Unfolding like an impressionist painting, each line of Gorter’s poem is rich with vivid sensory details–colors, textures, and sounds of the countryside that illustrate the depth and intensity of his longing, though he was just 24 when his Mei was published. Kruijff’s translation juxtaposes May’s childlike beauty and innocence with arresting and sometimes jarring images that hint at the tragedy to come: “Awakening and rising on the palms / Of her flat hands, as frail shells were crackling / Underneath her – while on her delicate chin, / Still moist from sleep, a tilted sunray shot / Off the dune’s edge, and made for trembling blood.”
Though it is more than a century old, Gorter’s signature work carries a sentiment still relevant in the modern age. Readers will find this 4,381-line poem both nostalgic and slightly gut wrenching as it inevitably kicks up memories of lost love--and lost possibility. For those who are still young at heart–or wishing to reclaim the fervor of youth–this thoughtful, lyrical translation will stir the imagination and invite consideration of what makes the heart sing, even if the joy, like May, is only temporary. The poem, though, will endure.
Takeaway: Kruijff’s translation Herman Gorter’s epic poem mourns the loss of the “sweet melancholy of youth.”
Great for fans of: Willem Kloos, Hendrik Marsman.
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Kruijff’s translation of Gorter’s Mei ably adds to the corpus of academic literature surrounding this important poet. Gorter’s Mei was published in 1889 and, to quote Kruijff, it‘stands out as one of the defining poetry works in Dutch literature; a lyrical rhyme that brings to life the ponderings on many themes: nature and love, the perishable and eternal, the physical versus the spiritual, youth and melancholy’. The translation has been done meticulously and sensitively, with great attention to detail and with a careful adherence to the principles that defined Gorter’s epic work. The spiritual and metaphysical implications of Mei’s journey are portrayed with care, while none of the beauty of Gorter’s writing is lost in translation. The intensity of Mei’s feelings are richly revealed in all the colour and richness of Gorter’s imagery as he displays the observation and knowledge of a naturalist as well as a poet. An undoubted romantic, Gorter sees nature through the lenses of an almost spiritual melancholy and nostalgia for a lost innocence and Kruijff’s translation conveys this with an intensity of language which reveals intuitive clarity of vision and profound empathy. Kruijff refers to each line of the poem ‘acting like one brush stroke in an Impressionist painting’ and this is a good analogy. The impressionists sought to portray visual sensations caused by light through the use of pure colour. They portrayed the intense beauty of the world around them and Kruijff has succeeded in retaining all the freshness of Gorter’s use of pure colour and depiction of light in Mei’s youthful journey. As he says in his introduction: ‘If you are young in mind, still blossoming and full of wonder… if you are seeking the colour of your memories, these blessed abilities to create them, to soak in the light and dark of days gone by… to open your mind once more to nature… then I believe that reading May can show you the way there and lead you back to it’. I have no hesitation in concurring with this statement and recommend that you begin this journey without loss of time.
M. Kruijff has captured the rhythm, and with it the spirit, of Gorter’s timeless spellbinder. The reader is drawn almost breathlessly onward through magnificent word-groups...'the water seethed in its eternal flames'..., 'in the glittering of mother gleamed the child'...The English is modern but not everyday, full of surprising turns of phrase which often hark back to Gorter’s famously innovative Dutch style. The result is a gripping story highlighted by exquisite lyric episodes. Before you know it, you’ll be reading it out loud! And others will be listening.
Gorter started his Mei (May) with what would quickly become the most famous line in Dutch poetry: "Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid" (a new springtime and a new sound), expressing both the theme of youth and a totally fresh approach to poetry. It purposefully brings to mind the first line of John Keats' Endymion, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever". Endymion can be regarded as a precursor to Mei. Mei continues its form and theme, but adds an impressionistic and liberated view on poetry, covering a wide range of aspects of youth. Our translation "May, an epic poem of youth" tries to convey both freshness and tribute in the following manner: "The spring is new and new the sound it brings."
In the below link, performance artist Simon Mulder beautifully recites the first lines of May.