It is considered to be one of the bravest poems ever written. A poem with a strong moral to this. The Dutch poet Hieronymus van Alphen (1746-1803) wrote many poems for children, with a strong belief in the purity and innocence of children. But, in his poems, he always felt the need to express the need for children to obey their parents, as the poem the plum tree (De pruimenboom) shows.
About the poet
It’s not for his work as a jurist that we remember Van Alphen. He is mostly remembered by his poems for children. This was just one of the things I did next to his professional work as a jurist. He worked in the cities of Utrecht, Leiden and The Hague. In 1793, he was appointed as Treasurer-General for the Dutch Republic. He didn’t hold that job for long. In 1795, the Batavian Revolution broke out. Mostly all political figures were forced to resign. The Netherlands was at that time the Dutch Republic or the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. This had been like this since 1581, when The Netherlands gained independence from the kingdom of Spain. The republic was led by a stadtholder. This stadtholder, William V – Prince of Orange, fled the country in 1795 when the revolution broke out in Amsterdam.
Since Van Alphen was part of the wrong party, he was forced to end his career as a Treasurer-General. At that time, he was known for his poems where children played the role of modest, obedient characters. Maybe it was the wish of Van Alphen, that all children should listen to their parents.
The plum tree is considered as one of the classical poems of Dutch literature. Below there is an English translation of this poem. The Dutch version is also included.
The plum tree
Little John once saw plums hanging,
O! as big as eggs.
It appeared that little John wanted to pick,
even though his father forbid it.
Here is, he said, neither my father,
neither the gardener who will see:
in a tree so filled
one would not notice five six plums.
But I want to be obedient,
and will not pick: I will pass along.
For a hand full of plums,
should I be disobedient? Nay.
Little John moved along, but his father,
who listened to him in silence,
met him as he walked along
Come little John, his father spoke,
come my little sweetheart!
I will pick thy plums;
now father loves little John.
Father then began to shake the tree,
little John quickly picked up;
Little John’s hat was filled with plums,
he went on at a scamper.
Jantje zag eens pruimen hangen,
O! als eijeren zo groot.
‘t Scheen, dat Jantje wou gaan plukken,
Schoon zijn vader ‘t hem verbood.
Hier is, zei hij, noch mijn vader,
Noch de tuinman, die het ziet:
Aan een boom, zo vol geladen,
mist men vijf zes pruimen niet.
Maar ik wil gehoorzaam wezen,
En niet plukken: ik loop heen.
Zou ik, om een hand vol pruimen,
Ongehoorzaam wezen? Neen.
Voord ging Jantje: maar zijn vader,
Die hem stil beluisterd had,
Kwam hem in het loopen tegen,
Voor aan op het middelpad.
Kom mijn Jantje! zei de vader,
Kom mijn kleine hartedief!
Nu zal ik u pruimen plukken;
Nu heeft vader Jantje lief.
Daarop ging Papa aan ‘t schudden
Jantje raapte schielijk op;
Jantje kreeg zijn hoed vol pruimen,
En liep heen op een galop.