The Hares, translated by Antoinette Fawcett

Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
WILLIAM BLAKE

I came through the fields of nothingness
where the hares raced and the presses –
standing against tiled walls – preserved
drawers filled with linen and gold-bronze powder,

quite possibly the secret cargo
of the small ships sailing on the wall tiles,
blue sails hoisted, towards coasts and forests
where ship, hare and hunter are united.

The gilt-bronze skies of autumn
taut between airy forest fringes
go rollicking round like the plucky hares.

Because they fear neither fox nor hunter –
o cities standing guard – their lustre shall
endure, under the lindens, through the ages.

 

Ter Balkt’s work was rooted in his experience of growing up in Twente, in the east of the Netherlands. This region combines idyllic, rolling landscapes with more densely populated cities, where cotton once was king. Ter Balkt was familiar with both the countryside and city, but particularly identified with the way of life he knew on his grandparents’ farm where he felt completely unified with nature. I loved ‘The Hares’ at first reading and was especially drawn to its imagery, sound and compact story-telling. The poem is more serene in tone than the epigraph from ‘Auguries of Innocence’ might lead us to expect, yet I also sensed some of the same spirit of truth-telling and empathy we find in Blake’s verse. Ter Balkt said that ‘a poem is an electron-stream of language, sound, meaning and sparks’. I felt it was crucial to pay attention to all these elements in my translation, but decided it was less important to retain the precise line-lengths of this unrhymed, cadenced sonnet than to work with its movement. I have taken some small liberties with the poem – mainly in the second quatrain where in the Dutch the ships sail towards the edge of the forest – the borderline between nature and culture – not simply ‘forests’. This choice was forced by the flow of the line, and yet I think the deeper meaning is not lost, as my translation retains other elements of the nature-culture opposition – and their secret marriage – in phrases such as ‘gilt-bronze skies of autumn’. The final tercet of the poem gave me the most difficulty – not so much in terms of its translation, but because I wanted to balance the sentence structure against the rhythms and sounds to create a final tercet that feels as resolved, in a dual sense, as the original.

De hazen

Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
WILLIAM BLAKE

Ik kwam over de velden van het niets
waar de hazen draven en de kasten –
leunend aan tegelwanden – in laden,
linnen bewaarden en goudbronspoeder,

vast wel de geheimzinnige lading
van de scheepjes varend op de tegels
onder een blauw zeil naar woudzoom en kust
waar één worden scheepje, haas en jager.

De goudbronzen hemelen van de herfst,
gespannen tussen ijle woudzomen,
dolen rond als de dappere hazen.

Omdat zij vos noch jager vrezen, zal
– o steden op wacht – onder de linden,
in de eeuwen altijd hun glans bestaan.

 

Original poem by H.H. ter Balkt. Copyright De Bezige Bij/Estate H.H. ter Balkt. Reproduced by kind permission of the rightsholder.