zaterdag 27 oktober 2007


(Warning: this post is not much use for those who don't read Dutch).

I recently found some of my old poems while rummaging through my papers. I thought I had lost them all during a hard drive crash. As it is, quite a few are lost unless I re-remember them, but a few have been salvaged.

I started writing poems in my first year at university in the mistaken belief that writing poetry would help me get girls. I apologize to any girl I accosted at the time - most of them were pretty cool and polite about it, only occasionally advising me to get help. My poetry at that time was pretty mad. I read a lot of Heiner Mueller at the time and was impressed with his unforgiving, hammering use of language. And I tried to imitate that. The result was a very cacaphonous, heavy-metal kind of poetry. I think that it saved that from being too pathetic. Or at least, I like to think that. But aside from a few good metaphors which I may be able to salvage in the future, it was pretty bad.

During the year 2001-2002, I worked as a teacher of Dutch in Georgia (Republic of, that is). No television, no computer, no research literature, absolutely gorgeous surroundings, and the books I had access to was the Dutch literature collection from our library. It did my writing a lot of good: what I wrote at that time was a lot more subtle, with metre and rhyme. Occasionally overwrought, but some of it was quite good.

The following two verses were from a poem that was never finished, but perhaps they can stand on their own. I'm not that happy with the first one, but the second I quite like:

Ik hoor je voetstap in mijn hart,
en in mijn hoofd je ademtocht.
Je sluipt door mijn herinnering
- zachtjes, maar ik hoor je toch.

En voel voorjaar, onrust
en regen in de lucht.
In mijn oog verslagen ijs,
in mijn borst een zwaluwvlucht.

One of my favourites was a poem that just seemed to present itself in near-complete form. It's about surrender and sacrifice, and the feeling of loss and powerlessness in those left behind. The religious references are obvious, but were not intentional at the time. Writing it, I must not so much had Christ in mind, but the messianic figure from Dan Simmons' novel The Rise of Endymion.

Ik zie hoe je je beker leegt
en schoonveegt aan het tafelkleed.
Je zoent me vaarwel, en ketent me.

Ik weet hoe daarvoor de hemel zweeg,
slechts de wind die met de takken streed
je zacht zei: ”Nooit vergeet ik je.”

Je kalme stem breekt mijn verzet,
je woord doet mij een knevel om.
”Waar ik ook ga, ik ga alleen.”

Je breekt je lichaam, opent het.
Ik zie de bergen. Ze staren stom.
Ik wil hier weg, weet niet waarheen.

Reading my old stuff with a religious eye, I see references (both Biblical and mythological) brimming just about everywhere - the "you" most of my poems were directed to may have originally been a more or less specific girl, but ends up being much more than that. As I may have mentioned at some point, I'm not a very social person. I guess it takes something for me to develop an interest in another person, and being female definitely helps developing that interest. With few exceptions, most of my close friends have been female. I suppose that also my religious feelings have, at first, developed through female archetypes. But it's interesting to note how all of that was brimming under the surface, so to speak, before becoming obvious to myself.

The following pretty sharply outlines my problems in meeting "the other" (other people, God) - one of fear and longing, a tendency to retreat behind high walls I built around me and a desire to surrender and open up:

Spiegels en muren. Ik verberg mijn gezicht
in handen van steen en stenen van vlees
en dromen en as. Hun taak onverricht
keren duiven en raven van het glas van mijn geest.

En van het puin waarvan mijn geheugen is
bouw ik torens, waar ik met verzegelde mond
steeds jou, die mijzelf en een vreemdeling is
vermink en omhels en zoen en verwond.

Nu wordt het nacht. Ik zie je kamp in het veld,
je huid neemt de kleur van het verdwijnende licht,
en ik wens mijn muren geslecht, mijn vonnis geveld,
je hand en je adem op mijn ontsloten gezicht.

I have sometimes considered translating some of them into English. Particularly because I haven't lived in a Dutch-speaking environment for such a long time. But translating the best ones - the ones adhering most strictly to form, metre, etc. - is quite hopeless.

One that I can translate, because it's quite simple and very prosaic, is unusually bitter. The lovely double meaning in the "depends" is better in Dutch, however (dat hangt ervan af). Anyway, I must have been in a pretty dark mood at the time:

You lean on me
- I support you like
a rope supports a hanged one.

Like now you're swaying above the crowd,
with the birds and the big grey sky,
I'm the only friend you have.

And, dangling from the rope, you ask me:
"My rope, I love you dearly,
will you stay with me forevermore?"

And the rope answers:
"That depends, beloved,
which one of us breaks first."

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