Berfrois

Law

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by Hester Knibbe. Translated from the Dutch by Jacquelyn Pope

Take water, evident, that feeds the seas
or wind that blows and turns apathetically,
the grass that grows and once again gets
mowed, or us, growing larger at first,
then shrinking wrinkling simplifying
to nothing: always changing. Or

more capriciously: you’ll get from A to Z, but then
—just about at J—suddenly fate stands
in your way and takes you off. Where to?

The water shacked up with seas knows.
The wind that leaves no trace knows.
The grass stutters it out under the blade.

Poem (along with two more) first published at Asymptote


A Note from the Translator:

In translating “Law” one of the biggest challenges was turning the compact concreteness of the Dutch, its blunt declarativeness, into an English as unencumbered as possible by necessary prepositions or even, in places, multiple syllables. This poem in particular has some powerful monosyllabic verbs in the original, including words that carried a lovely ambiguity at the end, and that was lost, since it can’t simply exist in English, it can only be explained. At the same time, the process of paring down and carving out sounds that echoed aspects of the original was a real pleasure.

About the Authors:

Hester Knibbe was born in 1946 in Harderwijk, The Netherlands. Her books include Tussen gebaren en woorden (1982) and Antidood (2000).

Jacquelyn Pope is the author of Watermark (2005). She is the recipient of a 2012 PEN Translation Fund grant.