Overture 

My father’s house, where the days passed more slowly, was quiet, for within the garden’s shade it lay and in the over-arching leaves’ tranquillity. — I was a child, measured life by my mother’s stray laughter, who was not merry, and the regularity of twilights round the trees, the desultory years round the placid life…

First page of ‘Reynard’s History’

c. 1400 Willem, who laboured to indite Madoc in many a wakeful night, Willem took it much to heart That one adventure of Reynard In Dutch remained as yet untold, Which had not been writ of by Arnold. For that legend he made a search And began to tell it in Dutch After the French…

Reynard the Fox

The Triumph of the Individual in a Beast Epic Reynard the Fox (Van den vos reynaerde) was written around 1260 by a certain Willem, part of it being an extremely free version of a French tale. Around 1400 this text was reworked and provided with a sequel under the title Reynard’s History (Reynaerts historie). Scholars…

I Try in Poetic Fashion

I try in poetic fashion that is to say simplicities luminous waters to give expression to the expanse of life at its fullest If I had not been a man like masses of men but if I had been who I was the stone or fluid angel birth and decay would not have touched me…

Oh when I dead shall, dead shall be come then and whisper, whisper tenderly, my pale eyes shall I open to thee and no wonder will in me be. And no wonder will in me be — in this love death will only be a sleeping, sleeping quietly, a waiting for thee, a waiting for…

Seven Poems

The Bird I was drinking tea on midmeadow. The sun sparkled in the saucers. Small birds crumbled their crumbs and fluttered at me. The wrought-iron table was warm, and wobbled as I took a cookie. The birdies said their tuts and teehees and brushed their lips on my arm (one-two) before hopping away. The mushy…

The Delicacy of a Rain Forest

About the Poetry of Leo Vroman Leo Vroman’s collected poems (Collected Poems 1946-1984 – Gedichten 1946-1984), published in one volume in 1985, amount to over 1,000 pages; but the collection is far removed from any notion of an ornate tombstone on a productive life. Four new volumes of original Dutch poetry have since seen the…

Resting on Doubt

The editorial board of If I knew anything, I would no longer do it. If I knew what follows death, I would probably never die or else not live to finish this sentence. But as I grow older and get closer to the dark, I begin to spew more and more messages in all aspects…

For the Reader

Printed letters I will show You here but of my warm lips no living speech and from this text no hand will reappear. What can I do? I find You out of reach. Oh, could I comfort You, then I could cry. Come, give Your hand this page, my skin; soften the petrifying print that…

The Idiot in the Bath

With shoulders hunched, eyes screwed tightly shut, bent over the nurse’s arm, unsightly and uncouth, almost at a run, feet tangling in the mat, week after week, the idiot takes his bath. The clouds of vapour rising from the trough of water calm him down: he’s soothed by steam.. and with every stitch of clothing…

Recitative

For Gaston Burssens Under the moon the long river slides by Above the long river the moon mournfully slides Under the moon on the long river the canoe slides to the sea By tall reedbeds by low meadows the canoe slides to the sea with the sliding moon the canoe slides to the sea Companions…

Notice to Travellers

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…

The Bridge at Bommel

I went to look at the new bridge at Bommel. I saw the bridge. Two facing banks there were, which once seemed each of them to shun the other, now neighbours once again. Lying there idle for a while in the grass, after I’d drunk my tea, my mind filled with the landscape all around…

Extract from ‘Back’

A woman is spending a week in the South of France with her parents. She is reading a biography of Nora Barnacle, James Joyce’s wife, and occasionally thinking of her husband back home. Something I love: showing my mother the blouse I have just bought and both of us feeling the material. We let it…

Looking for the Other Self

The Work of Kristien Hemmerechts In a relatively short time Kristien Hemmerechts (1955-) has become one of the most prominent of her generation of authors, a large group who are innovative in different fields. In the second half of the eighties, that group brought a long period of impasse and hesitancy in Flemish literature to…

One Morning

Half past four one April morning I was walking and whistling the St Louis Blues But I whistled it my way And whistling I thought: may my whistling be like the song of the great thrush And what do you know, after a while my whistling of the St Louis Blues really was like the…

Translator or Actor?

I find myself asking myself more and more: ‘Why do you sit translating?’ What are the deeper-lying, the ultimate reasons for it? After all, for years I have objected to being referred to as ‘James Brockway, the translator’, for translating is only one of the things I have done in the Netherlands since the war.…

The Poet in the Mixer

The Work of Breyten Breytenbach The South African poet and artist Breyten Breytenbach (1939-) once said that he wrote in a ‘bastard language’, ‘Afrikaans.’ Nowadays he publishes mostly in English, having turned his back on the Afrikaans literary establishment which once showered him with prizes and accolades. In his uneasiness with his own cultural heritage…

Good Death

Good Death whose clear pure piping Penetrates life grown still, Drawing smiles of understanding From the young and beautiful, For whom the wise and children Gladly leave their books and play, At whom only pinched old men Shiver with cold dismay,- I count each day bleak and empty That lacks your beckoning horn; For to…

Dapper Street

Nature is for the empty, the contented. And then, what can we boast of in this land? A hill with a few small villas set against it, A patch of wood no bigger than your hand. Give me instead the sombre city highroads, The waterfront hemmed in between the quays. Clouds that move across an…