Afsluitdijk

De bus rijdt als een kamer door de nacht
de weg is recht, de dijk is eindeloos,
links ligt de zee, getemd maar rusteloos,
wij kijken uit, een kleine maan schijnt zacht.

Vóór mij de jonge pas–geschoren nekken
van twee matrozen, die bedwongen gapen
en later, na een kort en lenig rekken,
onschuldig op elkanders schouder slapen.

Dan zie ik plots, als waar 't een droom, in 't glas
ijl en doorzichtig aan de onze vastgeklonken,
soms duidelijk als wij, dan weer in zee verdronken
de geest van deze bus; het gras
snijdt dwars door de matrozen heen.
Daar zie ik ook mezelf. Alleen
mijn hoofd deint boven het watervlak,
beweegt de mond als sprak
het, een verbaasde zeemeermin.
Er is geen einde en geen begin
aan deze tocht, geen toekomst, geen verleden,
alleen dit wonderlijk gespleten lange heden.

Vasalis (1909-1998)
Uit: Verzamelde Gedichten,
Van Oorschot,
Amsterdam, 2002
In her poem Afsluitdijk, Vasalis takes William Blake’s precept to heart about seeing the world in a grain of sand. Set in the mundane and tedious environment of a bus, on a journey seemingly without end, Vasalis’s poem opens up into a meditation on the self and the strange otherworldliness of the moment, of existence itself.

The poem begins conventionally with two quatrains to set the mood, the long journey, the two sailors, demonstrably making their presence felt, but thereafter falling asleep as sweet as a pair of kittens: the everyday contrasted with the big abstractions of ‘endless’ and ‘restless’.

When the third verse begins ‘Then all at once’, we perhaps expect the denouement of the conventional sonnet. But the verse opens up wonderfully with an extra six lines, which formally enact the reflection in the glass that leads to Vasalis’s ethereal ‘extended present – strangely split’.

The rhyme falls away; the tone and sense of wonder are everything. David Colmer captures this best; Myra Scholzīs translation is a worthy second.

The line: ‘Daar zie ik mezelf. Alleen’ with its double meaning of only/alone has not been translated. Perhaps it’s better left alone.

Paul Evans
For the jury.
The IJsselmeer Dam

The bus drives through the darkness like a room,
the narrow road is straight, the dam is endless,
the sea is on the left, subdued but restless,
we look out, a smallish moon relieves the gloom.

In front of me, the freshly–shaven necks
of two young sailors, who smother one yawn, then another
and later, after a quick and limber stretch,
sleep innocently leaning on each other.

Then all at once, as if it’s a dream, I see in the glass
the thin, transparent gleam of a bus that’s wed to ours,
sometimes as clear as us, then underwater, drowned;
the clumps of roadside grass
cut through the sleeping seamen.
I see myself as well, my features
floating over the surface
of the sea, an astonished mermaid;
lips move as if to say,
There is no tomorrow, no yesterday,
no start or end to this long trip,
just one extended present – strangely split.

Translation: © David Colmer, 2011
Barrier Dike

The bus rides like a warm room through the night
the road is straight, the dike beneath it endless,
there on our left the sea lies tamed but restless,
we look outside, a small moon sheds soft light.

In front of me two young fresh–shaven necks
of yawning sailors, who a little further
on lithely stretch a moment, then relax
in child–like sleep, each leaning on the other.

Suddenly, as in a dream, I see
translucent in the glass and riveted to us,
at times as clear as we are, then submerged in sea
the fleeting spectre of this bus;
grass cuts right through the sailors. Just
my head I see there, thrust
above the rise and fall of waves,
mouth moving like a shy mermaid’s
in startled exclamation.
With no departure point, no destination,
with neither past nor future we are on our way
in this so strangely split, so very long today.

Translation: © Myra Scholz, 2011
Endless Dike

Like a room the bus rolls through the night
the road ahead is straight, the dike is endless
on our left the sea, subdued but restless
outside it’s dark, a small moon sheds some light.

In front of me, the freshly shaven neck
of two young sailors, who then supply stretch,
and yawn restrained, only next to catch
another nap, leaning innocently back to back.

Suddenly I discern, lest I dream, in the glass,
welded to ours, glinting lucidly,
now clear as us, then drowned in the sea
the ghost of this bus; the grass
cuts the sailors in two.
Then I spot myself, askew:
my head bobs above the water plane,
moves its lips so as to feign
a word, a mermaid somehow amiss.
There is no beginning, no end to this
strange journey, no future, no past,
just this split second ever to last.

Translation: © Jos Welie, 2011
IJSSELMEER DAM

The bus is driving, room–like, through the night
the road is straight, the dyke appears endless
left of us the sea, tamed but ever restless,
outside we see a small moon’s gentle light.

In front of me, necks newly–shaved, a couple
of young sailors stifle yawns and fight to keep
awake, then each, after stretches brief and supple,
rests on his mate’s shoulder in guiltless sleep.

All at once I see, like a dream in the glass,
rarefied and fixed to our own transparently,
now as clear as us, now engulfed by the sea,
the ghost shape of this bus; the grass
slices the sailors clean in two.
Then I myself come into view.
But my head bobs over the top of the waves,
the mouth mimes speech, behaves
like a startled mermaid, aghast.
There is no first and there is no last
on this ride, no future, no past to it,
only this enduring present that’s so strangely split.

Translation: © Paul Vincent, 2011
Enclosure Dam

The bus is driving room–like through the night,
the dike is straight, interminably long,
at left the sea, tamed but still going strong;
we look about: a small moon softly bright.

In front of me the napes in proper trim
of two young sailors, yawning guardedly,
who, after briefly stretching, loose of limb,
sleep on each other’s shoulders, artlessly.

Then suddenly, as in a dream, I see
ethereal, clinched to ours and limpid through the glass,
now clear as we are, then again drowned in the sea,
the spirit of the bus; the grass
is cutting right through the two sailors now.
I see myself there too. And how
just bobbing on the surface is my head
moving my mouth as if it said
a word or two, a mermaid much in awe.
There’s no beginning and no ending for
this trip, no future and no past to it,
just this protracted present marvelously split.

Translation: © Peter Verstegen, 2011
Between Provinces

The bus moves like a lit room through the night
the road is straight, the dike is endless,
to our left, the sea lies tamed but restless,
we look outside, a small moon casts soft light.

In front of me, the newly shaven napes
of two young sailors who supress their yawns
and later, stretching briefly, loose as apes,
nod off against each other and are gone.

Then I observe, sudden and dream–like, in the glass
wan and transparent where the dark should be,
sometimes as clear as us, then drowned inside the sea
the spirit of this bus; the grass
cuts through the sailors as through space.
I see myself there, too. My face
sways above the surface of the deep,
an astonished mermaid, its mouth keeps
moving as if in speech.
There is no beginning, no end to reach
on this journey, nothing is past or imminent,
only this wondrous divided lengthy present.

Translation: © Sadiqa de Meijer, 2011
IJsselmeer Dam

The bus moves like a room through the night
The road is straight, the dam is without end
Sea to our left, choppy but it’s will bent,
We look out, by a small moon’s gentle light.

In front of me recently shaven necks
Of two young sailers, their yawns repressed
Before, after a supple stretching of their backs,
They sleep and on each other’s shoulder rest.

Suddenly dreamlike, I see in the glass
Thin and transparant fastened to our side,
Now and then clear, or under waves to hide
The spectre of this bus; the grass
Bisects the sailors in one blurry thrust.
There too I see myself. Just
My head rolling on the waves’ tips,
And like speaking the lips
Move, a mermaid in amazement.
There’s no beginning and no end
To this journey, no morrow, no last night,
Just this present’s bizarre and long divide.

Translation: © Rob Oostenrijk, 2011
IJsselmeer Dam

The coach drives like a roomful through the night –
the road is straight, the dam an endless wedge,
sea on the left, subdued but still on edge,
we’re looking out, a small moon shines its light.

Young necks in front of me, both newly shorn –
Two sailors’, who now lithely stretch loose limbs
a little after smothering a yawn,
then share their shoulders sleeping, free of sins.

Then all at once I see it, dreamlike in the glass,
transparent, wispy, inextricably to ours bound,
at times as plain as ours, and then submerged and drowned:
the ghost of our coach, the grass
cuts through the sailors, straight and clean.
And there I see myself. I mean,
my head is bobbing over the sea,
my mouth now seems to say to me:
this mermaid does not comprehend.
There’s no beginning and no end
to this coach trip, no future and no past,
there’s only now, so oddly split and made to last.

Translation: © Erik Honders, 2011
Causeway

The bus is a room that moves through the night
on this straight road, this endless causeway.
To the left the sea, tamed yet restless.
Outside, the new moon, still timid.

I sit behind young necks, two sailors, hairlines
freshly shorn. They hide a yawn and stretch,
their movements lithe until, childlike,
they fall asleep, heads touching.

A dream: reflected in the window
the soul of this room, limpid, translucent
and linked to ours, sometimes as tangible,
sometimes drowning. Grass cuts through the boys.

I also see myself there, head floating
on water, my mouth moving as in speech.
I am a startled mermaid.

This journey has no beginning and no end,
no future and no past, only this moment,
so curious, severed, abiding.

Translation: © Elsa Fischer, 2011
On the Dyke

The bus moves like a room across the night
the road is straight, the dyke is without close,
the sea is to our left, tamed but without repose,
we’re looking out, a small moon softly bright.

In front of me the young napes newly–trimmed
belonging to two sailors trying to smother
their yawns, who after stretching briefly and loose–limbed,
each sleep unguarded on the shoulder of the other.

Then I see suddenly, as dreamlike, in the glass
thin and transparent, to ours closely bound,
at times clear as ourselves, then lost at sea and drowned
the bus’s ghost; the grass
right through the sailors has been thrust.
There too I see myself. Where just
my head afloat upon the water’s surface lies,
moving the mouth as if intending
an act of speech, a mermaid in surprise.
There is no origin, no ending,
no future and no history to our way,
but just this strangely split and long today.

Translation: © Em Angevaare, 2011
Afsluitdike

The bus coasts like a chamber though the night
along the unswerving, interminable dike.
At left the mere, restrained, uneasily–like,
outside, a small moon shedding gentle light.

Two sailors, shaven–necked, yawn wearily
before me; stretch youthful limbs and quite soon doze
like children, draped so easily
Upon each others shoulders in repose.

Then suddenly, dreamlike, in the window glass,
swiftly, transparently affixed to ours,
now very clear, now plunged into the sea –
the ghost of this same bus; the grass
cuts through the sailors and
I see myself. Only
my head is bobbing on the water,
mouth moving as in speech,
a startled mermaid.
There is no end, nor any outset
to this journey, no future and no past
just this amazing splitting of the present vast.

Translation: © Margaret Skutsch, 2011
Causeway

Just like a room, the bus drives through the night,
the road is straight, the dike, it has no end,
the sea lies left in tamed yet restless blend,
we’re looking out, in minor moonshine’s light.

In front of me two young necks, newly–shaven,
two sailors with a yawning that is stifled,
who later find each other’s shoulder’s haven,
on short and pliant stretching, sleep comes trifled.

Then suddenly, as in a dream, in glass,
pale and transparent, onto our one firmly bound,
at times as clear as we, and then in sea coast drowned,
I see the bus’s ghost, the grass
cuts crosswise through the sailors’ trust,
Then I can see myself with just
my head at which the water’s peaking
the mouth moves as if speaking,
just like a mermaid would pretend.
There’s no beginning and no end
to such a trip, no future, and no past,
it’s just this strangely split to–day that’s going to last.

Translation: © Andreas Grün, 2011
Zuiderzee Dam

The bus plies like a room into the night
the road is arrow–straight, the dyke is endless
the sea lies on the left, now tamed but restless,
we’re looking out, a crescent moon sheds light.

In front of me the necks of two young sailors
new–shaved, who strive to keep their yawns at bay,
then later, a lithe stretch of limbs and they
sleep childlike, snug on each other’s shoulders.

Then as in a dream I see beside me,
vague and transparent riveted to us,
as clear as ours or plunging in the sea,
the ghostly presence of this bus;
the grass slices its way right through
the sailors. I can see myself there too.
My head bobbing on the swell
moving the mouth as if to tell
a tale, a startled mermaid calling.
This journey has no end and no beginning,
no future and no past only this
long present, split, mysterious.

Translation: © Maureen O'Toole, 2011
Abschlussdeich

Der Bus fährt wie ein Zimmer durch die Nacht.
Unendlich grade läuft der Streifen Land,
die See gezähmt, doch rastlos linker hand,
wir schau’n hinaus, ein kleiner Mond scheint sacht.

Vor mir die jungen, frisch rasierten Nacken
von zwei Matrosen, die verhalten gähnen,
sich kurz und biegsam strecken, dann zum Knacken
unschuldig an des andren Schulter lehnen.

Dann seh ich plötzlich wie im Traum im Glas
dünn und durchsichtig an den unsren angebunden,
mal deutlich so wie wir, mal in das Meer entschwunden,
den Geist von diesem Bus; das Gras
geht quer durch die Matrosen her.
Dann seh ich auch mich selbst. Nurmehr
mein Kopf wogt auf der Wasserfläche,
bewegt den Mund, als spreche
eine erstaunte Meerjungfrau.
Nicht Vorwärts- und nicht Rückwärtsschau,
kein Ende, keinen Anfang hat die Reise,
nur dieses lange Heute samt der Schneise.

Translation: © Andreas Grün, 2011