How Free Is Dutch-Language Poetry?

The word is free. Like Gezelle’s swift it soars through the immeasurable space of the mind, lifted up or blown along by cool or sultry winds from distant parts, by ‘Luft von anderem Planeten’, as Stefan George has it. Nothing and no one can thwart its vitality and urge to freedom, however much social institutions,…

Tres Fratres Belgae

Brothers, Poets and Civil Servants in the Sixteenth Century This article is based on an extensive study of the works and lives of Janus Secundus (1511-1536), Adrianus Marius (1509-1568) and Nicolaus Grudius (1504-1470), three brothers who became famous as the ‘triga’, the ‘team of three’ poet-brothers.1 For once, I have decided not to stress the…

DUTCH SINGLE-PRICE COMPANY AMSTERDAM

As truly Dutch as pea soup with diced bacon. One nation all, though school children are at their texting, foursomes at the chat. And down my neck pink Fristi some child’s shaken. The oldies here consume their daily ration of mishmash, kale and sausage, on their plate a paper serviette to keep things straight. And…

Three Poems by Annie M.G. Schmidt

The Fairy-Tale Man I know a fairy-tale writer, a man who starts work each morning as soon as he can. From a quarter past six until two o’clock he’s writing tales about witches, hobgoblins and fairies. From a quarter past two till about six he writes about dashing princes, princesses and knights. Then he sleeps…

‘I LIKE Being Naughty!’

The Work of Annie M.G. Schmidt The writer Annie M.G. Schmidt (1911-) is often affectionately called the Grandmother of the Netherlands; or, if it doesn’t sound too solemn, the Mother of the Fatherland. She owes this title to a combination of talents which it would be hard to find anywhere else. Children’s literature has Astrid…

World Champions

Hockey’s a game in which sticks are used and everyone watching is bored and bemused – that fact is, I think, abundantly clear, although it’s hard to accept the idea. We don’t want to know, because it’s a sport that not only has games that are far too short, but has fans that are now…

A Tender, Bitter Mother’s Breast

It was 1992 when I first set foot in the Netherlands. No, of course I didn’t travel by ship like my ancestors, those two Scheepers brothers from Gelderland who left for South Africa in 1701 from the Dutch town of Enkhuizen. No, I came by train from Frankfurt and first stepped onto Dutch soil at…

On Passing the new Menin Gate

Who will remember, passing through this Gate, The unheroic Dead who fed the guns? Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,— Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones? Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own. Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp; Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone, The armies who endured that sullen…

Utrecht revisited

This canal is narrower than I thought and deeper. Ducks are standing on the ice. The winter was severe, a late spring ought to be expected. Trees are drab and bare and fallen leaves still cover yellow grass. Yet on the dark-gray ramparts where we go, after those many years of life abroad, we see…

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 WWI 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 a…

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 hand, which supports…

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. From Poems 1948-1993 (Gedichten 1948-1993, 1994) By Hugo Claus Translated by Tanis Guest First published in The…

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…