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I’ve been reading more poems by Jo Govaerts, who I posted about here, and who was kind enough to give me one of her earlier collections after reading the poor stab at translation I’d done there.
Then I thought I’d add insult to injury by trying my hand at another one, in which she laments the parting of a sailor, or seaman, which as some of you may know corresponds to a theme of parting, exile and the sea which has been occupying me lately. It also reminds me of the striking iconic image of Meryl Streep used for the film The French Lieutenant's Woman.
The poem is from her collection Waar je naar zit te kijken, published by Kritak in 1994. It should impress even non-Dutch speakers that Herman De Coninck, one of Belgium’s great modern poets, had this to say:
There are few certainties in the world, and especially not in literature, but that Jo Govaerts is at this moment the best poet of her generation, is one such certainty.
What is a girl to do
while her beloved sailor
sails the seven seas?
no money, nothing to eat
she goes to the quay
where the waving water reminds her
of the sailing of the ship
the wind in her hair
his last caress, down over her back
where a man on a bench
reading a newspaper, then not reading asks, Miss?
come here and sit by me
you seem so sad, you have
such enchanting sea-blue eyes