We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Dutch poetry, whether from Flanders or the Netherlands, has a stronger claim to international appreciation than Dutch-language prose. In this field, at least, the small Dutch-language area would be great. In Guido Gezelle, Herman Gorter, J. H. Leopold, Paul van Ostaijen, Martinus Nijhoff and Gerrit Achterberg it possesses home-grown poets who would be world-famous if they had written in English. But alas! You hear that quite often; and it may well be true, too.
Nevertheless, the Dutch and Flemings, like other people, have poems – and these are some of them – which everybody knows, or ought to know. Poems which are in every anthology and from which everybody can quote at least one line – usually the first line or the last, and almost always with something of the proverb about it. Poems which everyone should carry in their heads, for use in times of trouble or of joy. Or just because they’re so beautiful.
By Anton Korteweg & Frits Niessen
First published in The Low Countries, 1995