel wankelde en wou
en heeft het noodlot mij geen stap gegund.

Gerrit Achterberg

You showed me tonight the rooms again;
everything the same. It was again the first time
among a thousand others that I saw them.
You were still Mrs. and I Mr.

We stood where we later would live.
Nothing had yet passed between us.
This is how it remained for a time
and after this your first name came up.

In this death-sleep I've been able to return
by giving out other addresses
and going away before I wake up.

Then I was now perhaps a salesman
or I stayed with my father in the village
and married later an ordinary woman.

But now that I'm awake it is about
what wobbled on that threshold and wished
and that fate did not grant me but one step.

De Vagebond

Zij wikken en wegen
hun geld en hun god,
en kanten zich tegen
mijn vluchtiger lot,
omdat ik mijn handen
en oogen leeg
door hunne landen
omdroeg, en zweeg
in hun geschillen,
en ging als blind
om der eenzame wille
van sterren en wind.

A. Roland Holst
Voorbij de Wegen (1920)
The Vagabond

They weigh the pros and cons
their money and their god
and are set to resist
my flight of fate,
because my hands
and eyes are empty
carried through their
lands, and remained silent
in their differences,
and went as blind
for the solitary will
of wind and stars.

from: Passed the Ways (1920)

Begrafenis van Gerrit Achterberg
voor C. Achterberg-van Baak

Te armoedig nog om bij elkaar te horen
en in onszelf en in elkaar verward,
waren wij daar, een hand litteratoren.
Toen de familie in het kerkezwart
en met een boerse waardigheid verscheen,
werd onze vaalheid nog meer openbaar.
De bloemen overdekten kist en baar.
Daar was hij die ons niet meer nodig had.
Ik zag terzijde van het middenpad
zijn vader, ouder dan Methusalem,
zijn schouders haast gekromd tot aan zijn kruis.
O, toen hij opzag, hoe geleek hij hem
die schreef:'daar woonden wij met man en muis.'
Hij hield de handen om zijn doornen stok.
Maar toen de stoet opstommelde en vertrok,
bleef hij alleen. De doornstok in zijn hand
begon te schrijven op het blauw plavuis.
God sta ons bij. – 'En Jezus schreef in het zand.'

Ida Gerhardt
De slechtvalk, 1966
Funeral of Gerrit Achterberg
for C. Achterberg-van Baak

Still too poor to belong together
and confused in ourselves and in one another,
there we were, but a handful of literary people.
When the family, dressed in church black,
and with the dignity of farmers, appeared,
our sallowness became all the more evident.
The flowers covered coffin and stretcher.
There he was, the one who no longer needed us.
I saw to the side of the middleway,
his father, older than Methuselah,
his shoulders bent down almost to his crotch.
O, when he looked up, how he resembled he who
wrote: 'there we lived with man and mouse.'
He held his hands about his thorny stick.
But when the cortège stumbled up and departed,
he alone remained. The thorny stick in his hand,
he began to write upon the blue flagstones.
God be with us.— 'And Jesus wrote in the sand.'

(all tr. by Cliff Crego)

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 

* Orpheus is the musician of musicians of classical Greek mythology. He is the one
whose magical art of the lyre has the power to charm the whole of Nature—the trees,
rivers, stones and even the wild animals, into the silence of listening. Son of Calliope,
the muse of epic poetry, and a Thracian river-god (in some versions of the story Apollo),
Orpheus married the nymph Eurydice who was fated to die of a serpent bite on her heel.
In his profound grief, Orpheus follows his beloved into the underworld, and with the
sound of his lyre enchants the resident deities into consenting to her release. The one
condition which Orpheus has to meet during the ascent back to the upperworld is that
he is not allowed to look back at Eurydice. In a brief moment of weakness, he does
look back, however, whereby Eurydice vanishes forever without a trace.

Rejecting all women in his sadness afterwards, Orpheus is later ripped to pieces by the
Maenads. This then is the source of the famous image of Orpheus' lyre and singing head
floating off through empty space to the island of Lesbos.


"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 ||
Photograph/Texts of Translations © 2000 Cliff Crego
VII..23..2000) (revised: VII.21.2002/VII.1.2011)