Jan J. Slauerhoff: Homeless (From Dutch)

By J.J. Slauerhoff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Dutch

Only in my poems can I make my home.
I have found shelter in no other form.
There is no hearth I've pined for as my own.
A tent could be uprooted in the storm.

Only in my poems can I make my home.
While I still know that I can find those doors
In wilderness, in woods, on streets or moors,
I have no care, wherever I may roam.

Long though it be, the time shall surely come
When before eve my old powers lose their spark
And beg in vain for tender words of old
That I once built with, and the earth must fold
Me to my rest as I bow to the cold
Space where my grave bursts open in the dark.

Many thanks to: Maartje Wenting, Ferida Jawad, Lucienne Schaffer and Lotta DeGroot for being helpful native speakers- and to Leon for a welcome fresh eye.

The Original:


Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen,
Nooit vond ik ergens anders onderdak;
Voor de eigen haard gevoelde ik nooit een zwak,
Een tent werd door den stormwind meegenomen.

Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen.
Zoolang ik weet dat ik in wildernis,
In steppen, stad en woud dat onderkomen
Kan vinden, deert mij geen bekommernis.

Het zal lang duren, maar de tijd zal komen
Dat vóór den nacht mij de oude kracht ontbreekt
En tevergeefs om zachte woorden smeekt,
Waarmee ’k weleer kon bouwen, en de aarde
Mij bergen moet en ik mij neerbuig naar de
Plek waar mijn graf in ’t donker openbreekt.


  1. Continue please. You're translation is gorgeous. I've lived for 35 years in Holland and this is my favorite Dutch writer. His novels are amazing: Forbidden Realm (Kingdom) is mind-blowing. Revolt in Gudalajara, about a mirror-maker who is declared Messiah is my favorite. Truly unique writer with horrendous life.

  2. thank you for the translation of the poem... I chanced upon his poetry while listening to Cristina Blanco O Describidor...I did not understand the Dutch...but reading about his life the sea voyages and the east...and this poem...I see that he is like me...in love with the sea...the east...and has no home regards Chris Robinson chrisrobinson45@gmail.com

  3. Have you translated 'Woninglooze'? I couldn't see it on your website. I've looked at two translations so far, and they each have positive and negative aspects. My question about both of them is: Has too much, in terms of both language and meaning, been sacrificed to keep the rhyme? I am a Dutch-English bilingual, living in Australia, and I have translated a number of poems, including my own.

  4. I’d rather see some more Dewulf stuff to be honest. I had overlooked his poems in my anthology of Dutch poetry. So I thank you for making me discover him :)

    As for Slauerhoff, he is easily one of the most overrated poets out there. All that keeps this guy’s bubble reputation afloat is his vaguely fascinating biography and the same mawkish romanticism that he just couldn’t get enough of and that some people apparently like.

    This work is no different from his usual crap, but - regardless - I think your translation is pretty decent. As a native Dutch speaker I think you do capture the essence or “sentiment” of the original poem. In terms of sticking to the original, I see no real objections to your translations of the first quatrain and the sestet. In lines 6-8, however, you seem to veer quite far from the Dutch, which reads something like: “As long as I know that I can find that home/ shelter [whether I am] in the wilderness, steppes, city or forest, I am not beset by worries/ sorrow”. If you want to improve the translation, this seems to me to be the weakest part.

    At any rate, Paul Vincent’s attempt is a lot worse. Maybe he does translate the octave somewhat more literally, but as an English text it’s clearly less good and things like “could I a shelter find” and “desert bare” are just laughable. Nowhere does the rather natural and modern* sounding Dutch warrant this kind of bullshit language. On top of that his sestet is plain weak.

    *especially compared with Slauerhoff’s contemporaries

  5. Hah thank you. And thank you for giving extra kick I needed to fix the octave.

    You're right that Slauerhoff is overrated in general. But I think you're underselling this particular poem. It's actually not very romantic or mawkish at all. The romantic (and more general poetick) cliché would be to say that one will live in oen's poems after corporeal death (c.f. Horace's ode 3.30.) In the octave, Slauerhoff seems to be affirming and perpetuating that cliché. But in the sestet he subverts it: poetry is no more a refuge than any other. Talents can, and bodies do, die in the end. And a poet's death is no more dignified than anyone else's.

    This kind of antiromanticism is definitely not mawkish.

    However, I think that most of Slauerhoff's work (especially his best-known work) is pretty overrated. Much of it is pretty well-wrought. Take this short understated poem:

    Dame Seule

    Zij voelt zich onder 't donker van de boomen
    Zoo eenzaam, dat zij zelf haar schouder liefkoost.
    Haar handje, met de ronding ingenomen,
    Die over 't zomerkleed is bloot gekomen,
    Daalt af, dwaalt af; zij richt zich op en bloost,
    Gaat dan weer voort een kleedingstuk te zoomen.

  6. This new version is definitely better. The second quatrain is a lot closer to the Dutch now and I see you’ve also cleaned up the meter of the second line and some other things. You have my approval :)

    I meant the mawkish romanticism about his poetry in general. It’s less present here, but it’s there. Not really in the theme, but in his portrayal of himself in the octave as a restless soul who roams the earth and can’t find constancy anywhere (except in his work). Obviously that does score high on the romantic cliché-scale, where Ronsard, Horace and Shakespeare don’t, because at least their souls managed to remain sedentary while waiting for their resurrection in verse. In other poems Slauerhoff has sailed around the globe and concludes he’ll only find peace in death. The man takes the worst facets of Novalis’ death drive poetry and adds everyone’s stereotypes about pirates, sailors and oriental civilizations on distant shores. And what you end up with, apparently, is a well-known poet. Only in Dutch literature… sigh.

    His twist on the old “Exegi monumentum” is indeed harsh and gritty and the sestet is pretty nice. The idea of “some part of me will never die” is silly, meaningless and obviously eventually untrue. So I guess you could laud Slauerhoff for his take on that, yet that doesn’t save the poem in my mind. There are other objections. The fourth line for instance is a weird interruption of the course of poem. But more importantly I get the impression that it was Slauerhoff’s understanding that poetry should at all times be scannable to the beat of a drum. Overall he seems a slave to his iambic pentameters. There are some minor deviations from the meter, mainly in lines 2 and 14, but the simplistic beat is never broken strongly enough to my ears. To me this is an unwelcome step back in time, since sonneteers of the preceding generation (poets like Jacob Israël de Haan and Dèr Mouw) had used rhythm in a much more interesting way.

    About Dame Seule, I remember laughing and thinking it was a pervy male fantasy, when I read it for the first time, a couple of years ago. But rereading it now, I admit it’s quite good. Nice structure and it sounds lovely too, well-wrought indeed. The cliché is definitely lurking (because it is a male fantasy), but it might be reined in just enough for the poem to shine; a well-cut gem in endless heaps of dung perhaps.

  7. I don't see where you're getting the impression that Slauerhoff is in any way welcoming death in the poem like Novalis in Hymnen an die Nacht. Expressions like "tevergeefs" and "de kracht ontbreekt" suggest anything but. Now, I'm far from a native speaker, but it seems that the verb "neerbuigen" connotes an acceptance of death's sovereignty, rather than an eager fetishization of it.

    As for the stereotypes of life at sea and the far east, maybe I haven't read the right works of his, but his poetry seems to have a rather original slant on those two subjects. Take his poem "Afrikaansche Elegie," (here's a link to it) which is a pretty damn gritty and very un-classical portrait of white colonialism. And it handles heroic couplets pretty well too. As for life at sea, I'd point to his sonnet entitled "Outcast".