Mud Flat I

Where the waters converge and the dry land appears perhaps in the clay there’ll be a last trace of his fingers. Not land and not water, also: no man’s water and no man’s land. A field or a sea of round, wet lobes – as if someone at a stroke had sliced off the top…

The Last Ferry

A clock strikes on the other side. It’s late. No need to count, you know the chimes by heart. The years go by, you think, just as well without. This far there was a road. Then the road ran out: the Dordtse Kil, the Rhine, the Nile, the Lethe. The setting is dissolved in waiting…

Internationalism versus Nationalism

The Work of Anne Provoost Jan Decorte (Flemish actor and ex-member of parliament) once declared that the Flemish only truly come into their own through living with other nationalities. That internationalism is echoed in the claim of young people’s author Anne Provoost (1964-): ‘I would find it impossible to write a book set in Flanders’.…

Extract from ‘White Always Looks Good’

‘But when I got up to go to the kitchen it really hit me; the water was just pouring down my legs. Dear oh dear, what’s happening to me? I thought to myself. Oh, what a nuisance this is! Just look at me now with my pants soaking wet, I’m going straight back home, I…

Extract from ‘The Yellow River Is Frozen’

The first time I saw her in the flesh was in the early fifties when she, one of the last remaining Western nuns, was expelled from the country for good on the orders of the government of the Chinese People’s Republic. I was a small boy of seven or eight. And she was a tall,…

Arranger of Voices

The Literary Work of Leo Pleysier 1989 saw the publication of White Always Looks Good (Wit is altijd schoon) by the Flemish author Leo Pleysier (1945-), a book which has every hallmark of a novel, but for which the classification ‘novel’ is nonetheless quite inadequate. Apart from the last few pages, it consists entirely of…

Four Poems

School of Poetry I’m not a winsome rhymer I am the expeditious swindler of love, see hatred beneath it and upon it a cackling gambit. lyricism is politics’ mother, I am merely rebellion’s bellman and my mystique the rotten fodder of lies, with which virtue fosters its ailment. I report that the velvet poets perish…

Lucebert: As a Poet a Visionary, as a Painter an Eye-Witness

The poet and painter Lucebert (ps. of Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk, 1924-1994) has an uncontested place in Dutch literature as the ‘Emperor’ of the new post-war poets. Since the day in 1953 when he actually dressed up in Emperor’s robes to receive the poetry prize from the city of his birth, Amsterdam, his poems have not…

Waal River

In morning haze, cut by the jetties into soft white boxes, that lift themselves reluctantly from the dark water, I came here when the night had passed. Old hurt I felt as new and without wanting it. Already a faint glimmer glows above the river, the sandy bends light up, turn gray again below the…

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…

Five Poems and One Fragment by Martinus Nijhoff

The Wanderer My lonely life wanders around the streets, Within house walls, through fields, along the shore. No blood flows through my dead hands any more, My heart has silently forsaken deeds. A cloistered monk from the time of Charlemagne, With solemn Flemish face I sit withdrawn; Watch people walking on a sunny lawn, Hear…

Martinus Nijhoff, a Dutch Master of Modernism

Martinus Nijhoff (1894-1953) belongs among the most important poets to have emerged from the Dutch-speaking countries in the twentieth century. He has always striven to make his poetry as timeless as possible and, given that he is still one of his country’s most widely read poets, he seems to have succeeded wonderfully. Nijhoff can be…

The Message of Meaninglessness

The Books of Willem Frederik Hermans Just as an entire generation of Americans and Europeans can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot, or that the Berlin Wall was coming down, so the death of Willem Frederik Hermans gave rise to reminiscences from…

Hella S. Haasse and the Historical Novel

or: The Triumph of Fact over Fiction In her career as a historical novelist, Hella S. Haasse (1918-) undertook a journey to find new ways of bringing the past to life. Her first two historical novels, In a Dark Wood Wandering (Het woud der verwachting, 1949) and The Scarlet City (De scharlaken stad, 1952) are…

Extract from ‘The Flood’

Balikpapan, 1947 Sometimes, in Balikpapan, we went away for the day, to swim in a ‘real’ swimming pool that had escaped destruction in the war. ‘We’, meaning a lot of Salikpapanese’, Dutch families who lived in Balikpapan. About ten jeeploads of us would drive northwards along the coast in the still-grey darkness of the morning.…

Quest for his Dreamland

Jeroen Brouwers’s East Indies Triptych For several centuries now writing has no longer been an activity exclusive to gentlemen of leisure, but even in the twentieth century there are still writers around who are lords and masters of a piece of land, a city, or a building. Faulkner exercises his authority over Yoknapatawpha County, Proust…

Beekman’s Indies

Exactly 400 years ago, in 1596, a travel book was published in Amsterdam. Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s Itinerario signalled the beginning both of Dutch colonial expansion to the Spice Islands of South East Asia (present-day Indonesia) and of Dutch colonial literature. Fifty years later, in 1646, this was followed by Willem Bontekoe van Hoorn’s Journael,…