Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017.



He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.



Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.



After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Poems by Herman Gorter (Part 1)


Herman Gorter (1864-1927) is one of the all-time great Dutch poets.[1] Ironically, though his name is almost a household word, he is most commonly remembered for what many of his devotees, including me, do not consider his best work. He broke into fame with Mei (May), a long story poem which was published when he was only twenty-four. In subsequent books, starting with Verzen (Verses, 1890), he wrote in a style which combined intense exploratory lyricism with a freewheeling approach to language. Changing the spelling or even the sound of words to make them rhyme, inventing his own words, using words in an archaic or dialect sense – all these devices went into Gorter’s own brand of Dutch, making it a rich but challenging brew for reader and translator alike. Tastes differ; Gorter’s linguistic fireworks seem brash to some readers, brilliant to others. Even highly educated and well-read Dutch speakers are not always sure just what a given phrase means, or which of its alternative possibilities is most likely to apply.
        The idiosyncracy of Gorter’s language was one thing which put off a certain proportion of readers; in the long run another was his emerging political stance. Gorter believed that every human being is motivated by three fundamental factors: self-preservation or self-love, the sex instinct or love for the opposite sex, and the communal instinct or love for the community. This last factor he personally identified, much to the dismay of many, with the ideals of socialism and communism. Difficult as it might seem to combine these three factors plausibly in an idealized ‘other’ whom the lyrical self could address in poetry, Gorter tried to do so. His supreme effort along these lines was the long poetic sequence Liedjes (Lyrics), first published posthumously in 1930. I have made a somewhat abridged English adaptation of this strangely beautiful work and hope to release it shortly.
        Gorter’s ‘verses’ were eventually republished in a confusing variety of editions. The following translations are based on the text of the original 1890 edition as reprinted with annotations by Enno Endt in Herman Gorter, Verzen: De editie van 1890 met een inleiding en annotaties van Enno Endt, Amsterdam: Athenaeum – Polak en van Gennep, 1977. The page numbers refer to this 1977 edition. My translations do not rigidly reproduce the rhyme-schemes of the original, but they do, I think, at least fairly represent the overall sound and texture of Gorter’s verse.


[1890 p. 7]

When times were leaf-still, long gone by,
born she was, in autumn hush a bloom
in bleak lightweepings standing pale light –
rain is what the clouds around her do.

Pale she stood her light amidst all drear,
keeping light eyes, blonde hair spreading near her,
tears at many an hour, white of hands –
a poor light girl light-famished.

Bring upon her color of bloomglow,
your blood-red, o new season that is now.


[1890 p. 11]

We beings of silver, lights of mist, growths
neighboring each other uncertain, wanted light:
in mists of dark our great needs
foreign in shimmering mist, for light –
tender beginning and smiling shine,
lightest rising, shunning decline,
laughing as sure, joyful by light,
waving and fleeting, looking lashes fleeting back,
willows of light, ribbons of light, whitish silver
waterish light, luring light, scythes of shivering light,
sheathes and bayonets of light – army of light.

Our flesh blooming with light, gorging on light,
hearts swelling with light, breaking light,
eyes gossamer light, crystal crowns of light.


[1890 pp. 12-14]

You are a white and silent shine of snow,
you are a shivering sea of seashine.

You are a lilymaiden shimmerwhite,
you are a palehood fluttering wide.

You are the open, the white, the willing,
the wanting beaming flaming quivering light.


[1890 p. 25]

Pallor of grey,
bit of rain –
wet on the roofs the wind
sings its meager lay.

Slowly humans undergo.
They call it work:
that sober daily going,
never discerning.

O, for a lass to bloom this way
in brightish pale, now a heady
lilyhood and blearing
unto me, the warm, the weary.


[1980 p. 26]

A child ever longing
as a great bloom’s heart, hanging
open, born that way
in the dawning day.


[1890 p. 31]

I saw you then –
and there was much of light,
the room was a bloom, tight
bud now shining out and open,
buzzed by rings of light.

Nothing that I thought or said.
You looked at me and all my head
came open windblown wide
as if burned open in a summer dawn
above a wide and wordly open lawn –
so, once was I
within that chamber red and golden-lined
by gas-gold flamelight flown on rowing
wings already beating wide
the fragile air
the trembling air
that flees us as we go –
hear hear, o I hear it,
your tender drythroat voice above me
speaking, speaking lower near me,
scenting of your flesh,
your shining out, your silent living flesh –
and I was bursting with your eyeing
tingling naked eyeing
from that silent moving gaze,
that trembling and that moving
of your hands your head your feet
as even now it does to me.
If only I could find
that fleet outflowing galaxy,
the river of words: that I could say
this all before I die away
in floating through my life.
But o, the tingling tints within
the giant doors of light
that are sunsummer’s –
all the belightedness of light,
the high and holy mass
of all the days
and goldlight evenshine
in the reddened room, that are the things
she was within,
body diaphanous
as glass and lightful – may the two of us
be read to the end forever, in me
that saw her once and only
in your red and white and golden day.

Now let me go on shaking,
let me tremble on away
in words, so henceforth not a thing there is
but her belightedness.


[1890 p. 81]

Far off I saw fair waters,
before me was a gentle splashing:
voice that I have heard before,
and all around was still: and that
I heard still more than every spat
of little words so softly said.
All was still except the voice of splashing,
behind it were fair waters,
and I heard the near words moving
through a silence glassy, luminous.


[1890 p. 113]

There was much yellow oakengolden
light risen and grown in green, so much
shuddering of bluegolden
quaking white, for an instant grey
when the eye was hurt
by sunny piercing pain.

Mirror was the air as if
I walked now everywhere,
swollen hot as if I now
were myriad.


[1890 p. 114]

There was snow on that moss,
she lay upon it loosened,
her lips wet and open,
eyes wet and open.

Her hand tapped the ground,
unhurried finger white,
her shoulders shaping round
in blue on snowwhite.

The eyes beneath me
pearl ellipses –
she seemed a part of me
from me eclipsing.


[1890 p. 122]

The lamp shines, the room is open –
outside, I hear the wind going.
The leaves, the flapping leaves,
the springflapping leaves – the nightflapping leaves,
green and black and limp –
their limp handclap, wet lips –
hear it blowing up and all the ways away,
there they come again –
that gentle-weaponed undercover skirmish,
banging by turns
hear them go, far away,
the night is open,
wide as a floodgate –
grazing my hand a cool kiss, a stroking –
light as if in smoke enshone,
almost as if to go to sleep
in light’s seeming, clingleafed up and down.


[1890 p. 123]

Always that metal rustling of the metal-beaming sea
and the wild-lighted crashing, cruel willowwhipping waves,
the flashing biting, fine-rayed infinite,
the overwidespread flooding walling in,
and yet that rolling in, full wet blue,
waterful of spraying drift,
fine to the eye, eye-quenching dawn of water
with over it head-on streamers of wind –
that ladies’ cheeks go on in, blooming so close by
in parasolsilver, fine-dangled hands
gemlike in eyeshine.


[1890 p. 124]

The sea beyond grey, silverish, rainish, leafery
spread in a circle of clouds
here, o here fragile quiet green
widened into the wide,
my head, o my head in the weak and easeful air –
my eyes so cool, so rained for the air,
my hands so warmish hanging –
o in a balmy sad surround by the going
cliffish wave-astraying sea
I held my head in hands –
but sprayish the glitterish rustling, thunderwhisper,
gurgling murmur, tongueflash leaking –
the blood in my hand is dry –
now shadowish, seaful sea-ish where I see it.


[1890 p. 125]

The waves and their falling more than onward
with their flaunting so preening so silly so overall forgotten
all all all always bursting to be,
and the sinking together, no more wishing to be
the whole but deep and under others, they sink expiring
with their blandly loyal water-human eyes,
each mumbling to other, standing under another
all of them lower and lower and not a one higher –
thundering up they go to the preening high and lonely
sky that lights the world –
gulping full sheering rocking striped dark-terraced
fullgreen whitefoam breasting foam-dribbling water,
still water but turning to light, yet lightly,
yet staring lovely lonely, the mute godworldly light
of heaven – and here the lowly greenstroked grass
laid to the wind, eyeing away, tending back
to the trees in the clumped quiet ground.

--Translated by Lloyd Haft



[1] For a good overall introduction to Gorter’s life and work by Paul Vincent, see