English Translations

Christine D Haen AMVC ph

English translations of a selection of Gezelle’s poems by the poet Christine D’haen

(From the collection: Guido Gezelle Gedichten Poems. Bruges: Orion, 1976)

Poetess Christine D’haen (Photo Letterenhuis, Antwerpen - Photographer Jan Coppens)



Oh rustling of the slender reed,
oh if I knew your rueful plea,
whenever winds along you rush
or bow your blades and faintly brush ;
you bow all meekly dipping down,
stand up and meekly bow anon
and bowing sing a song of need
by me beloved, oh slender reed!

Oh rustling of the slender reed,
how many many times my seat
was where the quiet water stood,
alone and where no men intrude ;
I watched the rimpling water flow
and how the tender stemlets go
and listened to the lay so sweet
you sang to me, oh rustling reed!

Oh rustling of the slender reed,
how many people past you speed
and hear your singing harmony
but leave and listen not nor see,
but go where them the heart does haste,
and go of gold and good to taste,
but in your secret cannot read,
oh my beloved rustling reed!

And yet, oh rustling slender reed,
your voice may no disdaining breed,
God made the stream, God made your bine,
God said : „I will" and there was wind,
the breezes waved, and wafted round
your stem which climbed now up now down.
God listened... and your song of need
pleased God Himself, oh rustling reed!

Oh no, my slender rustling reed,
my soul does not disdain your plea,
my soul which of Himself received
emotions such as He conceived,
emotions which your rustling know
whenever up or down you go,
oh no, oh no, my slender reed,
my soul does not disdain your plea!

Oh rustling of the slender reed,
be heard in my refrain of need,
complaining it come before Thy foot
Thou from whom both our lives did shoot ;
oh Thou, who e'en the cranky talk
belovest of but a reedy stalk,
do not despise my woeful plea :
me, crushed, crooked, plaintive reed!




A bunch of cherries, child!
A bunch of cherries, child,
grown in the gloss
and the golden glow
of summer!
All strangled-in sap
all sweet,
all sour,
all squeezed oozing juice,
all sweetness!
They bulked on the stem and
they spoke where they stood : ,,oh,
pluck us, pluck us,
pluck us,
pluck and slake all your thirst,
ripe find us in beauty!"
Inclining hung they,
in the wind,
the balmy wind
of summer.
Pluck us, pluck us,
pluck us!
cried they and I plucked them
and they drooped in weight,
the blessing of Him was their weight.
Take down and thank Him
who made them
who urged them to grow,
thank Him, thank Him,
thank Him!
See up to Heaven,
there is He,
there is
The eyes lifted high,
like the bird when
it drinks
and its guileless head on
high lifts,
thank Him, thank Him,
thank Him!
True like the poorest beast,
true like the leaf and the fruit,
true like the flowerlet,
true like
the sandiness under the foot,
thank Him!
Oh enjoy, 't is so sweet, 't is so sweet
a fruit to enjoy that is
rejoicing and thanking
rise in the heart then!
Learn the language that speaks
from a thousand mouths and for ever
calls : „The Lord be
thanked :
thanked for the life,
thanked for the light
thanked for the light and the life,
thankend for the breath and the light
and the seeing and hearing
and all!
Thanked be the Lord!"
A bunch of cherries, child,
aglow all the bunch — and
thank Him!




I've many, many an hour with you
been living and been loving
and never has an hour with you
been for one instant irking.
I've many, many a flower to you
elected and devoted,
and like a bee with you, with you
the honey from it looted ;
but never an hour so dear with you,
however long enduring,
but never an hour so sorrowful
while leaving was ensuing,
as the hour when so near to you
that evening, with you seated,
I heard you speak and spoke to you
what our souls conceived.
Nor was a flower so beautiful
elected, plucked, received,
as that unbroken blew on you
and might be mine that evening.
Although, for me as well as you
— for who will heal this ailing? —
an hour with me, an hour with you
not long an hour remained ;
although for me, although for you,
however dear the dowry,
the rose, and yet a rose of you,
not long might be a-blowing,
still long will guard, I vow to you,
unless it all forgoes,
my heart three dearest beings : you,
the evening and this rose.




You prayed upon a mount alone,
and — Jesus, I discover none
where I may climb so highly
and you alone be finding :
the world will ever after me
where I may flee
or be
or where my eyes may see ;
and poor as I am there is none,
not one,
who needs and never may complain,
who hungers and may not obtain,
who grieves and may not speak of pain
how it pierces through!
Oh teach me, poorest fool, how I must pray to you!

(1859 ?)



O song, o song,
thou helpst the smart
whenever griefs draw nearer,
thy virtue to the wounded heart,
the wounded heart a healer!
O song, o song,
thou slakest the thirst,
thou balmst the burning blaze,
thy might, o song, from the arid breast
the woe and wail forchases.
O song, o song,
the silent tears
which down my face are streaming,
thy magic is — thy might appears —
to honey them redeeming...
O song! O song!




How fare, how fare you now, my child,
whom I, through showers striving,
one time — it gave me power and pride —
sustaining through and through did guide :
how fare you now?
Quite often, when by night the storms
the wide skies intermingling churn,
the beat of heart suspended
with dread, then 't is of you
I ponder : how fare you now?
Whether it North- or Westward were,
whether to South or East you fare,
or be it ... will, oh will I, child,
beyond this time
once more you find
'spite weather and wind?
O bond which heart to heart does bind,
hold strong and do not break,
before we, in the grave
once laid,
anew the candid feather spread
and steer through all the air,
no longer dead
to Him we fare
Who beckoning so long has been,
his beckoning has unanswered seen
and his beloved voice!
How fare you now, my child,
how fare you now?
tell me this, I long, how fare, how fare you now ?




To the unknown reader

How sweet to me to ponder that,
while I may resting be
another, far from here, by me
unknown and never seen,
may read you, verses, well —
beloved, though dreaming naught
of all the doleful failings of
your father when he wrought!
How blithesome is the thought then,
when I am seated and I brood,
following where you flee on your
quick-footed pilgrimhood,
that, miserably sinful though
I be, dear progeny,
your voice, wherein no sin is sought
comforts a man maybe ;
your voice may cheerful make although
he weep who made your store,
your voice may heal, although he be,
your Poet, sick and sore ;
your voice may prayers rouse, while I
sit sighing, prayer-worn,
stay stony and my heart nor eye
will open anymore!
O Poems, that I bore and
forth brought in the pains
of growth, and fostered near
by that poor heart of mine ;
my verses, which so oft anew
I chastised and arrayed,
bedewing with my tears and all
besprinkling with my sweat ;
o speak for me, my verses, when
God reckoning will require,
if true 't is that you, cripple-born,
transmit this needy life
till farther than my gravestone and
die not before I die :
o be it not through you that there
deprived of Life I lie!

(1860 ?)



A tom-tit nest has broken out,
where (in the willow-trunk
't is sunk)
did fifteen egglets crowd ;
twig-up, twig-down, twig-out, twig-in, twig-nigh,
a lot to see!
I laugh so, laugh so, laugh until I cry.

The tom-it mother comes and true
amid the tepid noon,
all blue
and green with yellow hue
she brings them this and that for prey,
twig-round, twig-on, twig-down, twig-out, twig-in,
how rage they!
and creep all, quick, the tom-tit nest within.

The tom-tit father sits — the veil
of leaves hides him from harms —
and charms
with just a tom-tit tale ;
there fly they all at once and then,
twig-round, twig-on, twig-down, twig-in, twig-out,
the tom-tit nest is now all void and out.




o Splendour wild and undefiled
of blooms amid the waterworld!

How glad I see you, draped and clad,
stand in the brook, as it pleased God!

Born harmless, guileless up you rose,
where God willed you and where he chose,

there standing, in the sunshine, see
all that you do is flower be!

'T is being which my eyes beheld
'T is truth, and never double dealt ;

and Who through you delights my soul,
alike to you, is one and whole!

How silent! Never a leaflet stirs
that windraised would us now disturb ;

no rimpling mars the loved face
of water, full of flowery grace ;

no wind, no word ; around outspread,
all shadowy, all silenced!

Then, blue within the glass, the deep
green dappled dome of heaven steep ;

and piercing here and there is spun
a long swift filament of sun.

What honour, frailty, chastity
may in one single blossom be,

which suddenly and free of doubts
from its creator's finger sprouts!

By Him and by no human hand,
lay here the seed of humble plant ;

through Him alone and instantly
it opens and rejoices me,

and teaches prayers unto me
and being, such as I should be :

beholding and believing in
all aim and end, the origin,

the ground of all ; still more I see
and yet not all : God's primalty.




The evening comes so still, so still,
so tardily treads nearer,
that no one knows nor when the day
nor where it went from here.
'T is evening, still — surrounding me
is something, some, invisibly,
that softly reaches me, and sighs :
„'T is evening and to rest is right".

The trees entirely bear the sky
with virgin leaf and green ;
scarce may I, thus the foliage grows,
through all the gardens see.
And none I hear, all roundabout,
of the sweet-stringed feathered crowd
but, in the leaves below and dim,
the nightingale's sole evening hymn.

He sings! ah, if he knew his song,
how beautiful ! He does not know
that singing he my soul enthrals
and chains me to his throat.
Ah, if he knew what I have learnt,
that thankful I do know and serve
Him, who gave voice to him, and me
the rapture and felicity!

What lovely lay! What is 't I hear
so sudden, yonder gabble?
What is that ever here and there
queer balderdash and babble?
Oh frog-folk in the waterweed,
keep still! For I the silence need,
may I that pleasant warble hear,
and you, tormentors, forth from here!

Take this! A splash about the stone,
and with a stretched shin,
the frog-folk deeply dip the froth
the stagnant froth within!
Alas, the night and darkest bough
possess my singer now :
no nightingale, no murmur or rush
I hear — 't is hushed, 't is hushed!




Oh you fat, well-fed, well-clothed
fly which I
did oh so duly, then and there around me
stirring spy,
flying, faring, feathering, rushing in the
ray of sun,
with your snoring, high- and hollow-voiced

Ah! I know not one who ever with a
rhyme or two
did endow you, though you sing and ever
sang, and true
as long at least as blackbird, robin did or
true as fine at least as honey-bee and

Oh you fat and well-contented, well-disposed
never did I view nor hear your
winglets soar
and like two tiny panes of glass drum, be it
late or soon,
but 't was weather clear and summery with the
sunny boon.

Oh you funny beastie, would that I as well as
all should fill
with delight, as you did, now my heart and
wish and will
that you, snoring, glorious, in the splendid
sun we see,
would evermore the way show to the steady
simple glee.




My heart is like a blossoming bush,
which opening or re-closing
inside the rays of sun receives
or droops and swoons and hangs aslope.

My heart seems like a youthful leaf
hich breathes within the dew of morning
but weakens in the evening, wan
and full of dust and dole and worry.

My heart is like a fruit which grows
and ripening in the shadow hides
ere that the hand of autumn has
too soon, alas, the tree deprived.

My heart seems like the star which high
shoots suddenly and on the walling
of heaven strikes a spark and, see,
ere that I breathe withholds the glowing.

My heart rivals the rainbow that
is highly domed through all the heavens,
but soon has quenched the blue and red
yellow and green and purple revels.

My heart ... my heart is faint and frail
and all inconstant in delighting,
but if one instant cheerly fares
for days and days the hunger bears.




Where sits the limpid singer which
I hear and seldom see,
in foliage forlorn
on this blithe Mayday-morn?

He hushes all the fowls around
by wondrous wealth of vocal sound,
his jug-jug lashes
the forests and the hedges.

Where sits he? No, I find him not,
but hear and hear and hear a knot
he weaves in game :
there is a chattering in the lane.

Thus sit and sing may many a man
ere dawn and day, before the loom,
from solid woof to work
longlasting linen cloth.

The weaver sings, his web does sound,
the batten clatters, the loom is loud,
and lively dart
the spools along the yarn.

Thus sits there, in the summer cheer,
one warping on the weaver's gear
of foliage : sheds
his thousand-dyed threads.

What is he, human, beast or what?
All sweetness, 't is a censer that
in hands of angels hidden
with perfume burned is laden.

What is he? A carillon-bell
with teethed wheels, with hammers fell
with boldly open holes
that speaking gold enfold.

He is... where I may never come :
a spark of fire, a gospel from
more-storied towers
than those where humans crowd.

Hark! Slow and loud a lovely tale,
how deep he lust and life will haul
as out of the profoundest
of organs thousand-mouthed!

Now pipes he fine, now calls he loud,
like sap it's seeping from his throat,
like water-bubbles
that from the rooftiles tumble.

Now counted his tales tap and thrill
as were it on a marble sill
where pearls in strings
dropped from their garlands spring.

No bird but well it knows its song,
where language and where lay belong,
through tongue and tale
in perfect way to scale.

It grieves me not, though old in days,
he bears the prize of song away,
and, beauteous bird of glory,
bereaves me of my laurel.

For man has never understood,
nor all your riches rightly wooed
O wondrous tale
of monarch Nightingale!




I hear you not yet,
o nightingale, and
the Easter-sun is
at dawn ;
where stay you so long,
or have you perhaps
forgotten to

No summering, truly,
no sprouting : there springs
no leaflet now from
the hedgerows,
there is ice in the wind,
there is snow in the sky,
stormy it is and the
gust blows.

Yet it starlings and finches
loud all about
the blackbird laughs
and babbles ;
it sparrows and tits,
it cuckoos in woods,
it swifts and it sways
and it swaggers.

Where stays he so long,
the nightingale, and
forgetting to
No summering yet,
but summer it will,
the Easter-sun is
at dawn.




Easter, Easter,
loud may spark
now the songs
of finch and lark,
now the speech of
man the same!
Easter, Easter,
bless the flame,
bless the light and
purge the candle,
let the new-burnt
incense dandle :
free the slave,
free from death and
from the grave!

Easter, Easter,
now arisen
is the Lord
whom hands unchristened
at the shame -
ful cross had slain :
Easter, Easter,
free again
He the wood and
stone and iron
vanquished, He,
the great Ariser,
Hallelujah,one for all,
who lives now
and ever shall!

Easter, Easter
they presumed,
dull, to damn Him
to the tomb,
under Pilate's
seal and mark :
Easter, Easter,
vain the work,
vain the watching,
God the Lord
has arisen
by his force,
through the stone,
ere the East
the sun had shown.

Easter, Easter,
loud may spark
now the tales of
finch and lark,
now the tongue of
man the same!
Easter, Easter,
bless the flame,
bless the light and
clean the candle,
let the bluish
incense dandle,
God is great :
He who vanquished
death and fate.




I am of thee
belowward not
with picture nor
with painting,
nor mother dear
with likeness
recalling thee

No pages and
no portraiture
no sculpted work
in stone,
but for the seal
in me, by thee
once left to me

Oh might I thee
unworthy ne'er
that likeness be
but honoured be
it living in
me, honoured in
me dying.




If sorrows my heart be devouring,
with wordly noise weary I be,
anew then I grope for the loved,
then grasp the old breviary.

O Treasure of uncorrupt prayers
where, briefly recorded and bound,
God's word and God's wonderful share is
by none ever sought for unfound.

O the Work of Pontificate seated,
and more yet : the project of God ;
o strength and, when suffering enfeebles,
immortal enlivening draught!

O Blissful voluptuous coolness,
o shelter of shady recourse,
when the fire and the languorous sweltering
stirred by the enemy scorch...

I sigh then and sit there alone and
I bid then the Bad one : Away !
Then bow and beseech and with weeping
do grasp the old breviary!




The panes are peopled with their saints,
whom, mitred all and staffed,
all martyred or all maidencrowned,
all duked or earled, the craft
and burning of the ovenfire,
has glazed within the shard,
which, glittering, all the tongues will speak
of rainbowcoloured art.

But scarcely is rekindled in
the orient the fell
firespark of sun that falls
upon the saints, than melt
the velvet from the royal robe,
the goldware from the crowns
and all, in equal white now, blinds
and blazes from their gowns.

Dismantled are ye, dukes and
earls, deposed straight,
dismantled maidens, martyrs,
bishops, of your freight ;
no palms or staffs or stoles more,
all is gone and forth,
to one lucidity is molten
in one light of sun, the Lord.




The cherry-tree in wedding garb
is now arrayed :
to-day must meet, a may-day now,
his bridal state.

Each twiglet is a bodkin which,
entwined and white,
entirely in the whitest sheath
of blossoms lies.

Through hoarfrost he was beautiful
when winter blew :
full thousand times more beautiful
his flowering blooms.

In winter was his fairness but
a likeness
of life : all cold and idle as
the shadow is.

No shadow-shape remained he now,
no semblance ; here
all fairness is, all lively and
all lovely cheer.

'T is bridal day, and time of sun :
the summermaid
the bridegroom betrothed to her
abides to mate.




Mayday-weather it is, on all sides
limpid, and no leaflets run.
On the naked fishpit-water
neither rush nor rimpling start and
lightening darts
there the splendid face of sun.

Dipping in his walking-chambers
lies the fish who foot nor hand,
hide nor hair has and no feather ;
to the upper floor or nether,
hither, thither,
vaguely with his fins will wend.

Eyes he has, reflecting, and that
stand athwart, I know not how ;
be he sleepy, eats or drinks he,
wants he to be up or sinks he,
never blinks,
never drops his eyelids down.

Masticate his meal his mouth does,
never ends nor does begin,
but he munches, not refraining,
musing, what the cheeks contain in
their flat plane,
water out and water in.

Wondrous creature, which of talk and
word and tongue and tale is free,
meaning what was undepraved,
ne'er was spoken of nor spake,
shameless in innocency!

Once the water did the beasts and
men all swallow, all —
but those eight who, in the Ark,
kin and kine, through patient dark,
safely guarded
from disturbance and from harm.

He swam off, undoomed, undamned,
saved by God's dispensing hand.
Might we, after all that here is,
freed as well and to Thy wishes,
be Thy fishes,
where Thy strongest nets will stand,

God, of whom they spoke in old days,
masking sacramental lore,
(mouthwise, or in image written) :
,,Eat the Fish, He will be giving
lasting Living".
Help us, Ichtus, evermore!




O rose, o lovely lips
and beyond all the limits
of comeliness, which first
a-blow, dost smile to me ;
thy life is but too brittle
and must, woe, withered be
ere morning comes : be whole
and live within my soul.

There may thou, free and rich
with uncorrupted colour
and mirrored in the depth
of memory be held
and live : although thy stem
and root and all have perished,
though wind which all bereaves
be playing with thy leaves.




Behold now, here and there,
that crowd of Cassel-cows,
which, purely brown their hair,
flourish like many flowers,
in grass and in the sun which, sinking, leaving, strews,
all red, the hot-red fields with hot-red sparks and hues.

'T is splendid all about,
and how the hides are splendid
of cattle, lovely crowd,
their varnished folds resplendent ;
't is splendid how they stand each cut and carved out,
like monuments amid those meadows mild about.

Some red like fire are here
and auburn-brown all burnished,
approaching dark-bronze beer,
a blackburnt beer and ruddy ;
beglittered and beglowed : their fells with dyed folds
alike and not alike — steeped in the dusky gold.

But slowly longer grows
across the meadows though
to each beast by the blaze
a shadow bound below ;
disfigured bigly, stout, and dark in grass from now
I see the swarthy spectre stand of every winged cow.

Good night! The sun descended
down near his nest : till morn
be all the colour blended,
that eyes preyed on, be gone.
The cows are past, destroyed and darkened down,
to-morrow the bright sunfire will kindle up their gown.




The cow her bugle blew, she grew
with nurture-gnawing worn,
too long in youthful mass of grass
the weighing udder bore ;
the weighing udder, mild with milk,
trailed down now near the earth,
that sways, that her the tread impedes,
the body burdens her.

She blew the trump, she moos and woos
to be from meadow moved
to milkstead : to be freed indeed
of suck that in a flood
of cream so smooth, so good,
so pure, for all,
for all men, food and force proves
and a cooling draught.

The cow her bugle blew, thereto
disposed like all the folk
who near the evening, lame and stale
wrought, wish for their repose.
Weary is man, the cow lies down,
the mortals now abide,
after the troubling summer-work,
the hallowed hush of night.




Askew hangs the doorway, with
oldness decaying,
saddle-backed sinks there
the roof of the barn ;
straw on the purlins
sits and is swaying,
sengreen crowns ridges
of stable and stall.

Over the sengreen sprang
flowers and flourish,
under the sengreen crowd
folk among kin,
flowers of love so
old and so young and
flowers outside and
flowers within.

There 't is that mother sat ;
there 't is that father
found us who he hard work
and heart gave ; and there
knelt we, the children,
hands held together,
shared we, the small
and the greater, the prayer.

There is the shovel still,
there are the tongs and
there stands the ovenshed
still as it stood ;
there is the kennel and
— so long 't is gone that
I must on the name of
the other dog brood !

Ah, how they heal me,
how they uphold now,
those days of before, the
depth of my mood.
Could there be one who
once understood,
what you, old homestead,
to me say and do?

Happy, you humans,
too guileless people,
small was your greed and
big was your heart!
Were of avail all
the weeping and wishes,
I still would eat ryebread
with you at the board!




(CANT. II. I.)

I am a bloom and
blow before Thine eye,
Thou virtuous flood of sun,
who, ever unimpaired
me, tiny timid creature,
till now deignst vivify,
beyond this lifetime me
the everlasting shared.

I am a bloom,
at dawn I do disclose,
at dusk reclose my leaf,
and alternating then,
as Thou, sun's fire, may'st
new-risen, me dispose —
I wake or will my head
to sleep entrust again.

My life is but
Thy light : my deeds, my yearning,
my hope and happiness,
my only and my all.
What am I without Thee
but ever ever dying,
what have I without Thee
that will my love enthral.

I am far from Thee,
although Thou, sweetest source
of all that living is
or ever life bestows
art nearest me of all,
convey'st, o craved force
into my deepest depth
Thine all-pervading glow.

Lift up, let down!
My worldly bounds asunder,
uproot me and undig
me! Loose me ; show,
where summer ever is
and sunlight, to my hunger,
where Thou, Eternal, sole
and Perfect Bloom dost blow.

Let all things be
behind, performed, forsaken
that distance between us
and deepest cleft extend.
Be dawn and dusk, and all
that must recede, off-taken
and let Thine endless light
me see : my Fatherland.

Then I before...
nay, not before Thine eye,
but near Thee, next to Thee,
in Thee will blossom on,
wouldst Thou me, little creature,
existence not deny,
to Thine eternal light
grant me accession.


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