My dearest friends in the Netherlands know it and a few even understand it. Most of my Bhutanese and Nepali friends do either not know it and when they do they certainly do not understand it. The fact that I do not want to live (or die) in the Netherlands, the land I was born and raised and have lived for almost all my life.
Jan Jacob Slauerhoff
Many years ago a great Dutch novelist and poet wrote a poem explaining his feelings. His name was Jan Jacob Slauerhoff (1898-1936). A writer who studied medicine, became doctor and started writing. He later enlisted as ships surgeon at a Dutch boat company and made many journeys to the far east. He’d seen China, Japan, Hong Kong and the Dutch Indies (now Indonesia) many times. His confrontation with Asia changed his life to the extend that he in the end detested the land he was born and raised in. Much the same like me at this point in my life. He returned to the Netherlands, went to South America, returned again. To Italy, to Tangier, to South Africa. He got malaria and tuberculosis and returned to the Netherlands in stead of Italy again and died in a nursing home in a small town in the middle of the country at the early age of 38 years. And although he had desired a seamans grave he was cremated at a cemetary where many literarians were either cremated or buried. Jan Jacob Slauerhoff was one of the last true Dutch literary bohemians and was for many years an inspiration for me in both work and life. He still is now I am slowly becoming yet another bohemienne who is detached from her motherland.
When people read and understand his poem ‘I don’t want to live in the Netherlands’ they might very well understand me. So here it is in English translation. Or at least my attempt to that which is by no means easy to do. Underneath the English version one can read the Dutch version which is extremely poetic and intense and shows the feelings of someone touched by travel to the far east and observing the ignorance and stupidity in the Netherlands. If I would have had the talent to write like him it could have been my poem. The rhyme didn’t survive translation, the intentions and intense feelings however did. After all I might be a novelist and a poet but I am from another time and another quality. I wish I would have been able to talk with him sometime.
In the Netherlands I do not want to live,
One has to constantly fulfill ones desires there,
Because of the neighbours,
Who eagerly peep through every hole.
I’d rather go living in the steppe,
Where one is not hindered by his next of kin:
For the crying of my lusts no heron will hasten itself,
No fox will accelerate its pace.
In the Netherlands I do not want to die,
and putrify in wet soil,
On which one never has lived.
I’d rather wander aching
And end up with the nomads.
My compatriots mock me: “He is a failure.”
Yes, that I could not damage them (any)more,
Has in liberty dejected me too often.
In the Netherlands I do not want to live
One always has to strive for something,
Think of the well being of ones fellow-creature,
Only in hiding one is allowed to affront.
But not thrash a face so it clatters,
Just because I don’t like that feature.
Abuse someone without a reason
Testifiess of loose morale.
I do not want to live in narrow houses.
That have thrown uglyness in towns and villages
by the thousands…
There they all walk with a stiff collar
– Not from style, but to show off
That one knows how it should be –
On Sundays to greet each other
Through streets in black parades.
In the Netherlands I do not want to stay,
I would grow fat and stiffen up.
It is too calm there for me, too dignified,
One speaks slowly there, never gets vehement,
And never dances on the feeble rope.
But the defenceless are tormented,
Never is such a lumpish farmers head decapitated,
And never, no never happens a great crime of passion.
J.J. Slauerhoff – translation Alice Verheij © 2012
In Nederland wil ik niet leven,
Men moet er steeds zijn lusten reven,
Ter wille van de goede buren,
Die gretig door elk gaatje gluren.
‘k Ga liever leven in de steppen,
Waar men geen last heeft van zijn naasten:
Om ‘t krijschen van mijn lust zal zich geen reiger reppen,
Geen vos zijn tred verhaasten.
In Nederland wil ik niet sterven,
En in de natte grond bederven
Waarop men nimmer heeft geleefd.
Dan blijf ik liever hunkrend zwerven
En kom terecht bij de nomaden.
Mijn landgenooten smaden mij: ,,Hij is mislukt.”
Ja, dat ik hen niet meer kon schaden,
Heeft mij in vrijheid nog te vaak bedrukt.
In Nederland wil ik niet leven,
Men moet er altijd naar iets streven,
Om ‘t welzijn van zijn medemenschen denken.
In het geniep slechts mag men krenken,
Maar niet een facie ranslen dat het knalt,
Alleen omdat die trek mij niet bevalt.
Iemand mishandlen zonder reden
Getuigt van tuchtelooze zeden.
Ik wil niet in die smalle huizen wonen.
Die leelijkheid in steden en in dorpen
Bij duizendtallen heeft geworpen…
Daar loopen allen met een stijve boord
– Uit stijlgevoel niet, om te toonen
Dat men wel weet hoe het behoort –
Des Zondags om elkaar te groeten
De straten door in zwarte stoeten.
In Nederland wil ik niet blijven,
Ik zou dichtgroeien en verstijven.
Het gaat mij daar te kalm, te deftig,
Men spreekt er langzaam, wordt nooit heftig,
En danst nooit op het slappe koord.
Wel worden weerloozen gekweld,
Nooit wordt zoo’n plompe boerenkop gesneld,
En nooit, neen nooit gebeurt een mooie passiemoord.