The New Fish

Already when the specimen was being served adjoining tables stopped the digging of further trenches in the chestnut purée, the spading of curled-up lettuce leaves stagnates, wines linger in lifted glasses: this fish is not the usual feast of the deep. A revelation, hauled it would seem from primordial waters. Though head and tail-fin gone,…

The End of the Nineteenth Century in 1914

On Gas Attacks, Poetry, Cruelty and Increased Mobility in WW I Belgium  The attack of last Thursday evening was preceded by the rising of a cloud of vapor, greenish gray and iridescent.’ This is how Will Irwin, correspondent for the New York Tribune, described the German offensive at Ypres on 22 April 1915. It was…

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In…

The Tao of Literature

Life as it is, according to Patricia de Martelaere She herself is unwilling to provide any detailed explanation of her novels. She refuses to give interviews and declines TV appearances. Patricia de Martelaere (1957-) is first and foremost a professor of philosophy, as well as being a brilliant essayist who writes lucidly and inspiredly about…

Face to Face with the Dalton Terror

Philosophy between University and journalism The Dalton Terror is one of the newest attractions in the Belgian theme park Six Flags, just south of Brussels. You are strapped into a chair, hoisted to a height of sixty metres and then dropped, sitting in the chair, like a stone to the ground. Some people find it…

What to Talk About

What to talk about this evening? Talk, too, in a land that we recognise, bear with, rarely forget. That land with its farcical genesis, its damp climate, its dubious stories about its past, its people, grasping till their last collapse among the cauliflowers, They continue to multiply in a paradise of their inventing, greedy for…

Brother

‘It’s hard’, he said, ‘it’s bloody hard. Unfair too, now at last I’m losing weight’.   Still autumn outside, maize reaching to the horizon. The word falls, a horizon Then no word more from him.   The plastic tube in his gullet. He hiccups for hours. Can’t swallow.   Still some movement in the right…

Bruges

The Venice of the North. Moss-covered stones. Battlements. The quayside in the rain. In the love-water floats a handbook on the writing of letters to your sweetheart, for when it’s going well, and for when it’s fading out.   By Hugo Claus From Poems 1948-1993 (Gedichten 1948-1993, 1994) Translated by Tanis Guest First published in…

In Flanders Fields

The soil here is superbly rich. Even after all those years without manure you could cultivate a dead man’s leek here to beat any market. The shaky English veterans have dwindled. Each year they point out to their dwindling friends: Hill Sixty, Hill Sixty-One, Poelkapelle. The combine harvesters in Flanders Fields describe ever closer circles…

Paul Claes, a New Literary Wizard

Until recently, the history of modern Dutch literature could boast only one wizard: Simon Vestdijk (1898-1971), who was given this honorary title by Menno ter Braak, the foremost Dutch literary critic of the 1930s. Admittedly, Vestdijk was at the time just emerging as a writer to be reckoned with, but Ter Braak, highly impressed by…

Extract from Max Havelaar

Saïdjah’s father had a buffalo with which he worked his field. When this buffalo was taken from him by the District Chief of Parang-Kujang he was very sad, and said not a word for many days. For ploughing-time was drawing near and it was to be feared that, if the sawah was not prepared soon…

A Champion with a Cause?

Conflicting Views on Multatuli Multatuli’ s position as the most important, most up-to-date and most widely read author to come out of the Low Countries in the nineteenth century is beyond dispute. But in all other respects, Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), who at thirty-nine embarked on a writer’s career under the pseudonym Multatuli (= ‘I…

An Utrecht lady’s charms’

Belle van Zuylen / Isabelle de Charriere `And yet just now a lady’s charms / Make my gay bosom beat with love’s alarms / (…) But she from whom my heart has caught the flame, / Has nothing Dutch about her but the name.’ Thus wrote James Boswell in 1763 about the eighteenth-century Dutch-woman who…

Back to the Netherlands

It’s not that I haven’t been back to the Netherlands, and it’s not even that I haven’t been back for a longer period of time; but my stay at the Translators’ House, in January and February of 1993, was somehow so concentrated a time, so much an opportunity to be Dutch, so much an occasion…

The Time of God

The time of God, the final judgement day when the world tumbles to annihilation, the approaching downfall of all creation scorched to a cinder by the sun’s last ray is now at hand. The time-honoured procession of the seasons and the fixed company of the constellations will steadily be dislodged from their usual progression. Then,…

Five Poems

The Roses Are Musky, Dewy The roses are musky, dewy towards evening, pious and calm; a purpler shadow stretches around the chestnut-tree. The pool gleams pale in vapours; Comforting night is nigh. Put on, put on the lamp now: my terror wakes, my child. 1908 From Collected Work I (Verzameld werk I, 1948) By Karel…

Extract from ‘Roses’

19 July (1914) Back through this hot summer luxuriance to Ghent, ‘Flora’s city’, where an exhibition of roses calls to me. For I had not resisted the temptation; the one vivid recollection of last year’s World Exhibition that lived in gentle splendour in my memory was of the Floralies, and though the present display of…

On Yeats’ Footstool

The Poet Karel van de Woestijne In 2000 the Flemings were polled to discover which poem, out of a list of a hundred, they rated the best. Among those hundred poems there was just one by Karel van de Woestijne, one of the three poets of real stature that were born in Flanders in the…

Fate Decided Otherwise

In October 2005 I interviewed the Dutch writer Henk van Woerden for the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. There in the Amsterdam art gallery Espace, where his novel Ultramarine (Ultramarijn) was being launched and there was an exhibition of his drawings and photos, he told me that he was ‘dog-tired’. He attributed his fatigue to jetlag.…

The Scattered `I’

The Ambivalent Work of Paul de Wispelaere The work of the Flemish writer, essayist and critic Paul de Wispelaere (1928-) is highly characteristic of the development of literature and literary criticism in Dutch during the second half of the twentieth century. When he came on the scene in the mid-sixties, De Wispelaere was much impressed…