Religious Poems of Constantijn Huygens


English translations © Peter J. Large, 1996

To see the wealth of Dutch language texts available on the WWW, visit the Coster Page.

Huygens clerk


  1. New Year (Translation of Niew Jaer)
  2. The Ascension (Translation of Hemelvaert)
  3. Sunday (Translation of Sondagh)
  4. Dying Willingly (Translation of Willigh Sterven
  5. Friendly Disagreement (Translation of Vriendelick Oneens)
  6. Beginning of the Articles of our Belief (Translation of Begin van de Artijckelen onses Geloofs)

Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was an important figure in the politics, religion and literature of the emergent Dutch Republic during and after its struggle for freedom from Spanish rule. He designed his own house Hofwijk in Voorburg (now the Huygensmuseum), he was a very gifted composer, as well as politician and diplomat. He translated poems of John Donne into Dutch. He made a major contribution to the evolution and development of the Dutch language as a literary vehicle, most especially in his poetry. "Huygens' poëzie is spits and geestig, soms vroom en vaak autobiografisch" (Josien Moerman). The text of all Huygens's poems is now available on the WWW, thanks to the work of the University of Leiden.  See De Gedichten van Constantijn Huygens. I am grateful to this source for the picture of Huygens. The poems in the archive are classified by year, and the pages are quite long and the anchors do not appear to work, so to reach a poem in the archive you may need to scroll down a long way. To facilitate locating the poems on this page in the archive, the poem number in the archive is given here.

As a musician, Huygens worked hard to preserve the use of the organ in Calvinist worship. He was taught by a famous blind organist, Pieter de Vois (c. 1580/1-1654). I have translated three epitaphs that Huygens wrote for his old teacher here. Two were written a couple of years before de Vois' death, the last nearly nearly 30 years afterwards.

The first three sonnets below, Niew Jaer, Hemelvaert and Sondagh appeared in a short collection of poems called Heilighe Daghen published in January 1645 by Van Baerle, dedicated as a New Year gift to Lady Leonore Hellemans of Muijden. For a detailed study of Heilighe Daghen, see F.L. Zwaan: C. Huygens' Avondmaalsgedichten en Heilige Dagen, NV Uitgeversmaatschappij W.E.J. Tjeenk Willink, Zwolle, 1968.

The wordplay in Sondagh produces many problems for the translator, and it emphasizes that although Dutch and English are closely related, they are not close enough for perfect translation of Huygens's subtleties.

Willigh Sterven (number 4) is much later. It was probably written in Paris in 1664 when Huygens was deeply involved in diplomatic negotiations to regain the region of Orange for the House of Orange. It was first published in the second edition of Huygens's collected poems, Korenbloemen in 1672, as was Vriendelick Oneens (number 5), typical of Huygens's later puntdichten.

These translations have tried as far as possible to reproduce Huygens's style. As a result, the English is neither seventeenth century nor twentieth century, but hopefully intelligible to an educated reader. Poem number 6 (translation of Begin van de artijckelen onses Geloofs, dating from 1645), uses the words ought and nought, which now only survive in English dialect, because no other translation works effectively.

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1. Original in Huygens Archive.

(Translation © by Peter Large of Niew Jaer)

It's gone. The last Sun sank yesterday in the the Sea,
a witness of all my sinfulness of this last year.
Today is like a thousand years to thee whom all men fear,
this day I expose my dirty soul before thee
taking off the foul clothes of the forty years and three,
and two and yet two more that thou hast allowed me here;
although I try thy patience with many a sinful prayer,
a cleaner suit than ever I put on permit me.

In its harsh newness it will constrain my flesh and blood
and fit with difficulty: but I trust thy hand,
that shall with ease adapt me and make the fitting good.
Make me on the Way to th'eternal Fatherland
one of Thy chosen Israelites in this Wilderness,
let not this life's new Clothing wear out, though it oppress.


't Is uyt. De leste Son gingh gisteren in Zee,
getuyge van mijn jaer vol ongeregeltheden.
O dien daer dusend jaer zijn als de dagh van heden,
voor wien ick desen dagh mijn' vuyle ziel ontklee
van 't smodderigh gewaed van veertigh jaer en twee,
en dry, en noch eens twee, die ghy my hebt geleden;
al vergh ick 't dijn geduld met sondighe gebeden,
gunt my een schoonder pack dan ick'er oyt aen dee.

In d'eerste niewigheit sal 't vleesch en bloed wat prengen,
en 't past haer moeyelick: maer ick betrouw Dijn' hand;
die sal 't my lichtelick wat ruymen en wat lengen.
Maeckt my maer op de Reis naer 't eewigh Vaderland
in dese Wilderniss een' Dijner Israëlijten,
en laet dit niewe Kleed mijn leven niet verslijten.

1 januari, 1645

2. Original in Huygens Archive Scroll down to [CH1645:009]
(Translation © by Peter Large of Hemelvaert)

O Israel's Chariot, with thy Horsemen full of might,
where bearest thou our King? O strength of all the weak,
art thou thus the refuge that all thy chosen seek?
Art thou thus their help? Wilt thou leave them in the fight,
wilt thou throw them as food, thou believers' champion knight,
to tyrants? Boiled and grilled, serv'st thou thy servants meek,
their arteries all burst, their muscles stretched to break,
their limbs on griddles charred, flesh black instead of white?

Fly then into our hearts, O glorious heav'nly Dove,
snatch them from this mortality for Thyself to nourish,
and leave the world no share, save that on which worms flourish;
and all that is worthy transport to heaven above.
O thou who from henceforth in eternal bliss dost dwell,
be here, and from this moment, convey us there as well.

O Wagen Israëls met uwe Ruyter-knechten,
waer voert ghy onsen Vorst? O aller swacken troost,
zijt ghy soo toeverlaet der ghenen die ghy koost?
Blijft ghy hun soo te hulp? Verlaet ghy haer in 't vechten,
voorvechter van Dijn volck? Werpt ghy se tot gerechten
den dwingelanden toe, gesoden en geroost,
haer' spieren uytgetanght, haer' ad'ren uytgeoost,
haer' zenuwen gesnerpt op roosteren en trechten?

O, Duyve siet om leegh; vlieght onse herten toe,
en rucktse voor Dijn aes uyt dese sterfflickheden;
en deelt de wereld mis, en laet haer niets beneden
dan daer de leste pier sijn' lusten in voldoe.
O die van nu af aen in 't endeloose bly zijt,
weest hier, en voert ons soo van nu af aen daer ghy zijt.

7 januari 1645

3. Original in Huygens Archive Scroll down to [CH1645:010]

(Translation © by Peter Large of Sondagh)

'Tis neither Sabbath-day nor Sunday, O my soul,
with all its subservience, the Sabbath's passed away,
and that sun that I see shone yesterday as today.
But the Sun I do not see, Sun that can make me whole,
his righteousness obscured by sin as black as coal,
Son of God, who trod the earth again upon this day,
is proud as a Bridegroom riding forth upon his way,
through thy Wounds I perceive thine endless Sunday's goal.

Though Sunday it may be, one can it God's Son-day call,
God's Reconciliation-day, yet guilty we fall.
God's Sun, God's Son, God's Reconciliation,
how long, O Lord, wilt thou bear this desecration,
that thy Reconciliation-day, thy Son-day, thy Sunday,
be thanklessly made waste, disgraced, debased as Sin-day?

Is 't Sabbath-dagh, mijn Ziel, of Sondagh? geen van tween,
de Sabbath is voorby met sijne dienstbaerheden;
en de Sonn die ick sie scheen gisteren als heden:
maer, die ick niet en sie en schijnt niet soo se scheen.
Son, die ick niet en sie als door mijn' sonden heen,
Soon Gods, die desen dagh het aerdtrijck weer betreedden,
fier als een Bruydegom ter loop-baen ingereden,
'k sie Sondagh sonder eind door dijne Wonden heen.

't Zy dan oock Sondagh nu, men magh 't Gods Soon-dagh noemen,
ja, en Gods Soen-dagh toe. Maer laet ick ons verdoemen,
waar ick van dryen gae, ick vind ons in de schuld.
God Son, God Soon, God Soen, hoe langh duert dijn geduld?
Hoe lange lijdt ghy, Heer, dijn' Soon-dagh, Soendagh, Sondagh,
ondanckbaerlick verspilt, verspeelt, verspelt in Sond-dagh?

7 januari 1645

4. Original in Huygens Archive  Scroll down to[CH1664:005]

(Translation © by Peter Large of Willigh Sterven)

Staying up, we called it in our childhood days,
not to go soon to bed with the Sun's declining rays:
`twas hard to take our rest when light had left the skies.
Childhood returns once more: is that not a surprise?
The older men become, the older they try to get.
To stay up is a pleasure, to go to bed is yet
for all the human race a thing of dread and fear,
and something special's promised aft'r our sojourn here,
that's worth th'experience and makes us want to stay
up late writing our own Epitaphs on the Last day.
At last comes weariness -- Gout and Kidney-stone,
here mouths without teeth, there eyes that see no sun.
And eyes like those of Children, kept open by brute force:
feeling and sensation less'ning and getting worse.
Happy is the one who without all that can right
piously, peaceably and restfully say, Good night.

Op blijven, noemden wy 't in onse kindsche dagen,
niet vroegh te bed te gaen; en 't was hard om verdragen,
te moeten rusten als de Son pas onder gingh.
Die kindsheit komt weerom; is't niet een wonder dingh?
Hoe dat men ouder werdt, hoem' ouder soeckt te wesen.
Op blijven is de vreughd, te bedde gaen, het vreesen
van alle menschlickheit: 't schijnt dat de tijd hier naer
yet sonderlinghs belooft, dat levens waardigh waer,
en daerm'om wenschen moght noch heel langh op te blijven
om 's Werelds end, misschien, en Graf-schrift te beschrijven.
Ten lesten komt de vaeck, 't is hier Graveel, daer Gicht,
hier monden sonder tand, daer oogen sonder licht,
en oogen die haer self, gelijck die van de Kind'ren,
op houden met geweld, en doorgaens voelen mind'ren.
Wel hem, die, sonder dat, Godvruchtelick bedacht,
heel geern' en heel gerust kan seggen, Goeden nacht.

Parijs, waarschijnlijk 10 januari, 1664

5. Original in Huygens Archive  Scroll down to [CH1667:070]

(Translation © by Peter Large of Vriendelick Oneens)

O let us, my Romish friend, be wise and not begin
upon those things that we so sadly differ in;
but let us concentrate,
agree and co-operate,
and against other misbeliefs together firmly stand;
we've common ground enough to praise God hand-in-hand.
Although we may not of two faiths a mixture make,
we both at least seek Heaven, though diff'rent roads we take:
Genevans with Romans go
like the Austrian rivers flow.
For a good deal of the way of faith our concord makes us one,
as the two rivers many miles without mixing run.

NOTE: This refers to the rivers Danube and Inn that after their confluence, run together without mixing.

Myn Roomsch-gesinde Vriend, laet ons wijs wesen willen,
en niet beginnen daer wy droevigh in verschillen;
maer daer in ons verstand
eens is en t'samen spant,
en vrolick tegen staet all' ander mis-gelooven;
wy hebben's ruym genoegh, om t'samen God te loven.
Staet ons geen mengelingh van twee Gods-diensten toe,
ten minsten soeckt ghy mé den Hemel als ik doe:
Geneven ga met Roomen
als d'Oostenrijcksche stroomen.
Ons' eendracht kan soo wel een groot stuck weeghs bestaen,
als daar twee onvermenght veel' mijlen t'samen gaen.

24 oktober 1667


Original in Huygens Archive Scroll down to [CH1645:124] CREDO IN DEUM, PATREM OMNIPOTENTEM, CREATOREM COELI ETC.

(Translation © by Peter Large of Begin van de Artijckelen onses Geloofs )

God spake and Nought became Ought. That's God without a peer.
Almighty being, whether I ascend or descend here,
I meet thee in thy work: from this footstool, earth
to that high throne from which thou in thy wisdom gavest birth,
all is God and full of God. The Heaven is full of tongues,
which tell of all thy wonders: earth also stirs its lungs,
and witnesses with heaven. What was that then, that Nought,
that so much Ought arose, as heart and eye have taught,
and arose in a moment, a moment seven days long,
that thou hast appointed to make my impotence less strong?
Nought was and Ought was not: Ought began and nought then went,
so Nought was there and was not: but thou'rt omnipotent.


God sprack, en niet wert yet. Dat's God zijn sonder weergae.
Almachtigh wesen, of ick op, en of ick neer gae,
'k ontmoet Dy in Dijn werk: van dese voetbanck af
tot in dien hoogen throon die Dy Dijn' wijsheit gaf,
is 't al God, en vol Gods. Den Hemel is vol tongen,
en die vol wonderen: het aerdrijck roert sijn' longen, en tolckt daer tegen op. Wat stoffe was dat, Niet,
daer soo veel Yets uyt rees als hert en ooge siet,
en rees in eenen wenck, den wenck van seven dagen,
die ghy soo noemt, om mijn' onmacht te leeren dragen?
Niet was, en Yet was niet: Yet werd, en Niet vergingh,
soo was Niet, en was niet: Maar ghy waert alle dingh.


This page was created by Peter J. Large. Last modified, 5 May, 2019.
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To see my translations into Dutch of Andrew Marvell's famous poems To His Coy Mistress and The Definition of Love, click the linked text.
I am grateful to Marc van Oostendorp for suggesting this arrangement of the texts.