C.H. Henry on translating Esther Jansma

C.H. Henry

on translating Esther Jansma

Most of my translation experience up to the present has been limited to workbook exercises and Dutch books. As a class, we have spent a considerable amount of time on significant pieces of Dutch literature like Anne Frank’s Diary. More recently, we have begun looking into songs and poetry — as a guitarist and singer, I have enjoyed our examination of music outside the U.S. I found Esther Jansma’s “Te lezen bij sneeuw” (To read in case of snow) after scouring the internet for a new name and title; I wanted to translate material that neither I nor my professor had read. After settling on this particular poem, translating it was not particularly difficult, save a few words I had never come across. The unusual speech structure of some lines caught me off guard. For instance, “Uit de tijd gestapt” is an unusual sentence that directly translates to “You stepped out of time.” The second person speech and simplicity of the messaging is strange for any translator aiming for complete accuracy. I enjoyed yet was momentarily confused by Jansma’s use of the word mateloos which I chose to interpret as measureless. Describing a song as measureless is not something I have heard of, but I found it to be an interesting choice executed by the poet. Lastly, the phrase “omringd door tijd waar jij niet bent” had me confronting my professor for guidance because the ordering confused me. I eventually settled on “surrounded by time where you are not.” The use of where seems strange until you consider that the poem is about existing within a memory. Overall, I am satisfied with the English version of the poem, and by translating it, I feel more connected with its nostalgic nature.

about the author

Esther Jansma (b. 1958) is from Amsterdam. She studied Archaeology and Philosophy at Amsterdam University. She now teaches geoscience at the University of Utrecht, but it is her work outside of the lecture halls that speaks to mass audiences in the Netherlands. Since 1988’s Voice Under My Bed, she has been writing and publishing poetry, and her talents in prose have not gone unnoticed — she has won the Dutch-language VSB Poetry Prize among other accolades for her various publications. In Jansma’s own words, a poet is “the rag-and-bone man, collector of remnants, moments, cracks in things.” Much like her day-to-day work of dating artifacts and estimating the age of trees, poetry is Jansma’s opportunity to stitch together stories from the remains of previous poets. Her interests may seem fragmented at first glance, but upon deeper inspection, her writing is only bolstered by her life experience as a mother, archaeologist, and Dutch academic in a world which frequently ignores the past.

about the translator

C.H. Henry is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania currently studying communications and diplomatic history with a minor in theater arts. For the past two years, he has been learning to speak, read, and write Dutch, and along the way, he has had the opportunity to learn about the history and actively engage in the culture via the Netherlands — America Association of the Delaware Valley. His relatives and family in Nashville, Tennessee, are not directly Dutch, but he has enjoyed learning a language he previously had little to no knowledge of until reaching Penn. He hopes more students will pursue the same remote interests.