P/P | r2c | April: The World Up Close
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alpine soldanellas "...All winter consumed
by you, drawing meltwater /
   to the snow,
waiting for you, to stand up /
   in the flowers."

from Expectation, a poem
by Ida Gerhardt

This week, an image called
Soldanelas, Sentinels of Spring.
Also: eight new translations
of Lowland poems.

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Acht Gedichten; Eight Poems

The guest poems for this week are new English translations of a set of eight Dutch pieces.
The featured poets are,
Ida Gerhardt, J.B. Charles,  Gerrit Achterberg
and Adriaan Roland Holst.

The World Up Close

One of the beautiful things that a macro lens makes possible is that
of bringing the world of the very small up to our own scale of being.
It is in this way, much as we with time slow down a fast moving
car to make it visible, that space can be enlarged or 'blown up', as
the expression goes, so that we may consider it more closely.

Indeed, in Western thought, it could be argued that we have come
to see the whole of the world in this way—that is, as something that
can be slowed down or made larger at our convenience. And what is
more, we have by now come to believe very strongly that there
is no limit to this way of looking. The idea is that, if we continue
the process of magnification long enough, it is only a matter of time
until we reach rock bottom, so to speak, and reveal to our eyes
the basic building blocks of reality. Of course, depending on the
particular context and our point of view, this need not necessarily
be the case. For just as outerspace might go on without limit,
innerspace might do so as well. Like the proverbial philosopher's
stick, capable of being cut in half—or of being brought up twice
as close, without limit, the world of the extremely small may very
well go on without ever reaching a terminal point or conclusion.

Whatever may be the case, personally I feel more at home
pondering what I think of as the magical middle realm of everyday
experience. And here, just a simple additional lens on a camera
can indeed reveal wonders—and lessons— to the eye. For example,
with the Alpine Soldanelas pictured above—one of the first flowers
to appear after snowmelt at about treeline—notice how we can now
with the close-up see the delicate fringe of the fused petals. (One can
however still make out the characteristic 5-pattern of the Primula
family, of which this species is a member.) And notice, too, how
the down-turning petals are complemented in form by the pointed,
recurved sepals and the long, out-reaching style with its stigma,
all highlighted in a rich darker purple. If one experiences form as
rhythm and movement in this way, it's hard to see how it would
not awaken in us a new sense of form in both music and poetry
as well. And, again, it is but a simple lens that brings this enchanting
world home to us.

In poetry, something similar takes place within the space of, for
example, the short poem. In the miniatures of contemporary poetry,
many of which were made possible by the energetic, fresh voice
which burst upon the scene with the 20th century English translations
of Chinese and Japanese classics, we frequently encounter a single
detail, a single experience, close up, as it were. (One might also note
here in this context that Dutch, as a language with a very tight
and relatively simple grammar, in contrast to German with its
highly complex inflected structures, lends itself extremely well to
this sparse style of expression.)

In the eight pieces I've brought together here in English translation,
in addition to this intimate, close-up effect, there is also a remarkable
intentional incompleteness which the reader/listener encounters.
We are given one half, or one side or part, of a situation which we
must then somehow by means of our own imagination complete
or make whole.

At the very center of the sequence of eight poems, you'll find Gerrit
Achterberg's Telephone. It is a haunting piece. Here, we ex-
perience, together with the poet, close up the nature of traumatic,
irreversible loss. It is remarkable that this is the very kind of emotion
that Hollywood and television try so hard—many would say
largely unsuccessfully—using every imaginable trick, to make
real for us. The poem, in contrast, makes its mark with but a single
powerful gesture: the hiss of the lost belovèd`s broken connection
becomes the timeless— and terrifyingly unchanging—sound
of eternity. [see recording below...]

Again, the power of the image is somehow related to the fact
that Achterberg brings it up close to us, offers it to us in such
an intimate way, as it were. But in the case of the poem, in
distinction to, for example, commercial films which have by
and large become so grossly literal and explicitly realistic, we
ourselves must do the work of bringing it to life, and thereby
make it wholly our own. I feel that's one of the things that gives
poetry its great potential depth. It is as if cinema, as it invites us on
a storylike journey as every poem or movie does, insists on making
each step and each turn for us, leaving nothing implicit. In poetry,
however, we have to do the walking ourselves. And sometimes,
something unexpected and of striking beauty—like an ephemeral
flower of spring—catches our eye and will have us stop and
ponder it — up close — for a while.


Smeltwater uit de bergen, raak mij aan:
de sterren kenteren en de nieuwe maan
voorzegt de lente. Winterlang verstoken
van u, smeltwater aan de sneeuw ontloken,
wacht ik u, om in bloemen op te staan.

Ida Gerhardt  (1905-1997)

Meltwater from the mountains, touch me:
the stars turning and the new moon
presage spring. All winter consumed
by you, drawing meltwater to the snow,
waiting for you, to stand up in the flowers.

De Afwijzing

Ik schrijf u met de ravenveer,
Mijn eer uw eer
uw hart mijn hart
heeft niets gemeen.
Ik schrijf u met de ravenveer.
Ik schrijf u met het ravenzwart
het teken: neen.

Ida Gerhardt
The Rejection

I write you with a raven feather,
My honor and your honor
your heart and my heart
have nothing in common.
I write you with a raven feather.
I write you with raven black
the sign: no.


In antwoord op Uw schrijven van
de dato dinges kan ik U berichten
ik doe reeds wat ik kan,
alleen ik kan niet veel verrichten
ik heb het zelf niet in de hand
en wat ik doe doe ik niet goed,
niet goed genoeg naar ik het kan,
dus wacht U af zoals ik ook maar doe,
verblivend in de hoop U hiermee te verlichten:
ik doe al voor U wat ik kan.

J.B. Charles
uit: Gedichten tot 1963

In response to your letter of
the above date I can inform you
that I'm already doing what I can,
only that I cannot do much
I'm not myself in charge
and what I do is not good enough,
not good enough compared to what I could do,
therefore I'll wait for your reply as I have done,
remaining hopeful that I have hereby enlightened you:
I'm doing everything for you that I can.

Dit Eiland

Hoe zijn we hier geland,
waartoe ... vanwaar ...?
ligt ergens aan het strand
dat vreemde schip nog klaar?
en als het anker is gelicht,
naar waar ... naar waar ...?

Stil, sluit de deuren dicht ...
bemin elkaar ...

Adriaan Roland Holst
Voorbij de wegen (1920)
This Island

How did we get here,
going where ... from where ...?
Is that strange ship somewhere
along the beach still ready to go?
and if the anchor is pulled up,
where to ... where to...?

Quiet, close the doors tight ...
love each other ...


Geen dood ontstaat in het getal,
dat mij met u verbonden heeft.
Er is niets in het toestel
dan het suizen van de eeuwigheid.

Misschien dat zich nog eens herhaalt
een oogopslag, een siddering
van zijde, die nog niet verging,
en dat het hoorbaar wezen zal,

o teken, dat u overleeft,
om zich te voegen in de ring
cijfers mijner verzerkering.

Gerrit Achterberg

No death manifests in the number
that connected the two of us.
Nothing is in the apparatus
other than the hissing of eternity.

Perhaps that the opening of an eye
will repeat itself, a trembling
of silk, that has not yet passed away,
and that still wishes to be audible,

o sign, that you have survived,
to have found a place in the ring
figures of my assurance.

| from my electroacoustic soundpoem, STONESONG, based
on eight Achterberg texts, here's Sounding Board & Telephone...
download mp3 [5.5 Mb] |


Tegen de klankbord van de nacht
bewegen nog uw woorden.
Al wat gij hebt gezegd
is blijven leven in accorden,
die ik alleen in donker tref,
wanneer de stilten horen,
die tussen ons staan opgericht.

   Gerrit Achterberg
Sounding Board

Against the sounding board of the night
your words still move.
Everything that you have said
remains alive in the sound of chords
that I encounter only in darkness
when the silences hear
that have been put up between us.


De vogel eenzaam op het dak
spreekt tot de wind om het huis:
'daarbinnen leeft een
die is alleen,
en toch hoorde ik dat zij sprak.'

En dan spreekt de wind om het huis
tot de vogel eenzaam op het dak:
'daarginder leeft een
die liet haar alleen.
Zij zegt het woord dat hij brak.'

   Ida Gerhardt

The bird so lonely on the roof
speaks to the wind about the house:
"inside lives one
who is alone,
and yet I heard that she spoke."

And then the wind about the house speaks
to the bird so lonely on the roof:
" there beyond lives one
who left her all alone.
She says the word that he broke."

De Gestorvene

Zeven maal om de aarde te gaan,
als het zou moeten op handen en voeten;
zeven maal, om die éne te groeten
die daar lachend te wachten zou staan.
Zeven maal om de aarde te gaan.

Zeven maal over de zeeën te gaan,
schraal in de kleren, wat zou het mij deren,
kon ik uit de dood ik die éne doen keren.
Zeven maal over de zeeën te gaan-
zeven maal, om met zijn tweeën te staan.

   Ida Gerhardt  
The Departed One

To go seven times around the earth,
if necessary on hands and feet;
seven times, to greet the one
who would be waiting with a smile.
To go seven times around the earth.

To go seven times over the seas,
threadbare clothes, makes no difference to me,
could I bring back that one from the dead.
To go seven times over the seas,
seven times, to stand as two together.

  (all tr. Cliff Crego)

Below is a little slideshow
featuring my English translations
of Rainer Maria Rilke, presented together
with a collection of images from the Alps,
very close to where much of his later poetry was composed

Please follow r2c {Straight ROADS.
Slow RIVERS. Deep CLAY.]
on twitter . . .

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Meltwater (Ida Gerhardt) (86 K) | or download as PDF |

Recent [2001] Dutch news reports,
of interest to
r2c readers...

(1) Protestacties verhinderen afmaken

'De Mobiele Eenheid heeft de blokkades opgehe-
ven die waren opgeworpen rondom het Gelderse
Kootwijkerbroek. De actievoerders wilden
voorkomen dat zaterdag zeventigduizend dieren
zouden worden afgemaakt op boerderijen die in de
besmettingszone liggen van een mond- en
(1) Protests obstruct slaughter of animals

"The Mobile Unit [Dutch Riot Police] has broken
up the blockades that were erected around Koot-
wijkerbroek in Gelderland. The protesters wanted
to prevent the killing of 70,000 animals on farms
that are within the foot-and-mouth contamination

(2) Nederland wil 'groenere' veehouderij

"De overgrote meerderheid van de Nederlanders
vindt dat de intensieve veehouderij op een andere
manier moet worden georganiseerd. Acht van de
tien mensen vinden dat ziektes als de varkenspest,
BSE en mond- en klauwzeer aantonen dat het roer
om moet. De consument is bereid een hogere prijs
voor vlees te betalen, als dat betekent dat er op
een groenere manier wordt geproduceerd. [...]
Onder de boeren steunen bijna vijf van de tien
ondervraagden een radicale ommezwaai.
(2) The Netherlands will 'greener' animal

"The vast majority of Dutch think that present in-
dustrial animal farming has to be organized diffe-
rently. Eight out of ten people think that diseases
like swine fever, BSE and foot-and-mouth demon-
strate the need for a fundamental change of direction.
Consumers are willing to pay higher price for meat
if that means it has been produced in a more eco-
friendly way. [...] Among farmers, five out of ten
of those questioned would support radical changes
in current agricultural practice."

(3) Senaat aanvaardt euthanasiewet

'Nederland krijgt als eerste land ter wereld wet-  
geving die actieve euthanasie regelt. De Eerste
Kamer heeft in grote meerderheid ingestemd met
het wetsvoorstel. [...]
(3) [Dutch] Senate approves euthanasia

"The Netherlands is to be the first country in the
world with a legal structure that regulates the prac-
tice of euthanasia. The first house of parliament
voted with a large majority for the legislation."

(4) MTV koopt concurrent-muziekzender

"Het Amerikaanse muziektelevisiestation MTV
koopt concurrent TMF van uitgever Wegener.
Daarmee krijgt MTV de populairste muziekzender
van Nederland in handen.' [...]
(4) MTV buys competing music broadcaster

"The American music cable-television station MTV
has bought TMF from the [Dutch] publisher,
Wegener. With this acquisition, MTV, now controls
the most popular music station in Holland." [...]

(5) Verloving Willem-Alexander en
Maxima massaal bekeken

'De Nederlandse bevolking heeft vrijdagavond
massaal gekeken naar het televisieverslag van de
verloving van kroonprins Willem-Alexander en
Maxima. Tussen zeven uur en half acht 's avonds,
toen het aanstaande paar zich presenteerde aan het
Nederlandse volk, zaten vijf miljoen mensen voor
de televisie.'
(5) Engagement of Willem-Allexander and
Maxima viewed by millions

"Friday evening, a large part of the Dutch population
watched the television report of the engagement of
crown prince Willem-Alexander and Maxima.
Holland is at present a constitutional monarchy.]
Between seven and eight in the evening, as the future
couple presented themselves to people of Holland,
some five million viewers [about a third of the
population] were seated in front of their sets."

(6) Simonis hoopt dat Maxima rooms-
katholiek blijft

'Kardinaal Simonis hoopt dat Maxima rooms-
katholiek blijft. Simonis zei 'niet graag te zien' dat
ze toetreedt tot de Nederlands Hervormde
Kerk,' [...]
(6) Simonis hopes that Maxima will
remain Roman Catholic

"Cardinal Simonis hopes that Maxima [see above]
will remain Roman Catholic. Simonis said that he
'wouldn't like to see' her convert to the
Dutch Reformed Church, [...]

(7) Eerste homo-stellen getrouwd in

'In Amsterdam zijn kort na middernacht de eerste  
vier homo- en lesbische paren in het huwelijk
getreden. Burgemeester Job Cohen verrichte de
(7) First gay couples married in

"Shortly after midnight in Amsterdam the first four
gay and lesbian couples entered wedlock. Mayor
Job Cohen performed the ceremony."

(8) Amerikanen leren voor molenaar

'Een groep van tien Amerikanen uit Illinois is in  
Nederland om het beroep van molenaar te leren.
De Amerikanen zijn van Nederlandse oorsprong.
Zij hebben in hun thuisstad Fulton een Hollandse
windmolen laten bouwen die ze willen leren
gebruiken.' [...]
(8) Americans study to be windmiller

"A group of ten Americans from the state of
Illinois is in Holland to study the profession of
windmiller. The Americans are all of Dutch
origin. In their home city of Fulton, they've had
a Dutch windmill constructed which they would
like to learn how to use." [...]

(9) Duyfken terug na vier eeuwen

'Het in Australie nagebouwde Nederlandse ont-
dekkingsschip 'De Duyfken' komt volgend jaar
naar Nederland. [...] Kapitein Willem Janszoon
ontdekte Australie met 'De Duyfken' in 1606.'

© 2001 Radio Nederland Wereldomroep
(9) Duyfken returns after four centuries

"The in Australia reconstructed Dutch discovery
ship, "The Duyfken", will sail to Holland next
year. [...] Captain Willem Janszoon discovered
Australia with "The Duyfken" in 1606." [...]

(all tr. Cliff Crego)


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

| See also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
A presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters

| # listen to other recordings in English and German of eight poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page (# Includes instructions)
| back to r2c | back to Picture/Poems: Central Display | | About Cliff Crego |
Photograph/Texts of Translations © 2011 Cliff Crego
IV.15.2001) (revised IV.14.2002, II.25.2011)