a Dutch spring poem

This is all Grada’s fault. (Scroll down to see her comments on the previous entry.)

“Mei”, by Herman Gorter
(first verse only)
My translation
(with much help from a dictionary)
Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid:
Ik wil dat dit lied klinkt als het gefluit,
Dat ik vaak hoorde voor een zomernacht,
In een oud stadje, langs de watergracht —
In huis was ‘t donker, maar de stille straat
Vergaarde schemer, aan de lucht blonk laat
Nog licht, er viel een gouden blanke schijn
Over de gevels van mijn raamkozijn.
Dan blies een jongen als een orgelpijp,
De klanken schudden in de lucht zoo rijp
Als jonge kersen, wen een lentewind
In ‘t boschje opgaat en zijn reis begint.
Hij dwaald’ over de bruggen, op den wal
Van ‘t water, langzaam gaande, overal
Als ‘n jonge vogel fluitend, onbewust
Van eigen blijheid om de avondrust.
En menig moe man, die zijn avondmaal
Nam, luisterde, als naar een oud verhaal,
Glimlachend, en een hand die ‘t venster sloot,
Talmde een pooze wijl de jongen floot.
A new spring and a new sound:
I want this song to be pure as the tune
I often heard in a summer’s evening
In an old village, along the canal.
Inside it was dark, but in the still street
Twilight gathered; from the shining sky
Golden light played over my window.
It was then a wandering boy piped his tune,
The sound shuddering in the mellow air
Like ripe cherries nodding, as a spring breeze
Rises up into the woods and begins its travels.
He wanders over the bridges, up the bank
By slow-flowing water, anywhere he wills.
As a young bird sings, unconscious
Of his own happiness in the evening stillness.
Many a tired man at his evening meal
Listens, as if to a beloved old tale
And smiles, taking his hand back from the latch
To listen longer, while the boy plays.
A more literal translation:
You can see how close the Dutch is to the English (I wouldn’t have dared translate poetry otherwise)though I have rearranged word order for clarity in a couple of places.

A new spring and a new sound:
I want that this song sounds like the whistling
That I often heard before a summernight
In an old small town, along the watercanal
In house ’twas dark, but the still street
Gathered twilight, on the sky shone late
Yet light, there fell a golden bright shine
Over the front of my windowframe
Then fluted a boy like an organipipe
The sound shakes in the air as ripe
As young cherries nodding while a spring breeze
In the small forest goes up and its travels begin
He wanders over the bridges, up pine bank,
Of the water, slowly going, everywhere
As a young bird flutes, unconscious
Of his own happiness in the evening rest.
And many a tired man, that his evening meal
Takes, listening, as if to an old story
Smiles, and a hand that the window latch
Tarries a while, while the boy plays.

Note: Since first posting this, I’ve made a few small changes in the translations, thanks to some helpful suggestions from Grada on the literal translation. This poem is from 1889, and I don’t really have any sense of how the language has changed, of the older uses of words or, really, of poetic usage in general. There were a couple of places where I misinterpreted which noun an adjective or verb applied to, and the word “als” can be if, when, or as, which makes translation a bit tricky (in fact, Dutch people speaking English make mistakes there all the time). I’ve also taken her suggestion to render “was ‘t” as ” ’twas”, which is literally accurate. (I had thought of it before, and decided it was too precious – but when I looked up the poem’s actual date, it seemed appropriate. ) I’ve changed only four lines in my freer translation, but I think it makes a little more sense now.

One Response to “a Dutch spring poem”

  1. pom Says:

    Check out what Brent’s been doing, over at http://brentusfirmus.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/forays-into-dutch-poetry/

    (Read the rest of his blog too, he’s a knitter as well)

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