Image credit: Sufyan Jalal, from Withering Exhibition

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Poetry is a statement

of confirmation. I confirm

that I’m alive, that I don’t live alone.


Poetry is a future, thinking

of next week, of another country,

of you when you’re old.


Poetry is my breath, it moves

my feet, hesitantly sometimes,

around the world, requiring that.


Voltaire had smallpox, but

he cured himself by drinking, for one thing,

120 liters of lemonade: that is poetry.


Or take the ocean surf. Thrown and broken

on the rocks, it’s not really beaten,

it regroups and is poetry as such.              


Each word being written,

takes its toll on old age.

In the end death wins, true,


but death is merely the silence in the house

after the last word on stage sounds.

Death means: to be moved.

Original ↓

Poëzie is een daad
van bevestiging. Ik bevestig
dat ik leef, dat ik niet alleen leef.

Poëzie is een toekomst, denken
aan volgende week, aan een ander land,
aan jou als je oud bent.

Poëzie is mijn adem, beweegt
mijn voeten, aarzelend soms,
over de aarde die daarom vraagt.

Voltaire had pokken, maar
genas zichzelf door o.a. te drinken
120 liter limonade: dat is poëzie.

Of neem de branding. Stukgeslagen
op de rotsen is zij niet werkelijk verslagen,
maar herneemt zich en is daarin poëzie.

Elk woord dat wordt geschreven
is een aanslag op de ouderdom.
Tenslotte wint de dood, jazeker,

maar de dood is slechts de stilte in de zaal
nadat het laatste woord geklonken heeft.
De dood is een ontroering.

Translator's Note

A blend of gentle humor and profound emotion can capture me strongly, and when it’s as rich as this poem by Remco Campert, phrases can fall into place comfortably in translation.

It’s been wonderful to follow the nearly-light steps from “Poetry confirms that I’m alive… It moves my feet”, via the playful Voltaire stanza, to the closing sentence “Death means: to be moved”, underlining the motion in emotion.

This poem fused into the wealth of the new language to such extent that reading and writing seemed to merge as well, turning work into a privilege.

It created adjustments with luxury choices, to begin with in the title: is poetry an act or deed or action?


statement or declaration,

sea or ocean (both rhyming to a lot here),

finally / ultimately / in the end,

sure / true / certainly,

just / only / merely.

I’m grateful that decisions came amiably, especially in the last lines, taking a little significant liberty: the addition of “means”, where I first put “Death will move you” (which did have the extra rhyme to “true”).

Arno Bohlmeijer


In the Classroom