Beside the River

Happy the man whose childhood years are passed
among the green lands bordering on a river:
in that time when life’s dreams come thick and fast
not one will fail to set his heart a-quiver.

The mirrored image of wind-shaken trees,
a dark ship gliding tranquilly along,
the wide skies and the salt tang on the breeze
make him reserved, a dreamer his life long.

The living water’s the rich artery
through which Earth feeds his every illusion,
the changing scene turns his mind wistfully

to the strange beauty in each sea and shore,
as the ships’ mournful hooting sparks the passion
of a thousand longings in his inmost core.

From The Face of the Earth (Het aangezicht der aarde, 1923)
By Jan van Nijlen
Translated by Tanis Guest

First published in The Low Countries, 1996