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 sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

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. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

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 June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Poems on the New Testament

Lloyd Haft


Poems on New Testament Texts
April 2013

[These are my own very free English renderings of poems that originally appeared in Dutch in the magazine Liter, nos. 16, 35-38, and 40 in 2001-2005. For technical reasons, the Introduction appears at the end of the whole series.]

Word of a New: After St. Paul

On Colossians 1:24-27 and 1:14-19

We suffer the one becoming
letting our flesh conceive or clasp
the rumor that is warm about us:

one we are becoming
is within us, in us,
wider in birth than all the wounds we were.

The one we are becoming
is the one that dies to death

living us on and over,
on to the earth of other, which is joy.

On 2 Corinthians 12:9

Ever it is in me
the one becoming says abundantly
you are, in me.

Abyss we saw between us
is our place Now, of light.

Wherever I thought to hide my face
I’m shying into sight –

every Now a clearing,
a nearing of the one becoming.

On Ephesians 4:7-13

In and out of each of us
is given all,
all of the one becoming,

called in our writings Risen,
clasping who were kept alone,
holding who were held apart

for what is risen other
than of down and in and with? –

reaching to the full,
the body of becoming,
tallest in its telling

of our provenance of love,
telling all together
in the love we limn.

On 1 Corinthians 13:12

We stare into our darkness
as a mirror, call it Now,

not saying the name,
not knowing the name, the later,
wider face of We –

We that we’ll be known as
where we’re known, home in the length of every limb.

On Philippians 3:10-12

May that be where I’m known:
where all of me is known to suffer
one becoming

coming forth,
party to a death that brings together.

Becoming brings together
out of death. We touch the We
wherever we are touched.

On Colossians 2:9-12, 14

There in the one becoming
is the fulness of the living
where to live is to be known
and to be going,

be come along in every limb
before beginnings,
after all the answers,

not departing out of flesh
but undergoing what is ever going,

going on and over every word of man
that ever did forbid us.

Soundings 1

[Mattthew 1: 1-17]

Our workings, our wrestings
are knowings from ever.
Ours was the name, ours the sense
the fathers, mothers suffered.
Not in one of all the lives
was longing not along.
The generations brought us
this longing that wrought us.

[Luke 1: 26-35]

A virgin longing
on beyond the ties and bonds
in all the shames and shadows.
Ever is longing on beyond all shame.
Ever in shadow comes the voice
no law has ever led:
‘Give. Give me.’
We carry through, we hand along
a felt, a heard,
a shadowing of longing.

[Luke 9: 23-24]

We that the image falls upon,
weighs upon –
we walk with it,
talk in its direction,
try to keep the measure
of the one we are becoming.
Day by day we shove or cast
God’s shadow out ahead.

[Mark 4: 30-32]

What’s in us is
a mustard seed,
of all our seed
the most invisible –
until the bird
discovers us
and roots us up.
We’re the ones whose branches,
whose leaves the birds of heaven come
to earth to find:
shadow that they need.

[Matthew 13: 3-7, 24-29]

Our image as a seed:
in trash along a roadside,
on gravel,
in thorns.
But once the seed is broken –
is opened! –
there is another in it:
an ugly one along,
a with us in becoming,
an also-comer in us, by us, through.

[Mark 2: 1-12]

‘Am I bad, or am I mad?’
Which is lighter,
which more light?
The one we are becoming lights,
shows us through,
knows us through,
is us through whichever.

[Luke 12: 49-53]

‘I come to bring not peace
but light.’
Clarity: you are the fire;
you’re also someone’s brother, someone’s
weak sister.
Faltering father, mute mother?
        you are the fire.

Soundings 2

[Matthew 16: 13-19; John 2: 14-21]

Who shall we say it is
we are becoming?
a witness only?
reborn only
living again the life a dead one did?
Can flesh and blood believe they are
the longed-for, still awaited?

And after all the years the temple’s waited –
who can see the body standing here
and resurrected –
that sold itself so long,
paraded here in hoofs and wrinkled wings?

[Luke 10: 17-20; Matthew 18: 12-14]

Better than scaring devils out of heaven,
stronger than stamping poison bugs to earth
is knowing our becoming,
even if it’s devils,
beetles we’ve become.

Slowly as the ugliest
of what’s along with us, we go.
Far. Nothing stays beyond us
where that mountain’s under us.

Soundings 3

[Matthew 23: 37-39]

Not in the stony shadows
of a peace that will not move, cannot lengthen
comes the one we are becoming.
We come in longing’s name –
the only one that still will sound
where walls are all long gone.

[Luke 17:23; Matthew 24: 26; Luke 17: 24]

Not here, not there,
not back in the desert,
not up front of all.
Nowhere is the bearer of the light
except in coming,
the ever coming human
ever child.

[Luke 7: 34-35 and 15: 2-7]

Not with the ninety highest wisest
counting all their sands and selves away –
it’s in the inn of all the lost
the one we are becoming sups.
Joy is not a hideout in the mountains;
it’s a winding of the way:
every. And on the road in every one of us
that search is found.

[Matthew 26: 26-29; I Corinthians 11: 26]

The one we are becoming
takes us, holds us up
and broken as we are,
feeds us through all falling,
all becoming:
all becoming body.
One becoming breathes with us,
brimming, breaking over
into heart on heart that cups the blood,
eye on eye that sees,
bodies one becoming.

Soundings 4

[Matthew 16:21]

Joined, bound to know,
to carry and to bear.
Held to the death that brings together
into the wider knowing we become.

[Matthew 27: 51-53]

Out of the graves we stride
wherever the veil of the holy of holies
holds no more,
holds no more together.
It holds together or it is no hold.
Together where they told us we were dead.
Where the one becoming breathes with us,
leaves the sky behind and falls,
falling in with us, arisers
into the wider, deeper vault
that is our Now.

[Mark 16: 9-11; Luke 24: 13-39 and 50-53]

Say you’ve stood it all,
even death withstanding –
who would understand?
Say you’ve changed your form –
who here knows those forms?
It’s where we long together
we are seen,
seen to stay becoming.
Ours is the road the one we are
appears if ever on,
speaking meager words of ours,
asking who we’ll be.
Ours is the heart that carries,
bears out warmth,
bids being.
More than in our becoming
who’ll be known?

Soundings 5

[Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16]

Joy so long was cloaked –
hulked in laws, hangings,
hung about in texts and quotes,
debts and don’ts.
Where could lips still open
where so much was to recite,
Lips that are before all laws,
saying not restraining.
Joy is not a not,
it is our Now.
Joy is not thou must;
it is we meet.

[Mark 16: 1-3; Luke 24: 2-6 and 10-11]

Where we come together,
we hesitate to see.
We stay behind, expecting gates,
stones still standing out in front
between us and our other,
our joy, our one and all-awaiting.
The one arising now beyond
the places where we waited.
On beyond all ways we might have been.
Ever and on beyond is longing,
never standing,
never waiting,
leaving ever all the stones,
all the knowns behind.

[Luke 21: 32-33; Luke 12:40]

Nor shall our generation pass away
before we see,
know there is a promise here
aliver still than all the heavens,
all the skies of all the generations –
on beyond the last of all surmises:
the longing reaching of the human child.


‘Jesus Christ is always the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’[2] So we read in chapter 13, verse 8 of the Epistle to the Hebrews which was traditionally supposed to have been written by St. Paul. But Paul’s own experience of Christ was anything but ‘always the same.’ As an orthodox Jew, a member of the conservative group known as the Pharisees, he was at first fiercely opposed to anything having to do with that new phenomenon, Christianity. In the Book of Acts, chapters 7 through 9, we read how he was a leader in persecuting Christians. All this changed in an instant when, according to the account beginning in Acts 9:3, on the road to Damascus he was suddenly overtaken by the experience of a ‘light’ and an admonishing voice, supposedly coming from Christ himself. Paul had himself baptized, began to preach, and eventually became ‘the Apostle’ whose letters became at least as decisive in shaping Christianity as the words and deeds of Jesus as these were traditionally preserved in the four Gospels.
        According to the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:8-10), Jesus’ own life was also marked by a process of development: ‘Thus, Son though he was, he learned by all he suffered how to obey, and by being thus perfected he became the source of eternal salvation...’[3]
        Paul never knew Jesus in ‘the days of his flesh.’ But he knew him thereafter, both as an inner reality (‘ is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me’ – Galatians 2:20[4]) and in the incisive and transforming experience of fellowship. He described this latter aspect – congregation or community – in outspoken bodily terms. In various passages, he refers to the congregation as ‘Christ’s body,’ of which the individual believers are ‘limbs’ or ‘members’ – in Ephesians 5:30, according to the King James translation they are ‘members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.’ In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul quotes the words ‘and they shall be one flesh,’ which in Genesis 2:24 referred to the relationship of husband and wife, as a ‘great mystery’ which actually is applicable to the bond between Christ and his church.
        Here, Paul was using a different definition of Christ’s ‘body’ from what would have been normal in Jesus’ lifetime. But the new, communal definition did accord very well with various things which, according to the Gospels, Jesus had said about himself. We may recall Matthew 18:20, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’[5] or John 17:20-23, in which Jesus prays to God the Father: ‘As thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, so may they be in us...’[6]
        According to St. Paul, the new communal ‘body of Christ’ is characterized by growth, hence also change. In Colossians 2:19, Christ is the head ‘on whom all the body depends, supplied and unified by joint and ligament, and so growing up with a growth which is divine.’[7] In Ephesians 4:16, ‘the due activity of each part enables the Body to grow and build itself up in love.’[8]
        But although St. Paul uses such physiological terminology in describing the relational situation between believers and Christ, he does not actually speak of an unbroken continuity, a seamless transition, between the individual ‘flesh’ body that Jesus had during earthly life and the communal body in which Paul seems to have experienced Christ’s presence and efficacy. He still seems to be recalling Jesus’ earthly life as the real-time story of an individual, not as collective memories being experienced by the communal Body. If the latter were the case, then at least in principle it should be possible for each of the ‘members’ of Christ’s ‘body’ to recognize in Jesus’ earthly experiences the earlier stages of his or her own ‘growth.’
        What if we did read the New Testament in that light? Then our ‘sharing his sufferings’ (Romans 8:17) would turn out to be something in which we had always already been involved. Then we could read 1 Corinthians 2:16, ‘we have the mind of Christ,’[9] in a radically concrete way, as indeed seems to be suggested by the translations by Knox (‘Christ’s mind is ours’) and Moffatt (‘our thoughts are Christ’s thoughts’). We would be taking seriously possible echoes or resonances between our own inner life and Christ’s, even at the level of individual thoughts and maybe even memories. Could this be a mode of fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:23 – ‘that while thou art in me, I may be in them’[10] ?
        This is the line of thought that has inspired my versions, which I call ‘soundings.’ They are not intended to replace or compete with traditional translations – only to make explicit certain possibilities which the New Testament clearly raises but which mainline religion has in effect taught us to ignore.
        In my versions, the name ‘Jesus’ is not explicitly present. It is replaced by such expressions as ‘the one becoming,’ ‘the one we are becoming,’ or ‘the longed-for.’
        Surely it is not disrespectful or sacrilegious to regard our biblical tradition as a beloved yet perplexing heirloom, which we as moderns may well have to struggle to feel at home with. The very fact that we still trouble to do so (rather than, for example, to dismiss the whole Bible as an ‘anthology of Ancient Middle Eastern literature’) proves that to us its significance still goes beyond the ordinary. As far as I am concerned, that significance remains a religious one, and I fully embrace the words of the famous Bible translator James Moffatt in the preface (1913) to the revised version of his translation: ‘...I hope...that the translation may fall into the hands of some who know how to freshen their religious interest in the meaning of the New Testament by reading it occasionally in some unauthorized English or foreign version...’

[1] This introduction is a shortened adaptation of a version originally published in Dutch as ‘Het Nieuwe Testament beluisterd’ in Liter 35, dec. 2004, pp. 6-8.
[2] Moffatt translation.
[3] Moffatt.
[4] Moffatt.
[5] King James translation.
[6] Moffatt.
[7] Knox translation.
[8] Moffatt.
[9] King James, also the New American Bible (1995).
[10] Knox.