Guido Gezelle (1830-1899)


Guido Gezelle was perhaps the most important Flemish poet of the nineteenth century. He was priest, schoolteacher, poet and linguist, and translator of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha  into Dutch (1886).

Born in Brugge in 1830, trained for the priesthood at Roeseleare. His poetry is expresses his deep love of God in nature and the deep feelings of the Flemish people. His poetry was originally written in the West-Flemish dialect, but is mainly read nowadays in standard Dutch, though Gazelle disliked the Dutch as much as the French. Sound, rhythm, onomatopoeia and alliteration are just some of the verse techniques that characterize his work, as illustrated by the following short poem Als de Ziele luistert.

Als de ziele luistert
spreekt het al een taal dat leeft,
't lijzigste gefluister
ook een taal en teeken heeft:
bla'ren van de boomen
kouten met malkaar gezwind,
baren in stroomen
klappen luide en welgezind,
wind en wee en wolken,
wegelen van Gods heiligen voet,
talen en vertolken
't diep gedoken Woord zoo zoet....
als de ziele luistert.

from Kleengedichtjes, 1860


Publications include:

Vlaemsche Dichtoefeningen 1858
Kerkhofblommen 1858
Kleengedichtjes 1860
Gedichten, gezangen en Gebeden 1862
Tijdkrans 1893
Rijmsnoer om en om het Jaar 1897
Laatste verzen 1901.

The following poem, The Swifts, is typical. This translation is by Harry Lake, c. 1985. The Dutch text is from the Coster Page.

GIERZWALUWEN
THE SWIFTS
     'Zie,zie,zie,
      zie!zie!zie!
      zie!!zie!!zie!!
           zie!!!'
      tieren de,
      zwaluwen,
      twee-driemaal
          drie,
      zwierende en
      gierende:
      'Niemand,die...
          die
      bieden de
      stiet ons zal!
      Wie,wie?wie??
         wie???'
     
      Piepende en
      kriepende
      zwak en ge-
           zwind;
      haaiende en
      draaiende,
      rap als de
             wind;
      wiegende en
      vliegende,
      vlug op de
          vlerk,
      spoeien en
      roeien ze
      ringsom de
          kerk.
     
      Lege nu
      zweven ze,en
      geven ze
          burcht;
      hoge nu
      hemelt hun'
      vlerke,in de
           lucht:
      amper nog
      hore ik...en,
      die 'k niet en
           zie,
      lijvelijk
      zingen ze:
      'Wie???wie??wie?
           wie...'
‘See, see, see,
see! see! see!
see!! see!! see!!
    see!!!
scream the
swifts,
twice, three times
    three,
sweeping and
screeching and
‘We, we’ll no
    be
beat and no
tail be shown!
Whee, whee! whee!!
    whee!!!’

Peeping and
cheeping and
sleek and quick-
    limbed;
twirling and
whirling as
fleet as the
    wind;
wheeling and
keeling as
keen as a
    dirk,
swooping and
looping in
rings round the
    kirk.

Lower now
floating, then
flashing their
    flights;
higher now
stretching their
wings to the
    heights;
scarcely now
    audible,
hard now to
    see,
ceaselessly
singing a
‘We??? we?? we?
    we...’


trans. Harry Lake, c.1985




Page published here: 5 January, 2004.