December 3, 2010

Hugo Claus




a young Hugo Claus



Hugo Claus [Belgium/writes in Dutch]
1929-2008

Born in Bruges in 1929, Claus joined the Dutch Cobra group and founded the influential periodical Tijd en Mens (Time and Man) with the critic Jan Walravens and novelist Louis-Paul Boon. In 1955, he published De Oostakkerse Gedichten (The Oostakker Poems), which represent a high point in postwar Flemish poetry. The poems vividly draw sexual tensions against the landscape of Flanders in a primitive, almost crude animal fashion.


A versatile and prolific writer, Claus’s published work consists of poetry, novels, short stories, numerous plays, film scenarios, and translations, including Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. One of his most important novels, Het Verdriet van Belgie of 1983 (translated as The Sorrow of Belgium in 1990), concerns a ten-year-old boy growing up in anti-Semitic West Flanders. Family and friends join Hitler’s Flemish brigades and the National Socialist Youth Movement, becoming workers in the German factories. The boy’s mother is mistress and secretary to a Nazi officer, and his father produces Nazi propaganda. Against these offences, the young boy must grow up to seek a moral and poetic awakening. Among his other novels are Een Zachte Vernieling (A Gentle Destruction), Gilles en de nacht (Gilles in the Night), Belladonna: Scenes uit het leven in de provincie (Belladonna: Scenes from Provincial Life), De Geruchten (Rumors), and Het Verlangen (Desire). In 2009 Archipelago Books published his 1962 masterwork, Verwondering (Wonder).


His collected poems are gathered in two volumes, Gedichten 1948-1993 (1994) and Gedichten 1969-1978 (2004). He has received the Triennial Belgian State Prize three times, twice for drama and once for poetry. In 1986 he won the State Prize for Dutch Letters, and in 1986 the Leo J. Krijn prize.



BOOKS OF POETRY

Kleine Reeks (1947); Registreren (1948); Zonder vorm van process (1950); Tancredo infrasonic (1952); Een huis dat tussen nacht en morgen staat (Antwerpen/’s-Gravenhage, De Sikken/Daamen NV,1953); De Oostakkerse gedicthen (1955); Paal in perk (1955); Een geverfde ruiter (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1961); Oog om oog (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1964); Gedichten 1948-1963 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1965); Het Everzwijn (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1970); Van horen zeggen (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1970); Dag, jij (1971); Figuratief (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1973); Het Jansenisme (1976); Het Graf van Pernath (1978); De Wangebeden (1978); Gedichten 1969-1978 (1979); Claustrum: 222 Knittelverzen (Antwerp: Pink Editions and Productions, 1980); Almanak: 366 Knittelverzen (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1982); Alibi (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1985); Mijn honderd gedichten (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1986); Sonnetten (1988); De Sporen (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1993); Gedichten 1948-1993 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1994); Gedichten 1969-1978 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2004)


POEMS IN ENGLISH

Selected Poems 1953-1973 (Isle of Skye, Scotland: Aquila Poetry, 1986); Greetings: Selected Poems, trans. by John Irons (Orlando Florida: Harcourt, 2005)

Achter Tralies

Zaterdag zondag maandag trage week en weke dagen

Een stilleven een landschap een portret

De wenkbrauwen van een vrouw
Die zich sluiten als ik nadir

Het landschap waarin blonde kalveren waden
Waar het weder van erbarmen
In het Pruisisch blauw der weiden ligt gebrand

Toen heb ik nog een stilleven geschilderd
Met onherkenbare wenkbrauwen en een mond als een maan
Met een spiral als een verlossende trompet
In het Jersualem van mijn kamer.


(from Een huis dat tussen nacht en morgen staat, 1953)


Behind Bars

Saturday Sunday Monday slow week and weak days

A still life a landscape a portrait




The eyebrows of a woman
That clowe when I draw near

The landscape where blonde calves are wading
Where the season of mercy lies burned
Into the Prussian blue of the fields

It was then I painted another still life
With unrecognizable eyebrows and a mouth like a moon
With a spiral like a redeeming trumpet
In the Jerusalem of my room.

Translated from the Dutch by Paul Brown and Peter Nijmeijer



Een Kwade Man

Zo zwart is geen huis
Dat ik er niet in kan wonen
Mijn handen niet langs de muren kan strekken

Zo wit is geen morgen
Dat ik er niet in ontwaak
Als in een bed

Zo waak en woon ik in dit huis
Dat tussen nacht en morgen staat

En wandel op zenuwvelden
En tast met mijn 10 vingernagels
In elk gelated lijf dat nadert

Terwijl ik kuise woorden zeg als:
Regen en wind appel en brood
Dik en donker bloed der vrouwen


(from Een huis dat tussen nacht en morgen staat, 1953)


An Angry Man

No house is so black
That I cannot live in it



Cannot span my hands across its walls

No morning is so white
That I cannot wake in it
Like a bed

Thus I live and wake in this house
On the crossroads of night and morning

And wander over fields of nerve filaments
And touch with my fingernails 10
At each resigned abandoned body’s approach

Incantating chaste words
Like: rain and wind apple and bread
Clotted and dark blood of women

Translated from the Dutch by Paul Brown and Peter Nijmeijer


Marsua

De koorts van mijn lied, de landwijn van mijn stem
Lieten hem deinzend achter, Wolfskeel Apollo,
De god de zijn knapen verstikte en zwammen,
Botte messen zong, wolfskeel, grintgezang.

Toen vlerkte hij op, gesmaad,
En brak mijn keel.
Ik werd gebonden aan een boom, gevild werd ik, gepriemd
Tot het water van zijn langlippige woorden in mijn oren vloeide,
Die ingeweld begaven.

Zie mij, gebonden aan de touwen van een geluidloos ruim,
Geveld en gelijmd aan een koperen geur,
Gepunt,
Gericht,
Gepind al seen vlinder
In een vlam van honger, in een moeras van pijn.
De vingernagels van de wind bereiken mijn ingewanden.
De naalden van ijzel en zand rijden in mijn huid.
Mij heft niemand meer genezen.
Doofstom hangt mijn lied in de hagen.
De tanden van mijn stem dringen alleen meer tot de maagden
door,
En wie is maagd nog of maagdelijke bruidegom
In deze branding?

(Een bloedkoraal ontstijgt in
Vlokken mijn hongerlippen.
Ik vervloek
Het kaf en het klaver en de horde die op mijn daken
De vadervlag uithangt—maar gij zijt van steen.
Ik zing—maar gij zijt van veren en gij staat
Al seen roerdomp, een seinpaal van de treurnis.
Of zijt gij een buizerd—dáár—een wiegende buizerd?
Of in het zuiden, lager, een ster, de gouden Stier?)

Mij heft niemand meer genezen.
In mijn kelders is de delfstof der kennis aangebroken.


(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)


Marsyas

The fever of my song, the country wine of my voice
Left him shrinking back, Wolfthroat Apollo,
The god who throttled his lads, and sang like fungi,
Blunt knives, in his wolfthroat, gravel voice.

Then he whirled up, defamed,
And broke my throat.
I was bound to a tree, I was skinned, pierced
Until the water of his long-lipped words flowed in my ears,
That violently burst.

Look at me now, bound by the ropes of a soundless space,
Felled and glued to a copper scent,
Pointed,
Doomed,
Pinned like a moth
In a flame of hunger, in a morass of pain.
The wind’s fingernails reach into my bowels.
The needles of frost and sand ride in my skin.
None now can ever cure me.
My deaf-mute song hangs in the hedges.
The teeth of my voice reach only the virgins,
And who’s still a virgin or a virgin bridegroom
In these breakers?

(In clots the blood coral
Rises from my hunger-lips.
I damn
The chaff and the clover and themob striking out
The father’s colors on my roofs—but you are of stone.
I sing—but you are of feathers and stand
Like a bittern, a semaphore of mourning.
What are you, a buzzard—there—a dandling buzzard?
Or in the south, lower, a star, a golden Taurus?)

None now can ever cure me.
In my cellars the ore of knowledge begins to fracture.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer



De regenkoning

De regenkoning sprak (en gelovig waren mijn oren):
‘Hier heb ik de vrouw: gevlamde anus,
Borstknop en navelachtige nachtschade,
Daar kan geen starveling tegen.’
Toen brak
Het rijk der onderhuid aan splinters.

Regeerde deze Ram uitbundig en verrukt?
Niet vragen. Luister niet.
Het verhaal van zijn tanden drong
In alle vrouwen, dwingend
Als een zomerregen, een koperen lente, als een vroegtijdig
Ondernaan in hun liezen begraven doorn.

het regende zeventig dagen—de nachten waren gegolfd
En zout. Onthoofde raven vielen.
En alle daken spleet een oog.
En sedert woont in mij,
In mijn ontkroond geraamte,
Een regenkoning die vlammen wekt.

(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)


The Rain King

The rain king spoke (my ears as faithful
Chattels to my liege): “Here we have a woman:
Flamed anus, breast-bud and navel nightshade
That no mortal can resist.”
Then the kingdom
Of cutis broke apart in shivers.

Was this Ram’s rule exuberant and rapturous?
Do not ask. Do not listen.
The narrative of his teen penetrated
All women, compelling
As a summer rain, a copper spring, a thorn
Prematurely buried at the focus of their groins.

For seventy days it rained (the nights were undulating,
Salt). Decapitated ravens plummeted.
The roofs slit open on the eye.
And since then lived in me,
In my abdicated skeleton,
A rain king awaking flames.

—Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer



Het Dier

Het beest in de weide (van de vlammen gescheiden)
Ziet hoe op poten de dag aanbreekt
Hoe met gebaren de zon haar zevenstaart omslaat

En (in bladgoud, lichtogig en bevend)
Het verlangt niet meer.
‘s Nachts begeeft het zacht en dringt weer in het

Woud waar de koude jager roept.
Zo veilig, zo tam gaat geen mens
De wereld binnen.


(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)


The Animal

The beast in the pasture (separated from the flames)
Sees how on legs the day breaks
How gesturing the sun regales its seven-tail

How (autumn-gold, dew-eyed and trembling)
It desires nothing more.
At night it recedes softly and penetrates still

The forest where the cold hunter calls.
So safe, so tame, no man
Enters his world.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer



De zee

De schorre zeilen, de sneeuwende zee met
De vinkenslag der baren: haar bladeren
En het doornaveld verlangen: haar golven

Rijden tegen het land waar de flag der bronst uithangt,
Monsteren de muren aan,
Lokken het mos en de mensen, de merries en het zand,

Laten de stenen als sterrebeelden achter
En bevrijden—zij, de zee en haar schuimbekkende beesten—
De mann in alle vrouwen, de tanden in mijn mond.

(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)


The Sea

The husky sails, the snowing sea with
The finch-trap of the billows: her leaves
And the naveled desire: her waves

Ride up against the land where the flag of rut
Hangs out, recruit the walls,
Lure moss and people, mares and sand,

Leave behind the stones like constellations
And release—they, the sea and her frothing beasts—
The moon in all women, the teeth in my mouth.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer


Geheim kan

Geheim kan (en het mes in pijnloos
In uw dubbelhuid) verscholen in de vreugde
Het schuwe woord, het klare woord
(een opening in u gedrongen) er de liefde scheuren.

Wellicht kent gij geen vrouw meer, jager,
Wanneer deze verwondering zich voltrekt.
Uw gave zinnen weerstaan dit niet.
Koorts bereikt u voortdurend en houdt de koude wonde wakker.

(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)


Secret (And the Knife

Secret (and the knife is painless
In the envelope of your skin) deposited in delight:
The skittish word, a word transparent,
Plunged and plugged (an opening driven into you)
Could disembowel love in you wide open.

Is it that you have lost her, hunter,
In the execution of surprise? Is it that
Your bait belies the lure? Yet
The fever reaches in the execution of the hunt
To keep the cold wound waking.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer


Een vrouw-14

Ik zou je een lied in dit landschap van woede willen zingen,
Livia, dat in je zou dringen, je bereiken in je negen openingen,
Blond en rekbaar, hevig en hard.

Het zou een boomgaardlied zijn en een zang van de vlakte,
Een éénmanskoor van schande,
Alsof mijn stembanden mij ontbonden ontsprongen en je riepen,
Alsof
In dit landschap dat mij vernedert, in deze huizing die mij schaadt
(Waarin ik op vier voeten dwaal) wij niet meer ongelijk verschenen
En onze stemmen sloten.
Ontspring in loten,
Nader mij die niet te naken ben,
Wees mij niet vreemd zoals de aarde,

Vlucht mij niet (de manke mensen)
Ontmoet mij, voel mij,
Plooi, breek, breek,

Wij zijn de weerwind, de regen der dagen,
Zeg mij wolken,
Vloei open woordenloos, word water.

(Ah, dit licht is koud en drukt zijn hoornen handen
In ons gezicht dat hapert en zich vouwt)

Ik zou je een boomgaardlied willen zingen, Livia
Maar de nacht wordt voleind en vult
Mijn vlakte steeds dichter dicht—bereiken kan ik je
Niet dan onvervuld
Want de keel der mannelijke herten groneit toe bij dageraad.

(from De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955)



A Woman: 14

I’d like to sing you a song in this landscape of anger,
Livia, that would penetrate you, reach you in your nine openings,
Blonde and elastic, violent and hard.

It would be an orchard song and a canto of the plains,
A one-man choir of infamy,
As though my vocal chords discorded rose from me and called you,
As though
In this landscape abasing me, in this location impairing me
(Where I four-footed wander) we appeared no longer singular
And locked our voices.
Break out in shoots,
Come close to me, I who am elusive, unapproachable,
Don’t think me strange as the earth,

Don’t run from me (lame humans)
Meet me, feel me,
Crease and break, break,

We are the werewind, the rain of days,
Tell me clouds,
Flow open wordlessly, become water.

(Ah, this light is cold and weights its horned hands
To our face that falters and folds in on itself)

I’d like to sing you an orchard song, Livia
But the night comes to an end and fills
My plains more tightly tight—I can reach you
Only unfulfilled
For the stag’s throat chokes at dawn.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer


De maagd

In rokken van wierook en distels
komt zij en draagt de kelk naar mij.
Zij is een aap, zo niet-te-vatten oud en snel tussen haar
kleed, het geopend tabernakel,
waarin ter aanbidding glimt de hazelijn van haar buik.

Het dorp dat bidt bekijkt.
Maar voor zijn dove lach
sluit ik met hoog gebaar de orgels af. (Tussen de
vermoeiden leven eist geen moed.)

Dan rent zij in de struiken,
nu schreeuwt zij in het goud, hoe ik haar heiland wezen
zou, maar det de maand, de maan, maar dat er
merries redden in haar vel en dat haar vader
haar noemde naar het galgekruid…
O basta!
Deze non gaat te dikwijls naar de cinema!

En onze liefde hapert.
Hoorbaar kruipen luizen.

Schamper tussen de meerderjarige kenners ineens,
ken ik haar niet meer.

En in het tienjarig bed, in de dovende slaapzaal
wacht ik weer op de ijzeren avondval
over de bladeren.


(from De geverfde ruiter, 1961)

The Virgin

She comes in skirts of incense
And of thorns to bid me drink from the chalice.
She so much the monkey, so immeasurably old and fast between her
Garments, the broached tabernacle, where
For worship’s sake gleams the hare-line of her belly.

The village praying, spies.
To such deaf laughter
I grandly shut the organ. (Living
Among the weary requires little courage.)

Then she darts through the bushes,
Now she’s screaming in the gold, that I was to be her savior
But that the month, the moon, but that the
Mares were riding in her skin, and that her father
Named her after gallow-herb…
Oh, nonsense!
This nun goes to the movies far too often!

And our love falters.
Audibly lice creep.

Scornful, suddenly surrounded by these adult connoisseurs,
I know her no longer.

And on the decennial bed, in the quenching dormitory
I await once more the iron nightfall
Over the leaves.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer


N.Y.

1

Over de rimpels van hef asphalt, in de rook die al seen dooier-
zwam vannuit de roosters welt
dragen negerkrijgers tussen hun olielijf een roze zomeravondjurk
als de vrouw van een senator.

In het schiereiland van beton, in de bronstige paleizen
--lekbakken voor de knorrige jets daarboven—
koopt iedereen de sigaret van de man die denkt,
eet iedereen het gemalen vlees met nikkelen tanden,
wast ieder zich in filmsterrenmelk.

Wat beveiligt mij tegen
deze kanonnenkoorts?

Een tekening rond de linkertepel
welsprekend uitgevoerd door Tattooing Joe,
the electric Rembrandt.


2

Washington was een present. Vandaar het monument.
Eerst me een steek,
dan in de wind als een tent,
maar twee keer martiaal, staat hij, een arduinen vent
tussen malcontentige pakhuizen en venters.

Vanuit de bevolke zandbak, omrand door
tralies, ouders en duiven,
heft af en toe een vader zijn hevig kind
alsof het stervend was en offert het

aan Garibaldi die bewolkt bedenkt: ‘Trek ik mijn dolk of laat
ik hem?’

Gehelmde troubadours beloeren
het vijandelijk gebied waar Holley,
die het soortelijk gewicht van staal heft ontwricht,
pokdalig verwaten in het groen gegoten werd.

Hardhandig word teen pater uit de woning
van Henry James gewalst tussen de schaatsers.

Overal de zeven alwetende vogels van de dood.
Ik wou dat ik was
een laagje lak van wit op wit.


(from De geverfde ruiter, 1961)



N.Y.

1

Across the wrinkles of the blacktop, in the smoke that wells
out of the gratings like a yolky mold
Black warriors carry between their oiled bodies a pink summer
evening frock
like a senator’s wife.

In this peninsula of concrete, in the lustful palaces
--drip-pans for the rumbling jets overhead—
everyone buys the cigarette of the man who thinks,
everyone eats ground mean with nickel teeth,
everyone washes in filmstar milk.

What shall immune me
from the cannon fever?

A drawing eloquently executed
round the left tit of Tattoo Joe,
the electric Rembrandt.


2

Washington was a president. Hence the statue.
First with a three-cornered hat,
then in the wind like a tent,
but doubly martial, he stands, a freestone gent
among the discontentious warehouses and vendors.

Now and then a father lifts his child
out of the populous sandbox surrounded by
bars, parents, pigeons,
as if it’s about to die and offers it

to Garibaldi who thunderously thinks:
“Shall I draw my dagger or let him?”

Helmeted troubadours bespy
the enemy territory where Holley,
who dislocated the specific gravity of steel,
presumptuously has been cast pockmarked in green.

A priest is rudely ejected among the skaters
out of the house of Henry James.

Everywhere the seven all-knowing birds of death.
I’d like to be
a coat of paint white on white.

Translated from the Dutch by James S Holmes


De bewaker spreekt

Huiswaarts kerned ‘s avonds hoor ik sarrend
de plof van hun hoeven onophoudelijk. Af en toe
terwijl ik plas in de sneeuw verwarmen zij zich aan elkaar.
Dan, na twaalf keer ademhalen
haal ik de hemelse straal uit het foedraal,
en richt haar naar de achterblijvers.
Door de hemel beschermd ga ik mijn weg.

Onze eigengemaakte kometen met
het gelukzalig uranium en de kokende kobalt
vergezellen mij waar ik wandel.
Alle koperen egels die wij naar de zon hebben geblazen
beschermen mij op het veld.

Huiswaarts kerende hoor ik
het schuiven van hun scharen
als mijn gevangenen over de ijzeren weiden schaatsen
naar de bunkers.
Dikwijls blijven zij achter. Zij dragen zware zielen.
Ik niet. In mijn eigengereide wenteling
denk ik aan korsetten en goud en koekjes.


(from De geverfde ruiter, 1961)



The Guard Speaks

Turning homeward at night I incessantly hear
the nagging plop of their hooves. Now and then
while I piss in the snow they warm themselves on each other.
Then after twelve deep breaths
I pull the celestial ray from its holster
and point it at the stragglers.
Protected by heaven I go on my way.

Our self-made comets with
the blessed uranium and boiling cobalt
go with me where’er I walk.
All the copper hedgehogs we’ve blown toward the sun
protect me in the field.

Turning homeward I hear
the shuffling of their hosts
as my prisoners skate across the iron pastures
to the bunkers.
They often lag behind. They carry burdensome souls.
Not I. In my inexorable rotation
I think of corsets and gold and cookies.

—Translated from the Dutch by James S Holmes



Heer Everzwijn

15

Hoe elke morgen de appelaar
vertakt veranderd is!
Hij is de boom der kennis niet,

krullend in zijn schors
rijpend in zijn huls.

De appelaar tast naar zijn loof
met kwetsbare twijgen
tot de nacht
dat de woordloze Ram knabbelt aan zijn bast.





20

De damp op de druiven,
de dauw, de bron en de stroom.
Een vrouw die koert: ‘Hier, kom hier, gauw’,
en achter haar vergrauwt de nacht.
Het bloed dat op het blad papier was gespat
is nu geronnen.

Trots? Een bark in de zachte zee.
Berouw? Een gareel dat tegen de keien slaat.
Zij? Een profile in de muur gebrand.



21

De taal van het vuur?
Geroosterde klinkers, verschroeide zinnen.
Koken is een taal. Vanmorgen in bed: de geur van koffie.

In de zomer van 1944 vernietigde het Amerikaanse 3e leger
in Normandië de kaasfabrieken—vanwege de geur—
de geur van lijken, zeiden de soldaten.

In vroegere tijden, zei Aristoteles, werd alle vlees
geroosterd.
Nu nog, wijze man,
jij die zei: ‘Sokrates is bleek’
jij de zei: ‘De mens brengt mensen voort’
jij die toen al—via begrip,
oordeel,
en redenering,
een oplossing had gevonden
voor slaven en vondelingen,

nu nog roostert men vlees,
als in sprookjes: mensenvlees.

‘s Morgens: de geur kan koffie, de taal van het vuur.
Een brandlucht in huis, een volmaakte lauwte.


(from Heer Everzwijn, 1970)




From Lord Boar


15

How each morning the apple tree
has forked: changed!
It is not the tree of knowledge,

curling in its rind,
ripening in its husk.

With vulnerable twigs
the apple tree reaches for its leaves
until the night
when the wordless Ram nibbles its bark.



20

The steam on the grapes
the dew, the spring and the river.
A woman, cooing: “here, come here, quick!”
and the night spreads dim and gray behind her.
The blood that spattered on the page
has clotted now.

Pride? A barque on the soft sea.
Regret? A harness clattering on the cobbles.
She? A profile burnt into the wall.


21

The language of fire?
Roasted vowels, scorched phrases.
Cooking has its own grammar.
In bed, this morning: the smell of coffee.

In the summer of 44 the American 3rd Army
destroyed the cheese dairies in Normandy:
because of the smell—
the smell of corpses, the soldiers explained.

In former days, Aristotle pointed out,
All meat used to be roasted.
Today too, wise man,
you who said: “Socrates looks pale,”
who said: “Man begets man,”
who even then, by means of understanding
and judgment and reason,
suggested solutions for slaves and foundlings,

today too they’re roasting meat,
as in fairy tales: human meat.

Each morning: the smell of coffee, the language
of fire. A burnt smell, perfectly lukewarm.

—Translated from the Dutch by Theo Hermans



Vriendin


Zij zei: ‘Ik zou nooit doden.
Ook niet al seen man op één meter van mij
mijn zoontje wurgde.
Alles wat left is heilig.’

En ik zag haar in natriumlicht,
de sibylle met haar schandelijke wet,
krols van zelfmoord en gebed.

Hoe de klei hongert naar het gebeente
en de aarde naar de mest
en de dweil naar het bloed!
En hoe ik dans in mijn dierlijk zweet
en doden zou en hoe!

En toen zag ik haar
teer, breekbaar, nachtblind,
verdwenen in het verleden,
zoals vroeger de lichtgevende nachtwolk.


(from Van horen zeggen, 1970)


Girlfriend


She said: “I would never kill even
if I had my hands around the man
who strangled my young son.
All that lives and crawls is holy.”

I saw her in the sodium light,
randy with suicide and sanctity,
the sibyl with her shameful law.

How clay hungers for bones, the earth
for muck, the cloth for blood. How
I would dance in my animal blood
and how I would kill, and how!

I saw her disappear into the past
tender, brittle, nightblind, luminous
like the shards of moonlight on cloud cover.

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Brown and Peter Nijmeijer

Kringloop

De borden van het Laatste Avondmaal
bleven staan na de dood van de Heiland.
Schillen, kruimels, korsten vet,
de bevlekte schalen, het dof bestek.
De afdruk van een gebit in een appel.
De botten van een fazant.
Toen, ‘s morgens, kwamen de meiden
en zetten de tafel weer kllar voor het ontbijt.

Eerst is er de tijd van de goden, dan komt
de tijd van de helden, en dan die van de mensen.
Is dit verval? Geenszins. Want de kringloop komt terug
zoals voedsel folgt op excrement.

Vico zei: ‘Eerst was er wat noodzakelijk was,
toen wat nuttig was,
daarna kwam de gemakzucht,
later het genot en de wellust
en uiteindelijk—heir en nu—de waanzin
die elke levenskracht verspilt.’

Vico vergat god noch verrader,
priester noch kannibaal.

In elk koraal horde hij
het gebalk van de mongool.

(from De Wangebeden, 1978)


Circuit

The plates of the Last Supper
were left standing after the demise of the Savior.
Peelings, crumbs, fatty rind,
the soiled dishes, the dull cutlery.
The impression of a denture in an apple.
The skeleton of a quail.
Then, in the morning, the maids came
and set the table for breakfast.

First is the time of the gods, then
the time of heroes, and then that of mortal man.
Is this decline? No way! For the circuit returns
like food follows on defecation.

Vico said: “First there was what was necessary,
then what was useful,
and after that came pleasure,
later delight and leisure
and at last—here and now—the madness
that saps every lifeforce.”

Vico forgot neither god nor betrayer,
priest nor cannibal.

In every hymn he heard
the braying of the hordes.

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


Etude

Er is, er is zoveel, bij voorbeeld die ongelukkige
die in het prieel staat te beschrijven.
Hij beschrijft warden, conplementaire tonen
de stoornis in de sferen
het glazuur van de voltooid verleden tijd.

Er is de leraar en zijn totale geschiedenis
er is de Jezuïet van de rechte lijn
de poelier van het vluchtige
hij de ontbijt met een concept
hij de aleatorisch slikt
hij die in vrieskelders snikt om de steeds
verder voortvluchtige paradox van de ruimte
hij die left van de obscene statuten voor kunst

terwijl ex nihilo

Er is wat onstaat uit dorst
er is wat door dat onstaan wordt ontdaan
er is natuur met haaar randen en rafels
er is pigment en het spoor van een hoef
er is zoiets stils al seen dampened heuvel
zoiets wilds als de vuilnis van verdriet
er is een ladder onder de takken
er is de waanzin van de bladeren
de kalmte van de vlammen
er is Eris die zwerft
op zoek naar het gekerm van de mensen
er zijn de lijken van vrienden

er is ex nihilo
hoe dan ook het noodweer
en het dichtbij lawaai van de verre zee.


(from De Sporen, 1993)


Etude

There is, there is so much, take that lame duck
defining in the summer house.
He defines values, complementary scales
the disturbance in the spheres
the glazed time of the past perfect.

There is the teacher and his sum of history
there is the Jesuit of the straight and narrow
the poulterer of the fleeting
the one who breakfasts on a concept
the one who swallows aleatorically
the one in the freezer whining about the always
receding paradox of outer space
the one who lives by the obscene statutes of art

while ex nihilo

There is what is made from thirst
there is what is unmade by what was made
there is nature with its edges and loose ends
there is pigment and a hoof-print
there is the quiet of a steaming hill
the wilderness of the trash of grief
there is a ladder under the branches
there is the lunacy of the leaves
the calm of the flames
there is Eris wandering
in search of the groaning of men
there are the corpses of friends

there is ex nihilio
the storm anyway
and the nearby sounding of the distant sea.


Translated from the Dutch by Theo Hermans and Yann Lovelock


PERMISSIONS

Permission to reprint poems in Dutch granted by De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Copyright ©1994 by Hugo Claus. Reprinted from Gedichten 1948-1993.

“Behind Bars,” “An Angry Man,” “Marsyas,” “The Rain King,” “The Animal,” “The Sea,” “Secret (And the Knife,” “A Woman: 14,” “The Virgin,” “N.Y.,” “The Guard Speaks,” “from Lord Boar,” “Fable,” and “Girl Friend”
Reprinted from Peter Glassgold, edited with an Introduction, Living Space: Poems of the Dutch “Fiftiers” (New York: New Directions, 1979). ©1979 by Peter Glassgold/The Foundation for the Translation of Dutch Literary Works. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

“Circuit”
Reprinted from Naked Poetry: Dutch Poetry in Translation, translated by Cornelis Vleeskens (Melbourne: Post Neo Publications, 1988). Reprinted by permission of the translator.

“Etude”
Reprinted from Modern Poetry in Translation: Dutch and Flemish Issue, No. 12 (Winter 1997).
Reprinted by permission of Theo Hermans and Yann Lovelock.



One Legged Dance
by Douglas Messerli

Hugo Claus Greetings (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 2005). Translated from the Dutch by John Irons

Soon after I published the Project for Innovative Poetry anthology of the Dutch Fifiters, I discovered that Harcourt had just published a new collection of Claus poems, which I immediately ordered through Amazon. Upon its receipt, however, I wondered perhaps if I’d ordered the wrong book. It seemed amazing to me that this poet, whose work—as the fiction above suggests—often portrayed an almost brutal depiction of sex and the human beast, might have a book titled, Greetings, as if the bitter ironist I knew had suddenly joined the card writers of Hallmark. If there was one thing that Claus never seemed to do was to merrily “greet” his readers. The strange photograph on the cover, depicting, I presume, I underside of a bridge (in Flanders?) continued my confusion. Was Claus’s dark vision being presented as a “soaring bridge” between beings. The poem which with the volume began—inexplicably reprinted on the book’s back cover—was, moreover, one of the worst poems by Claus I had ever read. Its end rhymed lines, “crow/glow,” “ways/ablaze,” etc and its conventional subject matter—the days become shorter, “slighter than a butterfly,” all because of love—seemed almost unrecognizable of what I knew of the Claus canon.

Who was this translator, John Irons (the internet suggests he may be a British translator living in Odense, and, if it is the same gentleman, a rather tepid poet—

pa was six days gone
in a coffin of pale wood
clad in a white shroud
with pale blue ribbons

begins one of his “Pa” poems titled “Farewell”)—and what was the standard for the poems which he had chosen? The book contained neither introduction nor introductory note, no substantial statement about Claus (a short 6-line bio and photograph appear on a jacket leaf) and, even more oddly, no copyright line, which would at least tell us from which of his books the poems had been collected. It was if the book had simply willed itself into English.*

Although I would have chosen another selection of Claus’s poems—particularly when it comes to the rhymed sonnet-sequence of 12 pages near the end of the book (the alternating and sequential rhymes—“design/Einstein,” “detect/neck,” “damp/camps,” etc nearly drown out any message that the poet might have wanted to convey)—there are, nonetheless, important poems in this volume representing some of Claus’s best writing.

As I have indicated—and the vast majority of these poems support my argument—Claus’s Flanders is a dark world, a place of “Sparse song dark thread / Land like a sheet / That sinks…,” a world in which “A glass man falls out of a pub and breaks.” If the recurring themes of his poetry seem predictable and almost maudlin—the difficulty of growing older (what I described above as the “rickety-boned” subject matter of Desire, and his life-long love of his wife and man’s desires in general)—Claus’s presentation of these subjects is quite the opposite of sentimentality: the wife and husband as represented in his elegiac poem “Still Now,” for example, battle out their life and love, he “scratching and clawing for her undersized no-man’s-land,” she a “giggling executioner,” beheading him in her “cool glistening wound.” The poem ends with an image of their continuing struggles:

Still now riveted in her fetters and with the bloody nose
of lovers I say, filled with her blossoming spring:
“Death, torture the earth no longer, do not wait, dear death,
for me to come, but do as she does and strike now!”

Again in the poem “His Prayers,” Claus presents the act of loving—something he often portrays in crude and occasionally scatological terms—as a kind of beautiful punishment:

I dreamed I pulled off my eyelashes
and gave them to you, merciful one,
and you blew on them as on a dandelion,
oh, hold back your punishing hand!
……
—I submit
to your pleasure

There is a sense of submission, in fact, in nearly all of Claus’s poems. The world of his Flanders is, in its stench of human misery and flesh, highly unjust: “Do not talk about the natural hygiene of the universe / which justifies death (from “His Notes for ‘Genesis 1.1’”). In one of his most parable-like poems, “Elephant,” Claus spells out this perpetual cycle of love and destruction which ends nearly always in his work in submission and death: meeting an elephant, the narrator and the beast become “good friends,” until one day he catches the animal “giving me a look. / an ice-cold look, a plaice’s look.”

Then I put on my wishing cloak
I donned my wig of cunt-hair
and topped it with my dreaming cap
with circle, stars, and stripes,
and then I recited my formula of murder
from the Catalogue of Changeable Signs
The elephant was an instant corpse.
Without a sigh he fell on his rump
and rumbled, crumbled, tumbled into ash,

But if the world is unjust, its inhabitants are heroes for simply living. The image of the one-legged dance (reminding me of the tradition of Flemish painting) appears again and again in Claus’s poetry. It is the dance itself, as painful and impossible as it is, that redeems the brutal world he evokes. In the poem “Simple” he weaves several of his dominant themes—love, submission, fear, death—together

the two of us dance on just one leg.
When I kneel at your knees
and I bring you to your knees
we are fragments full of pity and danger
for each other.
With chains around their necks
the dogs of love come.

That is not what I might describe as a world of “greetings,” but there is no question that Claus’s vision is of a humane redemption of the sorrow and suffering we all must face.

*I have since discovered on the translator’s website that the poems include the works of Claus’s ik schrijf je neer with the exception of two poems. Irons is indeed the author of the “Pa Poems.” I believe readers would have been better served to know this information and the fact that John Irons has translated a great many other Dutch, Danish, and Swedish and Norwegian poets as well.

Los Angeles, March 10, 2006
Reprinted from The Green Integer Review and Jacket



While reading Claus' novel The Swordfish, I was asked by the British newspaper The Guardian to write an obituary on Hugo Claus. I have included that document below.

On March 19, 2008, Hugo Claus, Belgium’s leading writer, died at Middelheim Hospital in Antwerp at the age of 78; he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and, according to his wife Veerle De Wit, had chosen euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium, as his agent of death. As the head of the Flemish Literature Fund, Greet Ramael, responded: “He chose himself the moment of his death. He left life as the proud man he was.”

Author of hundreds of works, Claus was a major poet, novelist, dramatist, and essayist. Born in Bruges in 1929, he began writing poetry shortly after World War II, joining the group of mostly Dutch poets, often referred as “the Fiftiers.” As a visual artist—Claus was the son of a painter—he was also involved with the international art movement Cobra (taking its name from the first letters of the major cities of its proponents [COpenhagen-BRussels-Amsterdam]).

In English his Selected Poems 1953-1973 was published in Scotland in 1986 and a more recent collection, Greetings, was published by Harcourt in 2005. A large selection of his poetry also appears in the Green Integer volume Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers in 2005.

It is as a novelist, however, that he is best known to the English-speaking audience. His first novel, De Metsiers (The Duck Hunt)—a work inspired by William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying— was published in the US in 1955, and other works, The Swordfish (Peter Owen, 1996) and Desire (Viking-Penguin, 1997), followed. He is perhaps best known, however, for his 1983 masterwork, Het verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium, published by Penguin in 1991 and recently reprinted by the Overlook Press). In the tradition of Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, The Sorrow of Belgium recounts the story of Louis Steynaeve from his time in a Catholic boarding school through World War II. Claus’ clearly autobiographical narrative explores the expressions of the Dutch- and French-speaking Belgians and their various collaborations with the English, French, and Germans. Claus’ intricate insights into the interrelationships of social and governmental corruptions, black market profiteering, revenge, anti-Semitism, and simple stupidity reveal the reasons for complacency and outright acceptance of the Nazis by thousands of his countrymen including Claus’ own early romanticizing of the Germans. As Claus later admitted: “The Germans were disciplined, sang marching songs—they were very exotic enemies. Like Louis, I liked them very much.”

In all his works, Claus tackles difficult subjects, including incest, homosexuality, and what he determined were the detrimental effects of religion. Desire depicts a world of small-time drunkards and gamblers, in particular Michel and Jake, who travel together to Las Vegas in search of excitement; what the two discover in the American desert are the entangled tragedies they have left behind; Michel, we gradually perceive, has abandoned the woman he was to marry, Jake’s daughter Didi, for a homosexual affair with another of the bar denizens, leaving her in mental collapse. Jake, a seemingly jovial and peaceful man, suddenly lashes out in anger, killing a young gay dancer from the Circus Circus chorus.

Claus’ novel The Swordfish recounts the story of a wealthy woman and her son left by her husband in a small, provincial town. Martin, an intense child, who has been converted to religion by a local teacher, sees himself as Jesus bearing the cross to Golgotha, while their drunken hired hand, Richard—a former veterinarian who has been imprisoned for performing unlawful abortions—looks on. Accusations of child abuse and the sexual coupling of the woman, Sibyelle, with a nebbish-like schoolteacher, ends in the brutal murder of Richard’s wife.

In his 1969 play Vrijdag (Friday), Claus explores an incestuous relationship. When George Vermeersch returns from prison, he discovers his wife is having affair with another man. Partially in revenge but also in an attempt at reconciliation, he admits that he has had a sexual relationship with their daughter; the wife, in turn, admits that she had known of the situation without demanding it come to an end, and, as the lover leaves her, the two are left to reconstruct their empty marriage.

For all his seemingly dark and despairing portrayals of Flemish life, however, Claus was a great believer in the human race, recognizing everyone as interconnected and linked; accordingly, any evil or mean act of his figures effects the entire society. The betrayal of anyone is the betrayal of all. As Claus noted in a magazine interview: “We cannot accept the world as it is. Each day we should wake up foaming at the mouth because of the injustice of things.”

Claus was often nominated for the Nobel Prize and is quoted as saying he had given up hope of ever winning. He did, however, receive numerous Belgian and European prizes for his writing, including the Henriëtte Roland Holst prize for his plays (1965), the Constantijn Huygensprize (1979), The Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (the Dutch Literature Prize, 1986), the Libris Literatuurprize (1997), and the Aristeion Prize (1998).

Claus was also a filmmaker, and from 1953 until 1955 he lived in Italy where his lover and, later first wife, Elly Overzier acted in films. Overzier bore Claus his first son, Thomas in 1963. In the early 1970s Claus had an affair with Sylvia Kristel, the star of the Emanuelle erotic films; their son Arthur was born in 1975. Claus married his second wife, Veerle De Wit, in 1993.

Often described as a “contrarian,” Claus was a writer one might describe as both traditional and experimental, often blending the two to produce powerful messages that, for sympathetic readers, could not be ignored. And in that sense Claus’s canvas was, as he describes it in his poem “A Woman: 14,” a “landscape of anger”:

Don’t run from me (lame humans)
Meet me, feel me,
Crease and break, break,

As Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said of Claus, he was the Dutch-speaking world’s “greatest writer.”

--Douglas Messerli

Los Angeles, April 13, 2008
Reprinted in different form from The Guardian, Friday, May 2, 2008.

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