Four Poems by Maurice Gilliams

The wolf in Winter in the old bed with her
when the howling of the heart shrinks to a murmur;
in the dark, names grow on their fear as on a vine
with the taste of the lamb’s blood in their wine.

The nights are as in their parents’ time, long ago,
the house buckles where the temple’s rubble falls
and where a ray of light soughs through a shadow
delusion rots to mildew on the walls.

The hand of the child we dreamed of sleeps in us;
its small wrist throbs like the breasts of birds we must
set free with sadness in their time of need.

Together, under the flag of the bed sheets,
we lie in state as if above the fray.
Maria’s hand on my hair that’s turning grey.

From Wellsprings of Sleeplessness (Bronnen der slapeloosheid, 1959)


Autumn Dialogue

As it lies risen above the soil of tears
we see this land alike to our own thoughts.
‘In those brown farms among blue meadows here
men sleep huddled together with their beasts.’

We stride through the night wrapped in our sheets of fog
that we may grow grey with the moon, unseen.
‘The water trembles with the sound of trains far off
The grass smells cooler with the nettles crushed underfoot.’

We are growing old and now all things fall silent
that cannot be remembered in children’s eyes.
‘The roosters’ combs are wilting like the roses
the gardens will not remain fragrant for ever.’

From Ten Poems (Tien gedichten, 1950)


Winter in Schilde

You will see no mothers living on this plain;
the swamps swell to greater blindness in the snow.
Silence freezes on tangled branches in the undergrowth
along dark paths to churchyards bright again.

You hear no lullabies or children’s noises,
no songs of Winter evening to bring peace.
Wet dogs are barking on their chains as on a leash;
brown rats are pushing their way into the houses.

Where darkly rest the rounded loaves of bread,
the frugal food that is kept for bitter days.
And all that a man’s soul can weep for always
it swallows in the sweet names of the dead.

From Ten Poems (Tien gedichten, 1950)



A land of old men now that Summer is gone,
the heath is yawning in its gall of sin;
the brown of the oaks has the smell of dogs locked in,
the village glows with its October bells on.

Honey drips tired into earthenware pots
where hands join hands in comfort and become one;
and the grinding of millstones goes on alone
as the castle stands inside its moats and rots.

Deathbeds are gleaming with the fathers’ gold
and with evening come the sons witness the wonder:
the house of their birth pushed down in the fog yonder
and youth and love and all not ours to hold.

From Ten Poems (Tien gedichten, 1950)

By Maurice Gilliams

Translated by André Lefevere

First published in The Low Countries, 1996