Bernard Dewulf: Dido's Lament (From Dutch)

While I was leafing through some Dutch and Belgian poetry anthologies a friend had given me as a gift, Bernard Dewulf's poems caught my eye. He has a fine-tuned sense of the connotative power not just of individual words and their sounds, but of his language's syntax, semantics and even morphology. This makes translating him a hell of an experience.

Dido's Lament1
By Bernard Dewulf
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Dutch
Click to hear me recite this translation in English

Time is done with us.
This very night it will drive me to dawn
In another land. New daybreak there will wake me
Up at an unfathomable window.

No one is ever made for someone. Sometimes
We get knotted in the lamentation of a counterheart.
And isn't every moment, as you said, at every moment
Ready for everyone's infinity?

Infinity is over now. I want my time
And my good times. It moves our timepiece heart apace
As it fails truly for some twenty lovely lines-
But, in the mirror, it just fails you to your face.

I'm going now, dear neverman of mine. I'm of this side.
I am wrought of woman.
I hold you dear.
I hold you, dear, alone; it's how we breathe.

My new land will wash me in its streaming waters,
Rock me in its tidy beds, conceive me in its language.
I'll make a thousand pictures of you there
And your emptiness will bore and bore me as I stare.


1- Dido, queen of Carthage is a character in Virgil's Aeneid. She and the protagonist Aeneas fall in love, but the gods convince Aeneas to continue on his journey to Italy. After he resolves to depart, the jilted Dido builds a pyre to burn everything that reminds her of Aeneas. Then, when she sees his fleet leave, Dido curses his name, climbs onto the pyre, and kills herself with a sword Aeneas had given her as a gift. When Aeneas encounters her again in the underworld, she won't even give him the time of day.

Many thanks to: Maartje Wenting for explaining the effect of Dewulf's coinages, and to Hassan for saving me from a blunder.

The Original:

Dido's Klacht
Bernard Dewulf

De tijd is met ons klaar.
Vannacht nog rijdt hij mij de dageraad in
van een ander land. De nieuwe ochtend zal mij wekken
aan een onbegrijpelijk raam.

Niemand is voor iemand ooit gemaakt. Soms
raken wij verstrikt in het lamento van een tegenziel.
En is niet, zei je, elk moment op elk moment
bereid tot iedereens oneindigheid?

De oneindigheid is nu gedaan. Ik wil mijn tijd
en mijn geluk. Het kan ons tijdelijk hart bewegen
als het twintig mooie regels lang mislukt.
Maar in de spiegel valt het lelijk tegen.

Ik ga nu, man van mij van nooit. Ik ben van deze kant.
Ik ben van vrouw gemaakt.
Ik heb je lief.
Ik heb je lief alleen, zo ademen wij.

Mijn nieuwe land zal mij in stromend water wassen,
mij wiegen in zijn nette bedden, bedenken in zijn taal.
Ik zal er duizend fotos van je maken
en kijkend zal ik op je leegte uitgekeken raken.


  1. Other than an erroneous detail in your commentary, excellent translation."

    "She and the protagonist Aeneas fall in love and conduct an affair behind her husband Sychaeus' back"

  2. *noddnodd* You're right. I had conflated Sychaeus and Larbas.


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