The Mother the Woman (Poem by Martinus Nijhoff)

The Mother the Woman (Poem by Martinus Nijhoff)

Martinus Nijhoff (1894-1953) was a celebrated poet, playwright, essayist and translator. Probably his best-known poem is ‘The Mother the Woman’ (De Moeder de vrouw), written in 1934.

We published this exclusive translation of Nijhoff’s poem in Issue 7 of Dutch the magazine.

The Mother the Woman

I went to Bommel, to see the bridge. I did.
The new one. Facing banks that seemed before
to shun each other will henceforth once more
be neighbors. Ten minutes or so I lay amid
the grass, drank tea, vast scenery around
me filled my head – then clear out of the blue
from somewhere hidden in the boundless view
a voice arose that made my ears resound.
It was a woman. Singlehandedly
she steered a barge, that drifted down the river.
It passed the bridge, and all alone stood she.
Psalms, I heard her sing. And with a shiver
I thought, oh were that Mother, whom I see!
Praise God, she sang. His hand will thee deliver.


The bridge in the poem was a road bridge, built in 1933. It was decommissioned in 1996 and torn down in 2007. The new bridge that replaces it, is named for Martinus Nijhoff. Both bridges, plus a third one, a rail bridge dating to 1869 which is still in use, can be seen in the picture.

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