Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Stefan Hertmans

IT GIVES US NOTHING

I

No, there is no one who will break rank and hear us
the angels are long since gone.
The hand that reaches out for silence is only given
noise in return, the falling of things,
waking in a night which, just before departure,
hoards the dreams that come with cold sweat.
For anyone who wakes from death shall not suffer
the creaking fate of never-seen birds
on a shore without a river, unless he dreams.

Peace which you can no longer ask of anyone
and which torments us above Jerusalem,
a light that shines from a million screens
and forgives us nothing, the living thing 
that comes to us and doesn’t hear us out.



II

There is no return for what we want to save
in the great sleeplessness we bring others
by remembering them; for he who
cannot forget gets no repose.
Even though the muezzin whines the cities awake
before cockcrow: he who dreams of redemption,
rattles with chains of hollow metal.
He who says survival has already forgotten;
in this fever there is no deliverance.
Shrill, strident, sneering, that’s how the singer sounds
who promises us nothing and withholds all 
that ever belonged to us.



III

It isn’t work, and so it’s never done;
and yet it labours through our breath,
and lies awake without us.
And doesn’t listen or complain,
and is simply there but pointlessly;
it absorbs into itself everything we thought
was empty; it is no name but
it crosses itself out; it echoes without sound;
is pure deception, speaks for itself,
is prodigal and strips us greedily to the bone.
It hunts for nothing, because it knows it all.
It is inside us and works there doing nothing
frittering away at wasted time.



IV

It washes over us wave upon wave,
the images are a screen for us,
they break on something that eludes us.
It’s about people in the morning train,
a bird that’s fallen from its nest,
the craft that’s zooming through the clouds;
it’s about brimstone and pestilence
about tattered books that are blown away,
about no memories, about lying awake
thinking of one word, about feeding on revenge,
about being homeless at minus four, 
infections in the medial heat,
the explosion of a satellite,
and out from under, and suddenly, and on and on,
or how on earth, without which not,
it shows no mercy and it gives us nothing.

HET GEEFT ONS NIETS

HET GEEFT ONS NIETS

I

Nee, uit deze rij stapt niemand die ons hoort,
de engelen zijn lang voorbij.
De hand die naar de stilte grijpt, krijgt niets
dan ruis in ruil, het vallen van de dingen,
ontwakend in een nacht die, net voor het vertrek,
de dromen bergt die angstzweet brengen.
Want wie uit dood ontwaakt, het krakend lot
van nooit geziene vogels bij een oever zonder stroom,
die zal niet ondergaan tenzij hij droomt.

Rust die je niemand meer kunt vragen,
en die ons plaagt, boven Jeruzalem,
een licht dat uit miljoenen schermen straalt
en ons niets kan vergeven, het levende
dat tot ons komt en ons niet verhoort.



II

Er is geen ruil voor wat we willen redden
in de grote slapeloosheid die we anderen
brengen door hen te gedenken; want wie
niet kan vergeten, vindt geen rust.
Al jankt de muezzin de steden wakker
voor de haan: wie van verlossing droomt,
rammelt met ketenen van hol metaal.
Wie overleven zegt, heeft al vergeten;
er is geen redding in die koorts.
Schril, schel, schamper, zo klinkt de zanger
die ons niets belooft en alles achterhoudt
wat ooit heeft toebehoord.



III

Het is geen werk, daarom nooit af;
en toch zwoegt het ons door de adem,
en ligt het wakker zonder ons.
En luistert niet en klaagt niet,
en is er stomweg zonder nood;
het zuigt zich vol aan wat we leeg
dachten te zijn; het streept zichzelf door
zonder naam te zijn; het galmt zonder geluid;
het is ruimste bedrog, spreekt voor zichzelf,
is gul en plukt ons gierig aan de huid.
Het jaagt op niets, omdat het alles kent.
Het is in ons en werkt daar werkloos
aan het slijten van verloren tijd.



IV

Het komt in golven over ons,
de beelden zijn een scherm voor ons,
ze spoelen aan op iets dat ons ontsnapt.
Het gaat om mensen op een ochtendtrein,
een vogel uit het nest gevallen,
het tuig dat door de wolken zoeft;
het gaat om zwavel en om pest
in boeken die verscheurd verwaaien,
om geen herinnering, om wakker liggen
om een woord, om eten van vergelding,
om dakloos bij min twintig,
infecties in de mediale hitte,
het openbarsten van een satelliet,
en onderuit, en plotseling, en al-maar-aan,
of waardoor wel, waarzonder niet,
het ontziet ons niet en geeft ons niets.
Close

IT GIVES US NOTHING

I

No, there is no one who will break rank and hear us
the angels are long since gone.
The hand that reaches out for silence is only given
noise in return, the falling of things,
waking in a night which, just before departure,
hoards the dreams that come with cold sweat.
For anyone who wakes from death shall not suffer
the creaking fate of never-seen birds
on a shore without a river, unless he dreams.

Peace which you can no longer ask of anyone
and which torments us above Jerusalem,
a light that shines from a million screens
and forgives us nothing, the living thing 
that comes to us and doesn’t hear us out.



II

There is no return for what we want to save
in the great sleeplessness we bring others
by remembering them; for he who
cannot forget gets no repose.
Even though the muezzin whines the cities awake
before cockcrow: he who dreams of redemption,
rattles with chains of hollow metal.
He who says survival has already forgotten;
in this fever there is no deliverance.
Shrill, strident, sneering, that’s how the singer sounds
who promises us nothing and withholds all 
that ever belonged to us.



III

It isn’t work, and so it’s never done;
and yet it labours through our breath,
and lies awake without us.
And doesn’t listen or complain,
and is simply there but pointlessly;
it absorbs into itself everything we thought
was empty; it is no name but
it crosses itself out; it echoes without sound;
is pure deception, speaks for itself,
is prodigal and strips us greedily to the bone.
It hunts for nothing, because it knows it all.
It is inside us and works there doing nothing
frittering away at wasted time.



IV

It washes over us wave upon wave,
the images are a screen for us,
they break on something that eludes us.
It’s about people in the morning train,
a bird that’s fallen from its nest,
the craft that’s zooming through the clouds;
it’s about brimstone and pestilence
about tattered books that are blown away,
about no memories, about lying awake
thinking of one word, about feeding on revenge,
about being homeless at minus four, 
infections in the medial heat,
the explosion of a satellite,
and out from under, and suddenly, and on and on,
or how on earth, without which not,
it shows no mercy and it gives us nothing.

IT GIVES US NOTHING

I

No, there is no one who will break rank and hear us
the angels are long since gone.
The hand that reaches out for silence is only given
noise in return, the falling of things,
waking in a night which, just before departure,
hoards the dreams that come with cold sweat.
For anyone who wakes from death shall not suffer
the creaking fate of never-seen birds
on a shore without a river, unless he dreams.

Peace which you can no longer ask of anyone
and which torments us above Jerusalem,
a light that shines from a million screens
and forgives us nothing, the living thing 
that comes to us and doesn’t hear us out.



II

There is no return for what we want to save
in the great sleeplessness we bring others
by remembering them; for he who
cannot forget gets no repose.
Even though the muezzin whines the cities awake
before cockcrow: he who dreams of redemption,
rattles with chains of hollow metal.
He who says survival has already forgotten;
in this fever there is no deliverance.
Shrill, strident, sneering, that’s how the singer sounds
who promises us nothing and withholds all 
that ever belonged to us.



III

It isn’t work, and so it’s never done;
and yet it labours through our breath,
and lies awake without us.
And doesn’t listen or complain,
and is simply there but pointlessly;
it absorbs into itself everything we thought
was empty; it is no name but
it crosses itself out; it echoes without sound;
is pure deception, speaks for itself,
is prodigal and strips us greedily to the bone.
It hunts for nothing, because it knows it all.
It is inside us and works there doing nothing
frittering away at wasted time.



IV

It washes over us wave upon wave,
the images are a screen for us,
they break on something that eludes us.
It’s about people in the morning train,
a bird that’s fallen from its nest,
the craft that’s zooming through the clouds;
it’s about brimstone and pestilence
about tattered books that are blown away,
about no memories, about lying awake
thinking of one word, about feeding on revenge,
about being homeless at minus four, 
infections in the medial heat,
the explosion of a satellite,
and out from under, and suddenly, and on and on,
or how on earth, without which not,
it shows no mercy and it gives us nothing.
Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère