Brother

‘It’s hard’, he said, ‘it’s bloody hard. Unfair too, now at last I’m losing weight’. Still autumn outside, maize reaching to the horizon. The word falls, a horizon Then no word more from him. The plastic tube in his gullet. He hiccups for hours. Can’t swallow. Still some movement in the right hand, which supports…

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…

Five Poems

The Roses Are Musky, Dewy The roses are musky, dewy towards evening, pious and calm; a purpler shadow stretches around the chestnut-tree. The pool gleams pale in vapours; Comforting night is nigh. Put on, put on the lamp now: my terror wakes, my child. 1908   De rozen doornen en daauwen De rozen doornen en…

Extract from ‘Roses’

19 July (1914) Back through this hot summer luxuriance to Ghent, ‘Flora’s city’, where an exhibition of roses calls to me. For I had not resisted the temptation; the one vivid recollection of last year’s World Exhibition that lived in gentle splendour in my memory was of the Floralies, and though the present display of…

On Yeats’ Footstool

The Poet Karel van de Woestijne In 2000 the Flemings were polled to discover which poem, out of a list of a hundred, they rated the best. Among those hundred poems there was just one by Karel van de Woestijne, one of the three poets of real stature that were born in Flanders in the…

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…

September

I’m home again. Summer’s enjoyed and done and all returns now to its ancient way. The apples fall, the grass has turned to hay. On the planking walnuts clatter one by one. The water lies transparent in the ditches, gone is the ferment of the weeds and algae, the gudgeon now approach perceptibly more closely,…

Snow

The snow’s too white for walking in. Only an animal, with light step and delicate hooves, should tread there, under the heavy-laden trees picking its way over the buried ground. That would just enhance the stillness. Only a bird whose raucous screech prevents the winter sinking down into the purest innocence, flying up out of…

Resisting Winter

Oh land of snow and biting ice, what have you in store for me? Above the wood the white moon starts her voyaging through all the nights and the silence seems to creak. In your soil, beneath the sod, shivering my good dead lie, while my sick soul reaches out to every dream, oh, Abishag!…

[Dull violet is the west and purplish grey.]

Dull violet is the west and purplish grey. Still I walk through the thickly frosted grass, hear on the waterway beside me the thin whine of skates over the hollow-ringing ice: It feels as if I, on the frozen glass circling, gliding, wheeling skilfully, with flexing upper body sink and rise: it’s in my back,…

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…

The Train

One day when I was travelling Out of town, and sitting in the train, And there in silent resignation Patiently waited till the time – By the slow progress of the clock – Should come for my train to depart, It happened that a train was switched Into the platform next to mine And passed…

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…

The English Reynard

In the Middle Ages, in the borderland where Romance and Germanic languages meet — Picardy, Flanders and Alsace — a new literary genre emerged: beast epic. From the Romance tradition it took elements of the fable and its non-moralising counterpart, monastic satire; the ‘world turned upside down’, for instance, and the wolf as monk, abbot or…

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…

Disruptive Images, Historical Friction

On the Work of David Van Reybrouck Will things work out well for David Van Reybrouck? The awards that have rained down on this young writer (b. 1971) in a scant ten years feel like a tropical storm. And that, please note, in the Low Countries! Has the literary climate lost its way? Or has…

Temptation

have prayed, O great God, for thy mercy, But ah! thou hast denied it to me in my distress. I have cried out for thy unstinting kindness, But felt it not when things went ill with me. Wrestled I have and striven to gain thy love, But have awaited it in vain for all too…

Under a Famous Overcast Sky

Along the dike beside the restless river someone lumbers along for the sake of his health in a well-known brand of running shoes someone else on a bicycle is on the way to a village (to a self-service shop?) (to the sub-post-office there?) the two persons having met and stopped each other (one asking the…

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…