Did you know that we love poetry in The Netherlands? So much, that in some cities poetry is everywhere! Poetry of our own poets and poets from other countries. Poetry is everywhere, even in the Dutch city of Leiden.
In 1992 a project started under the name Gedichten op muren (Poetry on walls) with a clear goal: to display as much poetry as can be done. This project ceased to exist in 2005, but there are still new initiatives to paint poems on walls of buildings all over the city.
City of discoveries
The website www.muurgedichten.nl is only available in Dutch. The poems that are to be found all over the city aren’t all Dutch. There is a good reason for this. Leiden presents itself as City of Discoveries. Discoveries in science, literature, art and more. This was the cause of many great minds, not all with Dutch roots.
Let’s start with a good example of something that Leiden has, but wasn’t the initiative of someone with Dutch roots. Even though William I, Prince of Orange is considered to be the founding father of Holland, his roots were German. He led the Dutch revolt against the Spanish conquerors. For the role that the city Leiden played during this revolution, the city was rewarded with an own university.
The city was besieged during the years 1573 and 1574 by Spanish troops. Leiden choose the side of William I, Prince of Orange during the Eighty Years’ War. The university was founded in 1575 and that makes this university the oldest one in The Netherlands. The university nowadays has seven faculties and over 50 departments. Sixteen recipients of the Nobel Prize, including Albert Einstein, have a link or connection with this university. The link with science, culture and literature with the city is therefore very strong.
The project Gedichten op Muren (Poetry on walls) started out in 1992 with the poem of the Russian poetess Marina Tsvetajeva. In 2005 the project ended with the poem of Garcia Lorca, De Profundis. The initiative was launched by Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins.
The unique feature of this project is the fact that all the poems are painted by hand. These 107 poems are really beautiful. If you ever have the chance to visit Leiden, be sure to catch all of these 107 poems.
Below are a few examples, translated for your convenience.
By M. Vasalis
I withdraw back and wait.
This is the time that will not go to waiste
Ev’ry minute the future turns
I am an ocean of waiting
watery covered by the moment.
Sucking ebb of the mind,
that pulls the minutes and the high tide
who prepares deep in it’s darkness.
Is there no time? Or is there nothing but time?
Loss saves us. It guides our footsteps.
And loss is a radiance.
All else a mask.
Loss unifies us with something other than us.
And loss fastens the face of the sea
to our dreaming.
And loss is just waiting.
The school leaver
By Gerrit Komrij
I went through a rice pudding mountain
Of school facts and mandatory things,
where the urge of freedom wasn’t allowed,
where everything fall on me, but nothing hit me –
Till I came in an open field,
far away from the rules and airs and graces,
where a peacock told me of wisdom
and I plucked the wisdom from trees.
I had all the time for uselessness
and I found gold as I searched for pebbles.
This world is called university.
A world that now, some say,
is sold to a wolf and a speed demon –
Like there is any way to spread bank notes on your bread.