From time to time, The Ministry of Poetic Affairs translates some Dutch poems into English and analyses these poems. This isn’t any different with the poem by Jan Kal (born 1946) entitled “Mont Ventoux.” This mountain is related to a sporting event that is known all over the world.
Image source: Pixabay
Mont Ventoux, Thomas Simpson and this poem
There is a possibility that you might have heard about Mont Ventoux, but can’t place this mountain. Yes, it’s a mountain and it’s located in France (southern part: Provence region). This mountain is linked with the Tour de France. This is an annual bicycle race held in France.
It’s this mountain that inspired Kal to write a poem about. But is this poem really about the mountain?
The poem is a metaphor. Kal compares writing poetry to climb this monstrous mountain. It’s a reminder of that dreadful day on 13 July 1967. Just before he would reach the top of the mountain (about 1.912 meters), the cyclist Thomas (Tommy) Simpson collapsed. He was helped back on his bicycle, so he could finish the last 1.4 kilometres. He fell for the second time and was rushed to a hospital in Avignon. He later died. The cause of death was a fatal combination of alcohol, amfetamine and his mind-set not to give up in combination with the temperature of 42°C. In his gear, a set of ampules for amphetamine were found.
This is all very tragic. But is writing poetry that hard? Sometimes it can be. But in a way, it’s just about these tragic events. Events that stick with you, with all the details – like the shampoo – so that you’re able to write about this, years later.
This poem was published in 1974, seven years after the tragic death of Simpson.
Writing poetry is like cycling on Mont Ventoux,
where Tommy Simpson passed away.
Under such tragic conditions
the world champion became dead-beat.
On this col, many have ridden away,
first category, from that time taboo.
It smells like pine, Sunsilk Shampoo,
that you will need, when finally below.
Everything is inexpressible tiring;
Riding Mont Ventoux is very extreme,
wich includes: look before you leap.
Still, I will, even when the heat is scorching,
the top of this bald mountain:
vanity and chasing the wind.
— Jan Kal (translation: Harm Jagerman)
Dichten is fietsen op de Mont Ventoux,
waar Tommy Simpson toen is overleden.
Onder zo tragische omstandigheden
werd hier de wereldkampioen doodmoe.
Op deze col zijn vele losgereden,
eerste categorie, sindsdien taboe.
Het ruikt hier naar dennengeur, Sunsilk Shampoo,
die je wel nodig hebt, eenmaal beneden.
Alles is onuitsprekelijk vermoeiend;
de Mont Ventoux opfietsen is wel heel erg,
waarvoor ook geldt: bezint eer gij begint.
Toch haal ik, ook al is de hitte verschroeiend,
de top van deze kaalgeslagen berg:
ijdelheid en het najagen van de wind.
— Jan Kal