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 —
let me from that infinity perceive a sound,
a voice filling my ears which spoke to me.
It was a woman. The boat that carried her
came downstream through the bridge, steady and calm.
She was alone on deck, stood at the tiller,
and what she sang, I heard then, was a psalm.
Oh, I thought, oh, that there went my mother.
Praise God, she sang, He’ll keep you from all harm.
From New Poems (Nieuwe gedichten, 1934)
By Martinus Nijhoff
Translated by Tanis Guest
First published in The Low Countries, 1995