Friday, September 16, 2011


Maurice Gilliams was born in Antwerp in 1900, the son of a Flemish printer and a French-speaking mother. Though he grew up bilingual in French and Dutch, he chose Dutch as the primary language of his poetry. He wrote only sixty-eight poems. He died in 1982. I have not read any of Gilliams' poems until a friend posted "Herfst" on his Facebook page today.
Het is een land van grijsaards na de zomer,
hier geeuwt de heide in haar gal van zonde;
het bruin der eiken heeft de geur van honden,
het dorp gloeit in zijn klokken van oktober.

De honing druipt vermoeid in aarden potten
waaraan de handen zich getroost verenen;
en eenzaam duurt ’t gemaal der molenstenen,
’t kasteel staat in zijn grachten te verrotten.

Sterfbedden blinken van het goud der vaderen,
’t is avond en de zonen zien het wonder:
’t geboortehuis dompelt in nevel onder
en jeugd en lief en ’t ál zijn niet te naderen.

© 1936, Vita Brevis Foundation From: Verzamelde gedichten Publisher: Meulenhoff, Amsterdam, 1993
After the summer it is an old men’s land,
here yawns the heath in its vicious gall;
the brown of oaks smells of dogs,
the village glows in its October bells.

The honey drips wearily in earthenware pots
at which hands unite for consolation;
and lonely last the millstones’ revolutions,
the castle stands in its moat and rots.

Deathbeds gleam with the gold of the fathers,
it’s evening and the sons see the wonder:
their birthplace submerged in mist, and yonder,
youth and love and everything still farther.

© Translation: 2006, Marian de Vooght & Green Integer From: The Bottle at Sea: Complete poems and Journal Fragments Publisher: Green Integer, Los Angeles, 2006 ISBN: 1892295385
Generally, Gilliams’ mode is simple — even when grand and archaic, precise, and solemn. The early poems in particular are influenced by Expressionist painting in their colourful images that project a feeling of being torn between vitality and nostalgia. Many of Gilliams’ poems are determined by what was lost, was never had, or came too late: youth, parents, love, a child, a dream of perfection. The background often recalls the Flemish countryside which in the poet’s imagination becomes a barren wasteland, a site of melancholy and desertedness. In other poems, the urban environment of Antwerp is present as a location of death and decay. The later poems highlight the theme of fruitlessness — in life and in poetry. Yet there is an existentialist kind of acceptance, a toughness when facing an inescapable fate.

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