Bruges

The Venice of the North. Moss-covered stones. Battlements. The quayside in the rain. In the love-water floats a handbook on the writing of letters to your sweetheart, for when it’s going well, and for when it’s fading out. From Poems 1948-1993 (Gedichten 1948-1993, 1994) By Hugo Claus Translated by Tanis Guest First published in The…

In Flanders Fields

The soil here is superbly rich. Even after all those years without manure you could cultivate a dead man’s leek here to beat any market. The shaky English veterans have dwindled. Each year they point out to their dwindling friends: Hill Sixty, Hill Sixty-One, Poelkapelle. The combine harvesters in Flanders Fields describe ever closer circles…

Maastricht

From sharp-cut corners and rectangles the eye sweeps around Like a crater the mouth of the old city purses itself On the crack between the lips the river sucks itself on to the north The view quivers with bone-dry corn potato-fields arch ripe and watchful From the highways point precisely the measures of over-long rulers…

Extract from ‘Public Works’ 

‘No, I am sorry, I cannot give you a fertility medicine.’ The clicking of the knitting needles in the side room had stopped, and for a second all Anijs could hear was the murmuring of his blood. There was nobody else in the chemist’s shop, only Johanna Bennemin. Her head bowed low, she remained standing…

Ode to Brussels

Brussels, the marked city, aloof from those who love you but for all that quick to anger, how shall I then approach you out of the mildewed fields? Along the broad ribbon of asphalt that pushes through the rolling grass and later, over the flyover that reaches almost to your roofs. Concrete and glass is…

4

There are a few left who will find it hard to forget Polygonveld. The earth was scarr’d and broken By torrents of plunging shells; Then wash’d and sodden with autumnal rains. And Polygonbeke (Perhaps a rippling stream In the days of Kneeshaw’s gloom) Spread itself like a fatal quicksand, – A sucking, clutching death. They…

A Great Neo-Latin Scholar

Jozef IJsewijn and his Life’s Work ‘Classical philology leads to all the rest, provided one gets out of it’. This was certainly the case for Jozef IJsewijn (1932-). When, after studying classical philology in Leuven, he chose to pursue an academic career, the only avenue open to him was papyrology. In 1961 the Latin version…

Trenches: St Eloi

Over the flat slope of St Eloi A wide wall of sandbags. Night, In the silence desultory men Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess-tins: To and fro, from the lines, Men walk as on Piccadilly, Making paths in the dark, Through scattered dead horses, Over a dead Belgian’s belly. The Germans have rockets. The…

Six Poems

The Day-After Pill An unwanted person? So what, you’re polite, you have been one yourself, still are now and then. Sometimes you see, through gray curtains, a dead man driving toward you, not him though. Aren’t we all in that difficult phase of being older than before and younger than we’ll be? Don’t hesitate too…

The Extraordinary Uses of the Ordinary

The Poetry of Judith Herzberg From the early 1950s on, a great number of fine poets has been writing in the Netherlands. They have adhered to many schools, and some to no school at all, but on the whole they have relied on a casual, conversational style, an easy and unpoetic manner. Not that they…

Poems

Stevens on Sunday 6 It was difficult to sing in face of the object… The singer and the architect they never fully agreed: should they inhabit a lyre or a house of tones much higher? All that’s true becomes, in its other half, all that’s heavy and decays. We know that the singer dies, tired…

A Bigger Head

1 You must keep your eyes open, said Bodo. Now watch for a moment. He jumped over the low wall, a metre and a half high, which hid the public lavatories from the passers-by, and thereby re-entered the world. The church was emptying. While bells were ringing and the wind blew straight into Bodo’s face,…

The Courage of the Critical Intellect

The Work of Stefan Hertmans As a poet, prose writer, critic, essayist and playwright, Stefan Hertmans (1951-) is probably one of the most multifaceted Flemish writers of his generation. And although his writing originally came up against a certain amount of resistance from literary critics, it now proves to be among the most highly prized. Hertmans made…

Extract from ‘Chapel Road’

In the Room over the Café Vapeur didn’t see his daughter leaving for good . . . he was drunkenly blathering his world language . . . he sang; he sang his grief away and he sang in order to get enough courage to start on that gutter tomorrow … he’d have to start on it,…

Against the Status Quo

Louis Paul Boon in a Wider Literary Context Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979) stands apart from other Flemish writers of his generation because of his insistence on finding his own voice. That distinct voice combines a rootedness in Boon’s own particular Flemish locality — the outskirts of Aalst, a provincial Flemish town — with an emphatic and even aggressive…

‘A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder’

War Poetry and the Flemish Frontline By the time the small British Expeditionary Force had crossed the Channel and arrived on the outskirts of Mons in August 1914 most of Belgium, in spite of brave and determined resistance, had been over-run by the massive power of the German army. For the next four years much of the…