Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

Beachcomber s on t he North Se a

The first recorded lines of poetry written in Dutch – or Old Flemish – are from the late 11th century: Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu. (Do all of the birds have nests, but for you and me; well, what are we waiting for). They were composed in the Benedictine abbey of St Andrew’s in Rochester, and only discovered in the Bodleian in 1933 on a flyleaf of a manuscript of Anglo-Saxon sermons. The lines are a pen test and they appear beneath the Latin version Abent omnes volucres nidos inceptos nisi ego et tu quid expectamus nunc. So, which came first? Given the internal rhyme and double entendre of the Dutch, and the woodenness of the Latin, my vote would go to the demotic. This is the Netherlands’ Sumer is icumen in. The poet in question was likely to have been a Flemish monk, seconded from the Norman abbey of Notre Dame du Bec Hellouin, a pan-European publishing powerhouse, and centre for the training of scribes. England had recently been annexed by the Normans and our poet would have been a servant of the new European Raj. But, was our scribe merely regurgitating an extant verse by another hand? Or was this an original composition? And what might his motivation have been for doodling the poem on the sermons? Was this perhaps Auden’s bored clerk? Or was he, as I suspect, more in thrall to Eros? And what could the circumstances of this poem’s composition possibly tell us about modern Dutch poetry?

By and large, the Dutch are pretty a-historical. There’s little kowtowing to the past, apart from the odd twinge of the phantom limb of the 17th century Golden Age. Literary-wise,


My Bookmarks

Skip to main content