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THE OLD COASTLINE

Selected Poems of M. Vasalis

Translated by Fred Lessing & David Young

She has been called “the Dutch Elizabeth Bishop.” These are poems that readers cherish for their intensity, intimacy, and cinematic effects.

SIMULTANEITY

    Six in the evening, in the kitchen

The little dog with pricked-up ears,

the potatoes boiling on the stove,

the wooden tick of the clock – the sky

far and gray-blue and the jewelweeds,

tall as people.  The pasture

with uneven tussocks and their shadows,

like drawings in a cave.  And the knifelike light

that burns through the leaves, a glittering mystery.

And I – another creature, watching it.

It blends together and it doesn’t change.

Oh Lord.  I feel that something ought

to be made clear to me.  That I’ve been granted time,

and yet, however overwhelmed I am,

something is missing that would help me say: this order,

however slipshod it may be: I see it, I’m awakened.

Forgive my deafness and my lack of seeing,

and hold me in your greatness – I am small,

but have, as well, too many tentacles

that grope in the different-being Being.

M. Vasalis (1909–1998) was the pen name of Margaretha Drooglever-Fortuyn-Leenmans, a Dutch psychiatrist who specialized in children. Her poems come out of her life, her experience of the natural world, her professional practice, and her family relations. They arise from the pressure of occasion and necessity rather from an ambition to originality or greatness—their relative modesty is one of their secret strengths. Vasalis remains one of the most widely read and admired poets of her language and country.

FRED LESSING, Holocaust survivor, psychotherapist, and retired professor of Philosophy, retained his native Dutch language after immigrating to America at age 12. He had no knowledge of Vasalis until his brothers asked him about "De idioot in het bad." Fred felt it was inspired by the same muse as much of David Young's poetry. That launched their project to make Vasalis' work available to English speaking lovers of poetry.  

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Oil painting “Vasalis” by Joke Bijnsdorp

DAVID YOUNG is a poet (Field of Light and Shadow, 2010), editor (Field magazine and Oberlin College Press), and translator (Du Fu, Rilke, Petrarch, Holub) who enjoys collaborative translation, particularly with one of his oldest friends, Fred Lessing.