#Creation #poem by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, Dutch ship’s doctor renowned poet Scheppingsverhaal

Creation story

God’s child kept blocks in his apron’s pocket,
which it had been playing with in the clouds.
But when she, tired, bored, then wished to clear the decks
She saw into the box and could not fathom

how ever to fit them, neatly ordered stacked.
Because God was stern, but slept, so was no danger.
She let them drop, without a further glance
and made straight for a pretty sculpted angel.

The blocks fellthrough stark empty skies,
And reached an empty world, where
They remained as thrown.

Most shattered into hills and dales;
And those, whole, in one piece, formed here and there
the far wide cities and the smallest towns.

Translating, I departed from the rhymes and the almost rhymes out of necessity when the english words don’t rhyme and also because I want to show that Slauerhoff played with leaving out parts of speech, much like Joss Whedon encouraged in Buffy and Firefly. I think his play works especially well because the poem is about creating a world that is not there there and which has holes. Some of the loss of almost rhymes is sad because his choice of words was lovely. Learn Dutch!

“They remained as thrown” was the most difficult to translate because in Dutch part of the verb (“waren”=were) is left out but the last word of this line (geworpen=thrown) rhymes with the last word of the poem (dorpen). Anyway. It is a different poem in English. I love how Slauerhoff stops the story. Leaving the rest to our imagination. The whole poem stops and start and restarts at odd moments. How to play with language. When you read it aloud you need to leave space between inside some of the lines. Where depends on how you speak. The alliterations in the poem and inner rhymes are beautiful.

Also: I like he puts down the answer before we ask the question in the second stanza. He makes the lines work for him. Doesn’t let the mind dictate how he tells his story. Pay attention because G-d isn’t.

Third stanza is funny: you expect more but no.

Creation story

God’s child kept blocks in his apron’s pocket,
which it had been playing with in the clouds.
But when she, tired, bored, then wished to clear the decks
She saw into the box and could not fathom

how ever to fit them, neatly ordered stacked.
Because God was stern, but slept, so was no danger.
She let them drop, without a further glance
and made straight for a pretty sculpted angel.

The blocks fellthrough stark empty skies,
And reached an empty world, where
They remained as thrown.

Most shattered into hills and dales;
And those, whole, in one piece, formed here and there
the far wide cities and the smallest towns.

Dutch: Scheppingsverhaal.

Gods kind had blokken in zijn boezelaar,
Waarmee het in de wolken had gespeeld.
Maar toen zij op wou bergen, moe, verveeld,
Zag ze in de doos en wist niet hoe ze daar

In passen moesten, keurig ingedeeld.
Want God was streng, maar sliep – dus geen gevaar.
Zij liet ze vallen, zag er niet meer naar
Om en ging vlug naar een mooi engelbeeld.

De blokken vielen door een leeg heelal
En kwamen op een leege wereld, waar
Ze bleven zooals ze er heen geworpen.

De meeste sprongen stuk tot berg en dal.
En die heel bleven vormden hier en daar
De groote steden en de kleine dorpen.

© 1998, Erven J. Slauerhoff / K. Lekkerkerker / Uitgeverij Nijgh & Van Ditmar
From: Verzamelde gedichten
Publisher: Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 1990.

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