‘Early Dutch Poetry’

Peter Morris describes his journey to self-publishing his Dutch poetry book.

My first job – when fourteen – was house-painting in the summer holidays for two shillings and ten pence per hour. Later I became anaesthetist, which like house-painting, has long periods when the grey cells and the white cells, have nothing much to do and require diversion.

You can try to annoy the surgeon. ‘ This is a hysteroscopy is it? I thought by the time you were taking it must be a hysterectomy?’ But if he only wishes to talk about some golf tournament – where the stake is ten guilders, though you would think it was  Fort  Knox  – then you leave Anneke, his registrar, to supply the audience.

She is applying for jobs and so – needing a good reference – is happy to insert tinkling little laughs at the correct intervals.

The surgeon is happy.

The rest of us though are stuck. Was it Robinson Crusoe, who drew a face on a coconut for company?

So in Amsterdam in 1979 , during a long and tedious operation, I opened by chance an anthology of early Dutch poetry. I was struck by the simplicity and straightforwardness of both the topics and their execution. English poetry is usually far more figurative or circuitous and often needs quite a bit of unpicking.

These verses too it appeared, could easily and neatly be translated into English and so without any prior intent, I found myself filling my spare time absorbed in this task.

Recently, I came across them and decided that they merited being published. In part this was because they fill a seeming gap in the market, but also since they are colourful, energetic and readable, they should appeal to almost everyone. This is not a book intended for high- brow literary connoisseurs or academics.

Despite their antiquity, these verses still encompass the human and universal qualities which we recognise today. The variety of subjects includes; love, epitaph, ballad, historical event, wry humour, devious dealings and devotional pieces.

This slim book is then, I believe, an attractive and engaging read which touches on many of life’s enduring conundrums, whilst giving also a glimpse into the thoughts and attitudes of both merchants and peasants in the Low Countries in the period 1200 to 1650.

Peter Morris.

‘Early Dutch Poetry and Other Verse’ can be purchased here.

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