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LAMENT

Here now    along the long deep water
that I thought that I thought that you always
that you always

here now    along the long deep water
where behind the rushes    behind the rushes the sun
that I thought that you always but always

 

that always your eyes    your eyes and the breeze
your eyes and the breeze
always ruffling    ruffling the water

that always in a trembling silence
that I would always live in a trembling silence
that you always    those waving rushes always

along the long deep water   that your skin would always
that always in the afternoon your skin
always in the summer in the afternoon your skin

that always your eyes would melt
that your eyes would always melt in happiness
always in the motionless afternoon

along the long deep water    that I thought
that I thought you would always
that I thought that happiness would always

that always the light motionless in the afternoon
that always the afternoon light    your ochre-coloured shoulder
your ochre-coloured shoulder always in the afternoon light

that always your cry    hanging
always your bird’s cry    hanging
in the afternoon    in the summer    in the breeze

that always the breeze trembling    that always but
always the ruffled water    the afternoon    your skin
I thought that everything would always    I did not think that ever

here now along the long deep water    that ever
I thought that always    that never    that you would never
that frost would never   that no ice would ever the water

here now along the long deep water    I never thought
that snow would ever the cypress    I never thought
that snow    that the cypress would never    that you would never more

ON THE OVERTOOM

It’s thawing on the
Overtoom
yet the frost’s setting in again
or so my feet tell me
that measure my day
I stick close to home
ever closer
that’s my age
clouds swell with a wan colour
yesterday’s smell still clings to me
I ate with my friend
we broke bread together
and talked about our dead
we’re almost out of sight
though we still laugh
what else can you do?
hug each other goodbye
after all you never know

TO POETRY

Do you really mean to leave me, poetry
at three thirty in the afternoon
in the Rue du Four
while above me the sky closes down
in darkening tumult
and a street corner crashes into me
and I’ve lost count of all the people

well, you won’t get away with it
I hang on tight to the rail in bus 39
and decide in a giddy moment
I won’t put upwith your dumping me
like a woman her aged lover
who no longer has any rights

later in the little park at Sèvres-Babylone
where a merry-go-round moans out its waltz
and under the trees there’s that black gent
with his grey stubble and cardboard suitcase
and that entire family that is homeless
and the American girlwho is going to a concert in the evening
with that sweet fellow she just met
who read her Prévert’s poems
you’re here again
friends for good
don’t you ever forget it
dying is no excuse

MEMO

Write it down quickly
before I forget
in the car with D. and N.
cutting across America’s seasons
muggy sunlight in Santa Barbara
wet snow in Denver
and in every Best Western hotel
the TV’s flickering light
on her dear sleeping face
like a young girl once again

but writing down the words
alters what I want to remember
that which had no words
was a living breathing image
so now I have two versions of the same
today I can superimpose them
but tomorrow when I’m gone
only the words are left
signs evoking something
that no eye sees any more

1944

In the sweltering green countryside
planes on fire in the blue sky
stood the milk churn
that I stirred with my boy’s strong arms
making butter
to earn a pound of wheat
stole furtive looks at the country girl
who already had breasts

it was the last summer of the war
the trains no longer ran
only murder showed up on time
a day’s journey away
in the bleak house in The Hague
my mother was watching from the window
when the German officer rang the neighbours’ bell
she counted the friends she still had
hidden behind the living-room walls

I’d almost forgotten her
past and future meant nothing to me
All I cared about was the day at hand
my time hadn’t yet come
that it would ever be over
was something I couldn’t even imagine

Acknowledgements

‘On the Overtoom’ and ‘To Poetry’ originally appeared in Ambit, no. 198, the Dutch issue for which I was the guest editor. ‘Memo’ and ‘1944’ were included in the ‘Contemporary Dutch Poets’ supplement of the Poetry Review (vol. 97: 3, Autumn 2007), ‘Lament’ is one of the poems in ‘I Dreamed in the Cities at Night’, my book of Campert’s poetry, published by Arc in 2007 as no. 18  in their bilingual series, Visible Poets’ series of bilingual editions of contemporary poets in translation : http://www.arcpublications.co.uk/catalogue/book.php?description_id=319


(Donald Gardner will present Remco Campert’s poetry at the Poetry Café on Wednesday, November 24. He will share the evening with Sarah Lawson who will present the work of Jacques Prévert)

Remco Campert, born 1929, belongs to the group of Dutch poets labelled after their decade, the ‘Fifties’ poets (De vijftigers), who broke the mould of Dutch poetry in those years. Paris was their chief literary and artistic reference point. They had come to maturity in the bitter years of the occupation and the buttoned-up sobriety expected of the Dutch in the post-war period was for them the last straw. Determinedly modern and worldly, theirs was an existential rather than a political revolt. Of this avant-garde Campert was always the most accessible. He wrote novellas and newspaper columns as well as poetry, establishing himself as a much-loved and widely-read writer.

Though he started in the fifties, Campert also caught the playful mood of the 60s very well and he has continued to draw on this spirit, although his most recent work is often lyrical or elegiac. The irony that is thought to be his hallmark is often a mask for a surprising emotional engagement. Now aged eighty, Campert is still writing in all three of his genres as well as giving superb readings of his work.

Another Dutch poet, Louis Lehmann, wrote about Campert, ‘What is so marvellous is that someone who appears to do nothing but mumble a few dead ordinary words, without getting worked up about anything, can say so much.’ It is just this quality – the seeming off-the-cuff naturalness of Campert’s poetry that was a challenge for me as his translator. To capture language that is colloquial and very close to conversation and render it as poetry in another language – that was the challenge.

Donald Gardner’s book of translations of the poems of Remco Campert, ‘I Dreamed in the Cities at Night’, was published by Arc publications in 2007 as no. 20 in their bilingual series, Visible Poets, edited by Jean Boase Beier. (http://www.arcpublications.co.uk) Donald Gardner is a poet and translator who has lived in Amsterdam for many years. Recent publications of his poetry include ‘The Glittering Sea’ (Hearing Eye, London, 2006) and ‘Sleight of Tongue’ (Boekie Woekie, Amsterdam, 2010). His website is: http://www.donaldgardner.net

The following three poems are taken from the collection ‘I Dreamed in the Cities at Night’, published by Arc in 2007 as no. 20 in their bilingual series, Visible Poets, edited by Jean Boase Beier.

FADED DAYS

It was late in the evening
rain caught in lamplight
beat down on the cobbles
of the Old Mechlin Road
you were wearing an off-white dress
I’d have guessed you were fifteen
you were walking down the street
as I was crossing
cars passed by
braked rode on
you asked me the way to the Muse Café
the bar where that singer was on
singer you said of your song
voice that had found you
you were on your way there
‘Just follow the tram lines’
I let you go

Antwerp girl
you’re still on my mind
what have I done
with my life

HOTEL

For Cees Nooteboom

Late in the Autumn
weather turned
storm pounced on the palm trees
rushed down the hotel corridors
final visitors packed their bags —
the English couple on their last legs
the beautiful girl and her mother
who smoked long cigarettes
and waited for something that never came
the tennis star past his prime —
I lingered on
a nuisance to the staff

in this hotel I was dreadfully unhappy
as usual that just happened
but I stayed put
the book I’d not yet started
like a huge egg in my arms
self-imposed trial of strength
nobody had asked for

I thought of you on your island
or en route between two continents
gone before you’d even landed
seeking safety in movement
so unlike me, yet just the same

at that thought
stuck in that foreign eyrie
suddenly I found wings
I got better, I was cured

STREET THEATRE

In the balmy afternoon wind
I was sitting on a bench
on the Boulevard du Général Leclerc
next to an old gent
who’d fought in Indochina
rosette in his buttonhole
white cravat round his wizened neck
at his feet a little mutt
watching everything
when suddenly Sophie Marceau
actress I recognized from the papers
stepped out of a limousine
followed by her photographer
and holding her sun-hat in place
gave us an eyeful
of her cream-white armpit

the mutt yapped
and the old gent and I
stood up in unison
sang a ditty
did a couple of dance steps
and waggled our bottoms

she didn’t see us

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