Poëzie is kinderspel
Over het krakende ei
dwaalt een hemelse bode
op zoek naar zijn antipode
en dat zijt gij
mogelijk dat men op zulk een kleine schaal
niet denken kan het maakt nijdig
of men is verveeld dus veel te veilig
dan is men verloren voor de poëzie
u rest slechts een troost ligt gij op sterven
gij verveelt u dan ook niet
en plotseling kan dan pop en bal
laat herinnerd u laten weten
dit was ik en dat was het heelal
This poem in 60 seconds
As the Emperor of the Vijftigers, an experimental literary movement, Lucebert was responsible for a radical split with traditional poetry together with several other artists. It had become outdated after the Second World War and that is why they began experimenting. This poem shows clearly how poetry is approached: like a game of words, sounds and associations. Finding the meaning, however, is a lot harder because of that...
Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.
Amsterdam 1924 - Alkmaar 1994
Lucebert, born as Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk, was the son of a house painter and a mother who left the family when he was only two years old. After primary school, he started working for his father, but his talent allowed him to attend the Institute for Applied Arts Education. He worked various jobs after graduating and voluntarily worked in the German arms industry during the war. He was sympathetic towards Nazism as well, but remained silent about that for the rest of his life after the war.
After the war, he became successful as a visual artist and debuted as a poet in 1949. Lucebert became the leader of the Vijftigers (‘Those of the fifties’), modern artists who were searching for new poetry after the war and were inspired by childhood. The visual arts scene, of which Lucebert was still a part as well, was interested in children’s drawings, folk art and the culture of indigenous peoples. Lucebert was also inspired by that when it came to language, which was subject to his experimenting too.
In the fifties, Lucebert grew into a nationally famous visual artist and possibly the best-known poet of his generation. He proceeded to devote himself to the art of painting for some decades, but in the eighties he published poetry again.
What's this poem about?
This poem is about poetry. The title seems to state that poetry is simple, easy, child’s play. Still, the poem is not easy to understand and the many oppositions mainly raise questions.
It begins with the first stanza already. What do the egg and the bode have to do with each other? And who is the addressed ‘thou’? It seems to be about a birth, like a chick is born from a cracking egg. Does Lucebert describe the inception of a poem? The heavenly bode (the poet?) is searching for his opposite, which could be an earthly recipient (the reader?).
The second stanza is about the small scale, in other words: about detail. A poet works with details and sees poetry in the ordinary. He who cannot do or understand that, will be frustrated quickly. In short, those who do not have a playful, childish mind anymore will find it hard to enjoy poetry. Because, if the meaning is laid on too thick, a poem becomes boring and it soon ceases to be poetry.
But there is hope. Even the most rigid mind, completely devoid of any childish playfulness, can be touched by something small on its deathbed and see the poetry in it. Like how children play with dolls and toys - this is I, the ball is the universe -, each person bears some childishness in them. And with that, some poetry.
The poem itself is a game as well. The most straightforward wordplay is lost in translation: Lucebert plays with the association between ei (egg) en schaal (scale/shell). The poem’s language is playful by choice in order to invoke playful associations. In various ways Lucebert shows that poetry is a game, that it plays with childish joy.
Lucebert included this poem in his collection Val voor vliegengod (‘Fall for the god of flies’), published in 1959. It is a good example of the kind of poetry Lucebert wrote at that time. Because of the many images and associations, the poem becomes nearly incomprehensible.
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Lucebert in Leiden
Photo: Anoesjka Minnaard
This poem was painted in November 1995 at Apollolaan 262 in Leiden. It was the 38th wall poem realized by the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation.
Note: unfortunately, this poem is no longer legible, though may be restored in the future. It can be read on the following, older photo.
Photo: Ed Visser
All things of value are defenseless.
He who wants to shine must burn.
- The pseudonym Lucebert derives from Italian luce and Germanic bert. Both words mean ‘light’, so ‘Lucebert’ means ‘double light’.
- Lucebert was ‘the Emperor of the Vijftigers’. When he received a poetry award in 1954, he came to accept it dressed as an emperor.
- Lucebert wrote a song for famous Dutch singer Zangeres Zonder Naam: De soldatenmoeder.
Poetry is child’s play
Over the cracking egg
Wanders a heavenly bode
In search of his antipode
And that art thou
It is possible that one cannot think
On such a small scale it annoys one
Or one is bored thus much too safe
Then one is lost to poetry
Only one comfort remains for thee when dying
Then willest thou not feel bored
And suddenly can then doll and ball
Remembered late remind thee
That this was I and that was the universe
Translation: Diane Butterman
This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Chris Flinterman. The translation into English is by Emma Knapper. The following sources were consulted:
- 'Poëzie is kinderspel', in: Gerrit Komrij: Trou moet blycken of opnieuw In liefde bloeyende: de Nederlandse poëzie van de twaalfde tot en met de eenentwintigste eeuw in honderd en enige gedichten. Amsterdam 2001, p. 17-20.
- Jonge Lucebert had nazi sympathieeën at NOS.nl
- Literatuurmuseum.nl (11-5-2018)