Sample Translations

A man and an angel - Foto: Erik PostA man collected questions, uncertainties,
vague inklings, dubious assumptions,
wrong-headed conclusions, debatable motives,
misplaced convictions, mood swings,
painful states of mind, feverish fluctuations in character
and unremitting, conflicting thoughts about death

collected himself into the ground

and an angel touched him very gently, very carefully
and with the greatest possible tenderness
and autumn came
and the wind lifted the man up and blew him away

children, a few small children, caught a last glimpse of him dancing
on the rays
of the setting sun.

Toon Tellegen, A Man and an Angel, Shoestring Press 2013. Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson


My father

was already himself,
my mother was still a young girl,
my brothers so very unborn
that they sparkled in the sun

‘are you coming…’ my mother asked,
she was wearing red shoes
and her mother’s corals,
she had glitters on her nails
and in her long red hair,
but dumbness struck my father,
chased him away

stalks snapped, frogs blew themselves up
and everything that shone evaporated

it was May
and my father didn’t know that he would never be anyone
but himself,
and that he lacked something,
something painful,
something invaluable of no consequence

and that summer was in the air,
and something misleading,
over and over again.

Toon Tellegen, Raptors, Carcanet 2011. Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson


 Just as a Roman army, after a defeat,
accepted the journey back
so, after every loss, a journey back is possible.
Accept it.

Don’t accept the loss
but the journey back that follows it
all the way into your own entrenchment,
the body’s armour

all the way to where you were
before the loss followed
and choose something else.

A road to Rome.

Hagar Peeters, City of Sandcastles, translated by Judith Wilkinson, Shoestring Press 2018


I saw the neighbours opposite one morning
packing their cases with sea air.
My caravan of playmates became the tail
of their kite, waving from the window of their car,
snagging briefly on a balcony
before they turned the corner.

They set out for the City of Sandcastles,
a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam, said the stay-at-homes,
a world away from Amsterdam, said they
who were headed for the fresh sea breeze, a flight
that changes parents into pioneers.

Not mine. Somewhere halfway, the sun
struck its shadow into the aquarium of our apartment
where I was pressed against the glass, growing ever paler
as my gaze followed their disappearance
until they’d turned the corner of my memory.

On the coast, my mother later said, they too were torn apart.
Although they did live there, for a little while,
in airy bunkers with open windows.

Hagar Peeters, City of Sandcastles, translated by Judith Wilkinson, Shoestring Press 2018

Instead of silence cover

summer evening in sainte-croix

In a spot where we had not
expected them, there were poplars
waving, festive and communicative
yet contained, in their foliage
the light of the past day
had been collected, like stained glass
they gave warmth to the valley

we stood in the evening beyond tracing
not waiting for a thing, for we lived here
in this lostness, this tenderness
the light of poplars

Miriam Van hee, Instead of Silence, Shoestring Press 2007. Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson

travel money

he says he has experience
he says we should be satisfied
with small improvements he weighs
his words and keeps them
under volumes of lloyd’s register he
sometimes poses questions
but doesn’t want to know

we’re cast in a different mould
we don’t trust the hereafter
we don’t sleep we go in search of
happiness we argue
and acknowledge blame
we take risks
and we pay

Miriam Van hee, Instead of Silence, Shoestring Press 2007. Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson


Then, poisonous muse, he slid into my aisle,
a man, small, fat, with a vacated face,
who looked as if his name were Jim or Bill.
I knew exactly what was on his mind:
the taxman, football, a Miss Holland pageant,

broccoli, coffee filters. His whole mouth
a thin letter of intent, alive with
blank conviction. And I was pregnant with a
twisted poem, wanted to hate him, couldn’t –
for everything he dreams, I thought, I dream

no better. Be greeted then, pale uncle,
whose magic dreams of bed sheets are like mine.
Join the queue, then off home, doormat, fridge,
the sofa, oven, then that sleep again.
I’m so afraid you might not even exist.

Menno Wigman, translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson. First published in Poetry Salzburg Review.


What she did before me? With Hugo she ate lobster,
with Thomas she drove through LA, with Sander
she slept in Berlin, with Jean, with Stein… And I,

so green about the secret algebra
of our pleasure; whose locks, whose lips, whose
glance do I see mirrored in her face?

She doesn’t know her laugh is just like Lisa’s.
And I don’t see how Hugo is like me.
But six weeks on, an audience of ghosts

has gathered in a circle round our bed,
to watch our slow, sweet, desperate attempts
to banish their deepest names from our heads.

Menno Wigman, translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson. First published in Shearsman Magazine.


You must, they said, face the truth.
Now! Immediately!

When it grew dark they whispered:
now you may face something else –
if you like.

It was quiet
and I faced love
and thoughtlessness with its giant wings
and the simplicity of the moonlight on my wall.

Now the truth again, they said. Now!

Toon Tellegen, About Love and About Nothing Else, Shoestring Press 2008. Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson


Nature is for the satisfied or hollow.
And what does it add up to in this land?
A patch of wood, some ripples in the sand,
A modest hill where modest villas follow.

Give me the city streets, the urban grey,
Quays and canals that keep the water tamed,
The clouds that never look finer than when, framed
By attic windows, they go their windswept way.

The least expectant have most to marvel at.
Life keeps its wonders under lock and key
Until it springs them on us, rich, complete.

One dreary morning all this dawned on me,
When, soaking wet in drizzly Dapper Street,
I suddenly felt happy, just like that.

J.C. Bloem, translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson
Winning entry, David Reid Poetry Translation Prize


I am with you so close
No web of tighter threads
Is spun no tissue wins
From what our fingers weave
Winds itself more
Tightly round life
Binds itself so close
To the skin

I am with you so close
So language-close so close
To understanding going where
Spittle and tears mingle
Where the borders leave us
So we forget the body
That separates us
Into you and me

So close – so close
Beyond breaking now
Tighten – tighten the stitching
Of tightest thread am I
So close am I to you
Of tightest thread am I

So bound
So free

Nynke Laverman, from her new album, Alter, translated by Judith Wilkinson

Ominously low
the yellow sun hangs
above the roofs.
Trees wring their branches
as the wind rises.

Fear presses an ice-cold
hand in my neck. Where
are you? What is
happening to you?

I’d like to be
softer than spume
and yet strong as resin
so I can cover you, shield you
from the needle-sharp teeth
of the night and the blight
that threaten you.

Hanny Michaelis, translated by Judith Wilkinson (first published in Acumen)

©of all poems featured on this site remains with Judith Wilkinson

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