Dutch/Example 9

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Intermediate level: cycle 3
Voorbeeld 9 ~ Example 9

Het Schrijverke ~ Whirligig beetle

Poetry of Gezelle

Guido Gezelle (1830-1899)[edit]

Guido Gezelle

Guido Gezelle is seen as the greatest poet, author, translator and linguist of Flanders in the 19th century. He lived in a time when the Dutch language was under heavy pressure from French. This was the language of the elite of Belgium, a country that had claimed its independence from the Netherlands only in the year that Gezelle was born. The secession had been violent and protracted and had left many scars. There were many reasons for the split, some were religious: the south was solidly catholic, the north predominantly protestant, although its southern two provinces were not. Language had also played a role. Willem I the protestant king of the Netherlands had sought to impose Dutch as the national language. This was resented not only by the French speaking provinces of Wallonia but also the elite elsewhere, because they mostly spoke French.

Guido himself grew up speaking a dialect of West-Flanders but acquired no less than 15 other languages in his life. His aim was to combine his dialect with the long tradition of Dutch literature of both north and south before him. For many in the Netherlands what he produced was far too Belgian, for many in Belgium it was far too Dutch... Guido was a catholic priest and did find support from catholic writers in the north like Joseph Alberdingk Thijm from Amsterdam. Only later did the appreciation for his work grow more widely on both sides of the border.

In the following poem Guido demonstrates his love for language, nature and God all at once. It describes a small insect, the whirligig beetle (Gyrinus), that lives partly in the water and most visibly on top of it, where it whirls around as if endlessly writing something. In northern Dutch it is called een schrijvertje, a little scribe. This word is one of those diminutives that have developed their own meaning. In Gezelle's southern variety of the language all diminutives end in -ke(n), rather than -tje, so for him it was Het Schrijverke

There are about a dozen species of Gyrinus in the Low Countries and we do not know for sure which one Gezelle was looking at. Himself he mentions Gyrinus natans, but that is the name of a species long extinct. He probably meant Gyrinus natator or maybe Gyrinus susbstriatus.

Het schrijverke[edit]

Study the text of this poem and then go see this video in which it is sung by the Flemish singer Will Ferdy.

As you will see in the text Gezelle's language differs from northern usage on a number of points

  1. Diminutives end in -ke(n)
  2. He uses the pronoun gij and its verb forms: gij zijt (you are) gij waart (you were) and its possessive uw and some of its inflected forms like uwen.
  3. There are remnants of the double negation Middle Dutch had: Ik en weet niet. instead of Ik weet niet.
  4. Another Middle Dutch remnant is to put the adjective behind the noun: 't water klaar (the clear water)
  5. Some words have different forms or meanings: géren = gaarne (with pleasure); spegel = spiegel (mirror), bladtjes en blomkes = blaadjes en bloempjes (little leaves and flowers), zo(o) zeer (so rapidly, not: so terribly), wink(e)len (to make corners; in the north it means to shop..).
  6. There are some words simply not known in the north: kabotseken (little hood), kapoteken (little mantle)

Gyrinus natator. het
O krinklende winklende waterding,
Met 't zwarte kabotseken aan,
Wat zien ik toch geren uw kopke flink
Al schrijven op 't waterke gaan!
Gij leeft en gij roert en gij loopt zoo snel,
Al zie 'k u noch arrem noch been;
Gij wendt en gij weet uwen weg zoo wel,
Al zie 'k u geen ooge, geen één.
Wat waart, of wat zijt, of wat zult gij zijn?
Verklaar het en zeg het mij, toe!
Wat zijt gij toch, blinkende knopke fijn,
Dat nimmer van schrijven zijt moe?
Gij loopt over 't spegelend water klaar,
En 't water niet méér en verroert
Dan of het een gladdige windtje waar,
Dat stille over 't waterke voert.
O schrijverkes, schrijverkes zegt mij dan, -
Met twintigen zijt gij en meer,
En is er geen een die 't mij zeggen kan: -
Wat schrijft en wat schrijft gij zoo zeer?
Gij schrijft, en 't en staat in het water niet,
Gij schrijft, en 't is uit en 't is weg;
Geen Christen en weet er wat dat bediedt:
Och, schrijverke, zeg het mij, zeg!
Zijn 't visserkes daar ge van schrijven moet?
Zijn 't kruidekes daar ge van schrijft?
Zijn 't keikes of bladtjes of blomkes zoet,
Of 't water, waarop dat ge drijft?
Zijn 't vogelkes, kwietlende klachtgepiep,
Of is 'et het blauwe gewelf,
Dat onder en boven u blinkt, zoo diep,
Of is het u, schrijverken, zelf?
En 't krinklende winklende waterding,
Met 't zwarte kapoteken aan,
Het stelde en het rechtte zijne oorkes flink,
En 't bleef daar een stondeke staan:
‘Wij schrijven.’ zoo sprak het, ‘al krinklen af
Het gene onze Meester, weleer,
Ons makend en leerend, te schrijven gaf,
Eén lesse, niet min nochte meer;
Wij schrijven, en kunt gij die lesse toch
Niet lezen, en zijt gij zoo bot?
Wij schrijven, herschrijven en schrijven nog,
Den heiligen Name van God!
Guido Gezelle, 1857
A group of schrijverkes
Translation • Example 9 • Het Schrijverke
O whirling zigzagging waterthing
with the little black hood on,
how do I delight to see your little head
sturdily go write over the little water!
You live and you stir and you run so fast
Though I see neither arm nor leg on you
You wend and you know your way so well
even though I don't see an eye on you, not one.
What wert and what art and what wilt thou be?
Explain it, and tell me it, do!
What are you really, shiny fine little speck
who are never tired of writing?
You run over the mirroring water clear,
and the water does not stir more
than if it were a smooth little breeze
that silently passes over the water
O little scribes do tell me
with twenty you are and more
What do you write and write so fast?
You write and it does not stand in the water
You write and it is off and it's gone
No Christian knows what that means:
Oh, scribe, do tell me, tell!
Is it fishermen of which you must write?
Is it herbs that you write about?
Is it the pebbles, or leaves or little flowers sweet?
Or the water upon which you float?
Is it the birds, warbling piping complaint,
Or is it the blue sky
That shines below and an above you, so deep
Or is it you, scriblet yourself?
And the whirling zigzagging waterthing
with its little black mantle on
it stood up and straightened its little ears heftily
And it remained standing there for a while:
'We copy' thus it spoke, 'while whirling
that which our Master, of yore
gave us to write while making and teaching us
One lesson, no less and no more
We write, and cannot you read that lesson
and are you so dull?
We write and rewrite and write yet again
The Holy Name of God!


The vocabulary can be practiced at Quizlet (30 terms). Note that the vocabulary pertains to the forms in northern standard usage, not Gezelle's variety of Dutch. Some words like nimmer and stonde are poetic rather than colloquial.

Progress made[edit]

Cumulative term count

Beginner level 1053
Les 9 27
Les 9A 81
Ex. 9 31
Total number of terms 1192