The Poetry of Gerrit Achterberg: A Translation Problem?

  • Antoinette Fawcett
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Translating and Interpreting book series (PTTI)


In this chapter, Fawcett examines the case of twentieth century Dutch poet Gerrit Achterberg, whose poetry was both critically acclaimed and popular in the Dutch-speaking world, but barely known elsewhere. After examining possible reasons for this, the chapter focuses on the specific challenges of translating Achterberg’s poems, taking James Brockway’s translation story as an example. Brockway (1916–2000) perceived the centrality of form in Achterberg’s work, and understood that the formal elements of the poems could not be divorced from their effect and meaning. The chapter relates Brockway’s perceptions to the concept of iconicity, arguing that an alert response to the functioning of iconicity in a specific poem may provide a key not only to translating Achterberg’s work, but to many works that are similarly motivated.


  1. Achterberg, G. (1988) Verzamelde gedichten (Collected Poems), Amsterdam: Querido.Google Scholar
  2. Achterberg, G. (2000) Gedichten; Historisch-kritische uitgave: Deel 2, Apparaat (Poems; Historical-critical Edition: Part 2, Apparatus) (ed. P.G. de Bruijn), Den Haag: Constantijn Huygens Instituut.Google Scholar
  3. Amazon (2017) ‘Achterberg, Hidden Weddings’ ( [accessed 04/01/2017].
  4. Anbeek, T. (2009) ‘From the Hunger Winter to the First Morning, 1940–1960,’ tr. L. Waters, in T. Hermans (ed.) A Literary History of the Low Countries, Rochester and New York: Camden House.Google Scholar
  5. Armstrong, T. (2005) Modernism: A Cultural History, Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Attwell, D. (1993) J. M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing, Berkeley and Oxford: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  7. Attwell, D. (ed.) and J. M. Coetzee (1992) Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews—JM Coetzee, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Berg, H. F. van den and G. Dorleijn (2007) ‘Modernism(s) in Dutch Literature’, in Á. Eysteinsson and V. Liska (eds) Modernism (vol. 2), Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  9. Bittremieux, C. (1961) ‘Het kryptische huwelijk’ (The Cryptic Wedding), Hollands weekblad, Jaargang 3, Deel 115: 15–16.Google Scholar
  10. Boase-Beier, J. (2006) Stylistic Approaches to Translation, Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
  11. Boyce, P. (tr.) (1989) But This Land has No End: Selected Poems of Gerrit Achterberg, Lantzville, B. C.: Oolichan Books.Google Scholar
  12. Brockway, J. (1961) ‘Trumpets of the Word: A Translator’s Note on the Poetry of Gerrit Achterberg’, Typescript in the Museum of Literature, The Hague, B. 8714 H.1.Google Scholar
  13. Brockway, J. (1962) ‘And Death Shall Have no Dominion: on the Poetry of Gerrit Achterberg’, PEN International 13: 62–8.Google Scholar
  14. Brockway, J. (1980) ‘At a Loss for Words; Achterberg in English’, Dutch Crossing 12: 51–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brockway, J. (tr.) (1995a) Singers behind Glass: Eight Modern Dutch Poets, Lincoln: Jackson’s Arm.Google Scholar
  16. Brockway, J. (1995b) ‘Translator or Actor’, The Low Countries 3: 289–290 ( [accessed 30/11/2016].
  17. Brooker, P., et al. (2010) The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bruijn, P. G. de et al. (eds) (2002) ‘Vooraf’ (Preface), Jaarboek Gerrit Achterberg (Gerrit Achterberg Yearbook) 2: 5–6.Google Scholar
  19. Childs, P. (2008) Modernism, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Clarkson, C. (2009) J.M. Coetzee: Countervoices, London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Coetzee, J. M. (1977) ‘Achterberg’s “Ballade van de gasfitter”: The Mystery of I and You’, PMLA 92 (2): 285–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Coetzee, J. M. (tr.) (2004) Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Colmjon, G. van (2002a) ‘Wegens gebrek aan leven’ (Because of a Deficiency in Life), Trouw 15/06/2002 ( [accessed 28/11/2016].
  24. Colmjon, G. van (2002b) ‘Het meisje van zestien’ (The Sixteen Year Old Girl), Trouw 16/11/2002 ( [accessed 28/11/2016].
  25. Contrabas, De (2009) ‘De zeer overschatte Achterberg’ (The Extremely Over-rated Achterberg) ( [accessed 29/11/2016].
  26. COPAC (2016) ‘Adrienne Rich’ ( [accessed 01/11/2016].
  27. COPAC (2017) ‘Gerrit Achterberg’ ( [accessed 04/01/2017].
  28. Cornets de Groot, R.A. (1968) ‘Het afwijkend sonnet bij Gerrit Achterberg’ (The Deviant Sonnet in Achterberg), Labirinteek, Bert Bakker and Daamen NV: Den Haag, pp. 139–47.Google Scholar
  29. Davis, K. (2001) Deconstruction and Translation, Manchester, UK and Northampton, MA: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
  30. De Geest, D. and J. Dewulf (2016) ‘The Poetry of the Low Countries’, in R. Greene and S. Cushman (eds) The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. D’Haen, C. (1951) ‘Beschouwingen over Achterberg’ (Observations on Achterberg), Dietsche Warande en Belfort, Jaargang 96: 223–35.Google Scholar
  32. Dutch Classics (2012) ( [accessed: 04/01/2017].
  33. EB (2005) ‘Dutch Literature’, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edn) (vol. 4), Chicago etc.: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 300: 3a.Google Scholar
  34. EB (2012) ‘Gerrit Achterberg’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Library Edition ( [accessed: 01/10/2012].
  35. Eliade, M. (2004) Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (tr. W.R. Trask) (2nd paperback edn), Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Eysteinsson, Á. and V. Liska (2007) Modernism (2 vols), Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  37. Fawcett, A. (2014) Translating the Form: A Process-based Approach to Translating the Poems of Martinus Nijhoff (1894–1953) and Gerrit Achterberg (1905–1962) (Unpublished doctoral thesis), Norwich: University of East Anglia.Google Scholar
  38. Fokkema, R. L. K. (1964) ‘Het taboe rond Achterberg’ (The Achterberg Taboo), De Gids 127 (1): 52–5.Google Scholar
  39. Fokkema, R. L. K. (1973) Varianten bij Achterberg. Deel 2: de commentaar (Variations in Achterberg’s Work. Part 2: Commentary), Amsterdam: Querido.Google Scholar
  40. Fónagy, I. (2001) Languages within Language: An Evolutive Approach, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Fónagy, I. (1999) ‘Why iconicity?’, in M. Nänny and O. Fischer (eds) Form Miming Meaning, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  42. Geertsema, J. (2008) ‘Between Homage and Critique: Coetzee, Translation, and the Classic’, in A. Lianeri and V. Zajko (eds) Translation and the Classic: Identity as Change in the History of Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Givens, R. (1988) ‘Contemporary Dutch poetry’, The Literary Review 31 (3): 375–81.Google Scholar
  44. Haven, C. (2004) ‘Coetzee Mines Jewels of Dutch Poetry / Small Book of Translations Stands Tall as Collection of Little-known Treasures’ ( [accessed 28/11/2016].
  45. Hazeu, W. (1989) Gerrit Achterberg, Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers.Google Scholar
  46. Heide, H. van der (2010) ‘De bancirkelslag in de natuur: Gerrit Achterberg en de sacrale geometrie’ (The Magic Circle in Nature: Gerrit Achterberg and Sacred Geometry), Jaarboek Gerrit Achterberg (Gerrit Achterberg Yearbook) 10: 19–39.Google Scholar
  47. Heynders, O. (1988) ‘De formule van de dichter. Een beschouwing over de versimmanente poëtica van Achterberg’ (The Poet’s Formula. Observations on Achterberg’s Verse-immanent Poetics), Forum der Letteren. Jaargang 1988, 1–14.Google Scholar
  48. Hiraga, M. K. (2005 Metaphor and Iconicity: A Cognitive Approach to Analysing Texts, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Holmes, J. S. (1988) Translated! Papers on Literary and Translation Studies, Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  50. Jakobson, R. (1965) ‘Quest for the Essence of Language’, Diogenes 13: 21–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. KB (n.d.) ‘Gerrit Achterberg (1905–1962)’ ( [accessed: 28/11/2016].
  52. Keilson, H. (2003) ‘Psychiater en schrijver Hans Keilson over Gerrit Achterberg’ (Psychiatrist and Author Hans Keilson on Gerrit Achterberg), De Avonden 02/10/2003 ( [accessed 28/11/2016].
  53. King, P. K. (1971) ‘“Caretaker” and “Mon trésor”; Translations of Two Poems by Gerrit Achterberg’, in Dawn poetry in the Netherlands, Amsterdam: Athenaeum-Polak and Van Gennep, pp. 128–131.Google Scholar
  54. Kingstone, B. D. (1989) ‘Review of But this land has no end, selected poems of Gerrit Achterberg, trans. Pleuke Boyce’, Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies X (ii): 37–38.Google Scholar
  55. Kolocotroni, V., J. Goldman and O. Taxidou (1998) Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Kraats, R. van de (2002) ‘Achterberg in het Studiehuis’ (Achterberg in the Study House), Jaarboek Gerrit Achterberg (Gerrit Achterberg Yearbook) 2: 35–48.Google Scholar
  57. Levenson, M. H. (2011) The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lewis, P. (2011) The Cambridge Companion to European Modernism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lovelock, Y. (1984) The Line Forward: a Survey of Modern Dutch Poetry in English Translation, [S.I.]: Bridges.Google Scholar
  60. Mathijsen, M. (2010) Naar de letter. Handboek editiewetenschap (To the Letter. Handbook of Editorial Science), Den Haag: KNAW Press.Google Scholar
  61. McKee, L. (2003) ‘Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands’, Library Journal 128: 72–73.Google Scholar
  62. Meertens, P. J. (1958) ‘Magie en folklore in Achterbergs Spel van de wilde jacht. Een poging tot toelichting’ (Magic and Folklore in Achterberg’s Play of the Wild Hunt. An Attempt at Elucidation), Maatstaf. Jaargang 5: 741–752.Google Scholar
  63. Meir, I. and O. Tkachman (2014) ‘Iconicity’ ( [accessed: 12/01/2017].
  64. Middeldorp, A. (1985) De wereld van Gerrit Achterberg (The World of Gerrit Achterberg), Amsterdam: Synthese.Google Scholar
  65. Mous, H. (2009) ‘Een overschat dichter’ (An over-rated poet) ( [accessed 29/11/2016].
  66. Nicholls, P. (1995) Modernisms: A Literary Guide, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  67. O’Loughlin, M. (tr.) (1987) Hidden Weddings: Selected Poems of Gerrit Achterberg, Dublin: Raven Arts Press.Google Scholar
  68. Perman, D. and T. Heath (2001) ‘James Brockway’ (obituary) ( [accessed 05/01/2017].
  69. Pilling, J. (1993) ‘Review of Hidden Weddings by Gerrit Achterberg; The White Shaman by H.C. Ten Berge’, Poetry Nation Review 91, 19 (5): 59–60.Google Scholar
  70. Poetry Foundation (n.d.) ‘Poems and Poets/Poets’ ( [accessed 01/12/2016].
  71. Rich, A. (1993) Collected Early Poems: 1950–1970, New York and London: W. W. Norton and, pp. 251–61.Google Scholar
  72. Robinson, P. (2002) Poetry, Poets, Readers: Making Things Happen, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Rodenko, P. (1957) ‘Spiegel van de wilde jacht: Kanttekeningen bij Achterberg’s Spel van de Wilde Jacht, de reactie van de kritiek en enkele persoonlijke commentaren van de dichter’ (Mirror of the Wild Hunt: Annotations to Achterberg’s Play of the Wild Hunt, the Critical Reaction and the Poet’s Personal Observations), Maatstaf. Jaargang 5: 708–40.Google Scholar
  74. Saussure, F. de (1983) Course in General Linguistics (tr. R. Harris; ed. by C. Bally and A. Sechehaye), London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  75. Scheltema, T. W. L (1959) ‘Review of Gerrit Achterberg’s Spel van de wilde jacht’, Books Abroad 33 (3, Summer 1959): 285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schenkeveld, M. H. (1973) ‘Achterbergs Spel van de wilde jacht’ (Achterberg’s Play of the Wild Hunt), Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse taal- en letterkunde 83: 267–74.Google Scholar
  77. Stolk, F. (1999) Een kwestie van belichting. Genetisch-interpretatief commentaar bij Gerrit Achterbergs Spel van de wilde jacht (A Question of Clarification. Genetic-interpretative Commentary on Achterberg’s Play of the Wild Hunt) (Doctoral thesis) (2 vols), Utrecht: University of Utrecht.Google Scholar
  78. Stolk, F. (2002) ‘Het is te grof voor woorden’ (It is too Coarse for Words), Trouw, 07/12/2002 ( [accessed 28/11/2016].
  79. Swanborn, P. G. (2010) Case Study Research: What, Why and How? Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: Sage.Google Scholar
  80. Tew, P. and A. Murray (2009) The modernism handbook, London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  81. Textualscholarship1 (n.d.) ‘Gerrit Achterberg, Gedichten’ (Gerrit Achterberg, Poems) ( [accessed 03/01/2017].
  82. Textualscholarship2 (n.d.) ‘Digitale edities’ ( [accessed 04/01/2017].
  83. Warner, C. D. (1897) A Library of the World’s Best Literature, Ancient and Modern (vol. 42), New York: International Society.Google Scholar
  84. Webster, M. (2001) ‘Magic Iconism, Defamiliarization, Sympathetic Magic, and Visual Poetry (Guillaume Apollinaire and E.E. Cummings)’, European Journal of English Studies 5 (1): 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wiersma, S. (1972) A Tourist Does Golgotha and Other Poems, Grand Rapids: Being Publications.Google Scholar
  86. Willhardt, M. and A. M. Parker (2002) Who’s Who in Twentieth-Century World Poetry, London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antoinette Fawcett
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent ScholarUlverston, CumbriaUK

Personalised recommendations