Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962) is generally considered one of the most important poets of the Netherlands. Recurrent themes in his work are loss, death and guilt. Achterberg’s Calvinist background is evident in his restraint, his sober diction and individualistic appropriation of Biblical terms.
We published this translation by Judith Wilkinson of his poem De dichter is een koe in Issue 22 of Dutch the magazine.
Judith Wilkinson is a British poet and award-winning translator living in Groningen.
The Poet as Cow
Grass... and all day I’ve grazed.
I’ve put my four feet up and still
I munch away and am amazed
to find that I can have my fill.
I needn’t walk to eat and eat,
and every mouthful is a treat.
Who am I? I can’t always tell
and yet my image rings a bell:
the ditch reflects it when I drink,
and I look at my head and think:
that cow is topsy-turvy – why?
The gate I rub against grows old
and smooth and greased as time unfolds.
Frogs scare me, as do kids, and I
scare them – my rough tongue makes them shy.
The farmer’s greedy for my milk –
I’m needy of his hands of silk.
At night, in fog, with dreams I’m blessed:
a calf again, with my mother, at rest.
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