De klok regeert de kamer,
monotone wetten
murmelen in den avond,
niemand kan zijn regelen verzetten,
niemand wordt hier doorgelaten.

Vandaag ben ik beschuldigd,
vanavond lig ik voor't gericht.
Stilte in de zalen,
alleen het ademhalen
van de kast, een moeder die mij ziet.

Wind en regen buiten
pleiten en verdedigen,
wind en regen buiten
pleiten en omsluiten
den rechter met hun redenen.

Rinkelend verschrikken
minuten, minuten;
uren hijgen voort
en vier muren klagen
om een enkel woord
van vergeven vóór den morgen,
om een antwoord van vergeven,
om een antwoord vóór den morgen.

Gerrit Achterberg

Dream Judgement

The clock rules the chamber,
monotonous laws
drone on through the evening
no one can set his rulings aside,
no one escapes this room.

Today I am accused,
tonight I lie before the court.
Silence in the halls,
only the breathing
of the cupboard, a mother who sees me.

Outside, the wind and the rain
appeal and defend,
outside the wind and the rain
appeal and enclose
the judge with their reasoning.

Jerking forward with fear
the minutes, the minutes,
the hours gasp ahead
and the four walls cry
for one single word
of forgiveness before morning,
an answer of forgiveness,
an answer before morning.

Translated from the Dutch by Barry Goldensohn


Een lichaam, blind van slaap,
staat in mijn armen op.
Ik voel hoe zwaar het gaat.
Ik ben een eeuwigheid te laat.
Waar is je harteklop?

De dikke nacht houdt ons bijeen
en maakt ons met elkaar compact.
'Om Godswil laat mij niet meer los;
mijn benen zijn geknakt,'
fluister je aan mijn borst.

Het is of ik de aarde tors.
En langzaam kruipt het mos
over ons standbeeld heen.

Gerrit Achterberg

The Statue

A body, blind with sleep
rises in my arms, tall,
I feel its enormous weight.
I am an eternity too late.
Does your heart beat at all?

The thick night holds us together
jammed in a tight compact.
"The gods will not let me loose...
my legs are cracked,"
you whisper in my chest.

It's as if I carry the earth
and the moss creeps up above
slowly across our statue.

Translated from the Dutch by Barry Goldensohn

Gerrit Achterberg
These poems of Gerrit Achterberg come from the dream life, and the agonies of guilt and responsibility. The imagery in both has the cruel rationality of the tortured subconscious mind, which fits with what we know of the pain and violence of the poet's life. THE DREAM JUDGMENT  (Droomgericht) envisions a judge as unreachable as Kafka's, and abstract as a clock. THE STATUE (Standbild) is a horror image of failed human responsibility.  Both poems are overwhelmed by guilt, yet do not belong in the realm of psychopathology or the pathology of Christian guilt.  They are moments in the spiritual life of any imperfect human being. Alida Schieffelin-Gersie and Cees Roos helped me with the sound and meaning of the Dutch.

Barry Goldensohn

Gerrit Achterberg
BARRY GOLDENSOHN is a Professor of English and Poetry at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was the Dean of the School of Humanities and Arts at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachsetts and has also taught at Goddard College and the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. His first book, St. Venus Eve, was published in 1972. He can be contacted at bgoldens@skidmore.edu.
Barry Goldensohn
Gerrit Achterberg
The Adirondack Review