The Poet as a Cow
Grass… and having grazed,
lying here on folded legs
with eyes amazed
that I don’t need to take a step
yet find my mouth as full
as when I walked the field.
It must have slipped my mind again
what kind of animal I am.
Reflected in ditches when I drink,
I see my head and think:
why is that cow so upside down?
In time the gate I rub my back against
grows old and grey and greasy smooth.
I’m shy of frogs and children and they
of me: they find my tongue too rough.
The farmer’s milking is such bliss,
I overlook his avarice.
Quite unaware, I dream in mist at night
that I’m a calf, resting by its mother’s side.
You’re with me through the night, the day, the night.
You once reserved the universe for me,
but that has been reduced to just this body.
Like the wind that howls around the house,
I feel you as a lack, a loss I can’t unwish.
I love you still, it is what it is.
Last night I walked with you
along sleep’s muted avenues,
and now the day has dawned
I see that nothing’s changed,
except those two, who in their mutual night
were perfectly united,
having left me alone again come morning
to walk together further in the light.
Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962) was a respected and influential poet, whose psychiatric problems were reflected in the obsessiveness of much of his poetry. Sectioned in 1937 for murdering his landlady and assaulting her daughter, the notoriety this brought contributed to his myth. His collected poems have been reprinted thirteen times.
In 2008 the translator won the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize with a slightly different version of ‘The Poet as a Cow’, his translation of ‘De dichter is een koe’. http://subtexttranslations.com/drptp/achterberg/achterberg.html
‘Presence’ and ‘Sleep Walking’ were first published on The High Window, 2017 https://thehighwindowpress.com/
All originals in Gerrit Achterberg, Verzamelde gedichten, Querido, Amsterdam, 1963.