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Martinus Nijhoff

Edited by Thomas Mohlmann

Translated by David Colmer, James S. Holmes and Daan Van Der Vat

Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (112 pages)
(Pub. May 2010)
Out of Stock
  • Description
  • Excerpt
  • Author
  • from Awater

    The small salon is flanked by shelves and cupboards
    and so awash with the overpowering reek
    of toiletries that it seems smaller still.
    Awater – I must admit I’m quite relieved
    to see him, he’d almost given me the slip –
    is sitting at a round ceramic sink
    wrapped tightly in a cloak of starched white linen.
    The barber does his job and I pretend
    to be the next in line and take a seat.
    I’ve never seen Awater closer by
    than in this mirror; never has he appeared
    so absolutely inaccessible.
    Between the bottles, glittering and splintered,
    he rises in the mirror like an iceberg
    the scissors’ shining bows go gliding past.
    But spring comes soon, and with the mist still hanging
    from a sudden passing shower, the barber’s comb
    now ploughs a furrow in his tousled hair.
    Awater pays and leaves the barbershop.
    I follow him without a second thought.
    Chance takes a short cut to its destination.
    Was it meant to be – Awater’s ending up
    in the bar I used to visit with my brother?
    It was: he’s even occupied our corner.
    I sit down somewhere else. It’s hardly full.
    The barman knows me. He knows the way I feel.
    He wipes my table for a second time
    and dawdles with the white cloth in his hand.
    ‘The times,’ he mumbles finally, ‘have changed.’

    Translated by David Colmer

    The poetry of Martinus Nijhoff (1894–1953) was distinguished by clarity of language combined with mystical content. His masterpiece Awater, written in 1934, is the most important Dutch poem of the 20th century.

    This edition of Awater features three English translations – by Daan van der Vat, James S. Holmes and David Colmer – made at different periods, for comparison. As well as the Dutch text, it includes excerpts from a lecture by the poet on the origins of Awater, an essay on the first translation of the poem by Daan van der Vat, which quotes from his fascinating correspondence about the poem with Nijhoff; and an essay by the most recent translator, David Colmer. It concludes with an essay by the leading Nijhoff specialist, Wiljan van den Akker, which illuminates key elements of the poem in the context of modernism.

    Martinus Nijhoff
    Martinus Nijhoff was born in The Hague. He grew up in a literary atmosphere, his father being a bookseller and publisher. He studied literature in Amsterdam and law in Utrecht and began to publish in 1916 with De wandelaar (The Wanderer). He was a prominent critic and editor from 1926–1933 and ... read more
    Thomas Mohlmann
    Thomas Mhlmann is a poet who works for The Dutch Foundation for Literature in Amsterdam. He has edited a selection of Nijhoff's poetry, published by Prometheus in 2008. Two collections of his poems have also appeared from the same publisher. ... read more
    David Colmer
    David Colmer is an Australian writer and translator based in Holland. He was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Translation Prize and PEN Medallion and is a two-time winner of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize. His translations include Martinus Nijhoff’s ‘Awater’ for Anvil's edition of the poem (2010) and collections ... read more
    James S. Holmes
    ... read more
    Daan Van Der Vat
    ... read more
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