Never get on the train without dreams in your luggage,
then you’ll find decent lodging in any town or village.
Calmly and patiently sit by the open window;
you are a traveller and safely incognito.
Dredge from your past the fresh eyes of a child,
both cool and keen, excited and beguiled.
All you see growing in the dark spring fields you view,
you can be sure, was planted just for you.
Let the commercial travellers have their say
about the latest films; God smiles and waits his day.
Give every station-master a polite ‘Hello’;
without their signal not one train would ever go.
And if the train won’t move, much to the detriment
of your desire and hopes, the hard-won cash you spent,
keep calm and open up your bag; draw on its store
and you will find you’ve wasted not an hour.
And if the train pulls in to some peculiar place
you’d never even heard of, not once in all your days,
then you have reached your goal; then you learn with surprise
what travel means for wanderers and the truly wise …
Above all, be not amazed when, past trees just like home,
a quite ordinary train transports you straight to Rome.
From Secret Code (Geheimschrift, 1934)
By Jan van Nijlen
Translated by Tanis Guest
Published in The Low Countries, 2006