Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Een dichterlijke groet uit 't oude land - door Guido Gezelle

The Flemish immigrants who came to the U.S. in its largest wave - from 1890 to 1930 - were predominantly Catholic and West Flemish. One of the formative figures at that time was the West Flemish priest, poet, and Flemish rights activist, Guido Gezelle (1830-1899). With simple yet catchy ditties, this parish priest articulated common sense, religious faith, and the rights of the oppressed Flemish majority.

The below poem can be found in L.J. Veen's Gelegenheidsgedichten (Amsterdam, 1925), pp.104-105. The very loose translation is mine. It is intentionally structured to capture the cadence of Gezelle's meaning. Given as it was exactly 20 years prior to the day of the first edition of the Gazette van Detroit on August 13th, 1914, its importance to the history of the Flemish in America cannot be overstated.

Voor eene Vlaamsche liefdadigheudskermis in de Vlaamsch-Hollandsche Parochie van Detroit, Michigan, in Noord-Amerika. Aug 13, 1894

Gebroeders, verre in ‘t westen weg,
Gedoogt dat ik goendag ik zeg
Die ben gebleven
Gezond in ‘t oude land in ‘t vrije leven.

Ik dicht nog altemets entwat,
In onze tale, op dit en dat;
En kwam van dage
Te lezen onverwacht uw’ verzenvrage.

Zoo haast heb ik de pen gepakt,
Met int heur’ stalen bek gewakt;
Ik zit al neere
En schrijve u, eerst van al: ‘t is zomersch were.

De Zonne in ‘t oosten, wit
En wolkenloos, te blinken zit,
Laat onze boeren
Hun versch gemaaide hooi met vorken roeren.

Bij u is ‘t nacht: gij slaapt wellicht,
Of wandelt onder ‘t serrelicht:
Terwijl ik wake
En welgezind een vlaamsch gedichtje u make.

God vordere u gebroeders! Sterk
En klock begost aan ‘t kerkewerk:
‘t en zal niet baten
Zoo lang gij ‘t onbegost zuit liggen laten.

Die wel beginnt heft half gedaan,
Dat vinde ik in de boeken staan
Van alle streken,
Daar wijze lien gezonde waarheid spreken.

Dus opgepast, en, doet eikeen
Zijn duwken, zij dat groot of kleen,
Na korte tijden
Zoo zuit ge u dankbaar zien een kerke wijden.

Nu weg van hier, naar ‘t verre land,
Mijn dichtje; en, aan den overkant
Van ‘t breede water,
Eerbiedig groet ons volk en zegt: tot later.

A Poetic Greeting From the Old Country
For a Flemish fundraiser for the Flemish-Dutch parish at Detroit, Michigan in North America, August 13, 1894.

Brothers, far away in the west,
Permit me to send you my very best
From one safe and sound
Back in the land you’ve known.

I’ve put pen to paper from time to time,
To draft in our quaint tongue a bit of rhyme;
So imagine my day’s delight,
Your unexpected request forthright.

Posthaste I grasp the pen in grip,
And wet with ink its steely tip.
To the desk I pulled my chair near,
And begin with, first of all: “Summer’s here”.

The eastern sun is blazing bright,
Amidst cloudless skies, shining blue-white.
Which gives our farmers here a day,
To scythe and stack fields of hay.

Where you live it’s now likely night,
And there you doze or walk by starlight:
While I for you with delight compose
A Flemish poem, my words in prose.

Godspeed my brothers! Standfast!
Fear not as you do your holy task!
For how can you all profit by,
Unharvested fields if they so lie?

“What’s well begun is then half done”,
‘Tis a saying said by everyone,
Whether by good priest or bad crook,
‘Tis the same in every town and in every book.

Thus come together one and all,
Rich or poor, large and small.
For then in a blink of your eyes,
Before you will your church arise.

Now fly from here to that distant land,
My ditty, these words, my comfort and.
Upon arrival please salute and say:
To all our folk, we’ll meet some day!