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Feature: The Low Countries
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Four poems

Translated by Diane Butterman

This piece is about 3 printed pages long.

I strive in poetic fashion

that is to say
simple illuminated waters
to express
the extent of life’s entirety

had I not been a person
the same as crowds of others
but had I been who I was
the stone or liquid angel
birth and decomposition would not have touched me
the road from abandonment to communion
the stones stones animals animals birds birds road
would not be as soiled
as what can now be seen in my poems
that are random pictures of that road

in this age that which people always termed
beauty beauty has burnt her face
she comforts mankind no longer
she comforts the larvae the reptiles the rats
but she startles mankind
and moves him with the sense
of being a breadcrumb on the skirt of the universe

no longer just evil
the fatal blow makes us rebellious or humble
but also good
the embrace leaves us desperately fumbling
in space

I therefore turned to language
in all her beauty
heard there that she had nothing more human
than the speech impediments of the shadow
than those of the deafening sunlight

From: de analphabetische naam (‘the non-alphabetical name’) 1952


it is the earth that floats and rolls through the people
it is the air that sighs and blows through the people
the people lie languid as earth
the people stand elevated as air
from the mother’s breast sprouts the son
from the father’s forehead flowers the daughter
like rivers and banks moist and dry is their skin
like streets and canals they stare into space
their house is their breath
their gestures are gardens
they lie hidden
and they are free

it is the earth that floats and rolls
it is the air that sighs and blows
through the people

From: de getekende naam (‘the branded name’) 1952

I reel off a small revolution

I reel off a small lovely revolution
I am no longer of land
I am water again
I carry foaming crests on my head
I carry shooting shadows in my head
on my back rests a mermaid
on my back rests the wind
the wind and the mermaid sing
the foaming crests murmur
the shooting shadows fall

I reel off a small lovely rustling revolution
and I fall and I murmur and I sing

From: de getekende naam (‘the branded name’) 1952

transmigration of the soul

stiffly he staggers from juncture to juncture
the once so charming scapegoat
you may laugh him on if you are able
he grins but does not let it get to him
not scorched but burnt to ashes a faintness
that passes he will rise up again
and smooth his trousers and tails the old fool

soon he will stand tall and broad between the pillars
the marble of his jaws pelted down on by shadows
the whip toying with the boot
all-penetrating the gaze fixed on the threatening moon

slowly he goes down people cheer
ponderous out of all proportion he goes down
and places himself next to the coward the unloading point
unaltered not with deliverance as the cleaning rag

From: nagelaten gedichten (‘bequeathed poems’) 1994

Lucebert (1924-1994) was born in Amsterdam. Active in the Dutch Resistance in the Second World War, he began experimenting with abstract drawing and painting and poetry during this time. As a painter, he was a founder member of the postwar Experimental Group Holland in 1948, known internationally as CoBrA. As a poet, he is one of the luminaries of the Dutch Fiftiers Movement, with his first collection triangel in de jungle/de dieren der democratie published in 1951. Further collections include: apocrief/de analphabetische naam 1952, amulet 1957, and troost de hysterische robot: Gedichten en een oratorium 1989. A major figure in postwar Dutch public culture, Lucebert’s Collected Poems was published in 2002.

Previous English translations of Lucebert’s poetry include: The Tired Lovers They Are Machines translated by Peter Nijmeijer, Transgravity Press, 1974 and Weapons in the Grass: Selected Poems translated by Peter Nijmeijer, James S. Holmes, Scott Rollins and others, Green Integer Press, 2006.

Diane Butterman was born in the Channel Islands in 1953, and has lived in the Netherlands for almost thirty years. She teaches English as a second language at Delft University of Technology. As well as writing her own poetry (Life’s Frescoes, Merlin Books 1996), she is a translator of contemporary Dutch poetry into English. Her major translation project, the Collected Poems of Lucebert, is forthcoming with Green Integer Press, USA.