Leonard Nolens: Poem for a Friend (from Dutch)

Poem for a Friend
By Leonard Nolens
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Go and take me. Take me up
In the supple patterning of tides a-coming and going.

Hold me. Hold me out
Into that singing totality to join the gusting stars,
The leaves in the wind, all manner of folk
And seaward waters.


Then in this tenderness-filled void, the heart
Of my second birth shall be heard to beat.


Then I shall be well-numbered and well-spoken by many
Through you and by you in manifold lives.

Then I shall have one foot at home everywhere, my friend.

The Original:

Gedicht voor een vriend

Ga weg.
Ga weg en neem mij. Neem mij op
In dat soepel stramien van de komende gaande getijden.

Grijp mij. Grijp mij aan
In dat zingend geheel en vergaderd met waaiende sterren
En bladeren, mensen van allerlei slag
En het trekkende water aan zee.

Ga weg.

Dan zal in deze liefdevolle leegte hoorbaar kloppen
Het hart van mijn tweede geboorte.

Ga weg.

Dan word ik bespraakt en benummerd door velen
In jou en door jou in een veelheid van levens.

Dan heb ik overal een voet in huis, mijn vriend.

Notes on the Dutch:

Stramien was originally the word for "catgut". From there it came to refer to any sort of coarsely-woven cloth used as a foundation for embroidery. In modern Dutch, it has come to mean a fixed pattern either in space (grid, mould) or in time or personality (routine, habitus.) E.g. het zal volgens een bepaald stramien gaan "It'll follow a pre-set pattern", ik moet uit dat stramien ontstappen "I've got to break out of this routine." The word soepel "supple, willowy, flexible, smooth" is one associated with textile properties, which revives the earlier fabric sense of stramien. Soepel, however, can also be used in a semantically extended sense to refer to non-physical patterns (somewhat as the term "elastic" can be in English.)

 The komende gaande getijde "coming going tides" contains wordplay as well. Getijd "tide" is linked to tijd "time." The whole phrase also riffs loosely on a common Dutch idiom er is een tijd van komen en er is een tijd van gaan "there is a time to come and a time to go", used sometimes to mean "there is a time to all things, all things come to an end" but also more colloquially in the sense "well, I best be going now, it's getting time" to make ones excuses without needing to go into overmuch detail. (Sometimes extended with a phrase of the sort en de tijd van gaan is nu gekomen "and the time to go has now come")

Liefdevol literally means "affectionate", but morpheme-by-morpheme it equates to "love-full." The "full" part of it is made salient by being followed by leegte "void, emptiness."

This entire line is structurally atypical. The non-finite verbal forms are shifted from their normal final position to the very beginning of a long verb-phrase. Bespraakt "well-spoken, eloquent" is normally an adjective in modern Dutch, whereas the syntax leads the reader to expect a participle like besproken  "discussed, talked about." 


  1. Bravo again. Beautiful rendition. I am using a text of his for a vocal piece. He recently brought out his autobiography. He is an excellent Flemish writer and not Dutch. (Watch out and check the news about Belgium!) Your translation gives the right feeling of the poem. Note: The heart will not only "beat" but will be heard beating: "zal...hoorbaar kloppen." Loving (affectionate?) void ipv love-fed void...

  2. Hi there, love your blog. I´m a Dutch girl and I noticed there´s a ´v´ missing in the original title just above the author, I think it's a typing error.

    Gedicht oor = voor een vriend

    Keep up the good work, very interesting things your doing.

    Kind regards!

  3. Argh, that would be "you're doing" (it's getting late)


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