The Eighteen Dead by Dutch poet Jan Campert 1941 – Translation by Sibylla Chan

The Eighteen Dead 

 

My cell is but two metres long,

a bare two metres wide,

much smaller still the plot of ground

that’s not yet recognised,

but there I nameless go to rest

in company of friends,

eighteen we were in number and

not one sees dusk again.

 

O loveliness of light and land,

of Holland’s coast unbound,

when vanquished by our evil foe

I had no peace of mind;

what boots a man, upright and true,

to do in such a plight,

but kiss his child and kiss his wife

and fight the futile fight.

 

I knew the task that I took on

was fierce and painful work,

but my heart could not let it go,

nor would the spirit shirk.

It knew how foretimes in our land

our freedom was so prized,

before th’ invader’s cursed hand

had otherwise devised,

 

but ere he breaks his oaths and brags

the sickening stage did stand

to overrun dear Holland’s realm

and rape its hallowed land,

ere Germans gave him their respect

and held him in belief,

he bent our people to his rule

and plundered like a thief.

 

The rodent catcher of Berlin

now pipes his melody;

as sure as I soon dead shall be,

my love no more to see

and nevermore to break the bread

or sleep with her again – 

reject all that he vows or said,

that sly fox of a man.

 

Whoever reads these words, recall,

my comrades in distress

and their loved ones most of all,

their utter wretchedness,

know this that we too brought to mind

our kin and country dear,

from every night a new day dawns, 

and every sky will clear.

 

Behold the early morning light

upon the pane up high –

please God to lighten my demise,

I failed though I did try,

like any other could have done,

grant me your mercy then,

so let me meet my death a man:

the barrel of a gun.

 

 

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