“Spuistraat: In ons Den Haag ben ik Parijs: Gezellig druk en eigenwijs.”
“Spuistraat: In our The Hague I am Paris: Pleasantly busy, saucy and free.”
Walking the streets of The Hague is like roaming around a museum filled with wonderful monuments and artefacts of all centuries. The oldest building (Binnenhof) is still proudly present and many streetnames date back to the times when the city was still a village.
Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was born and bred in The Hague. He was employed by several members of the Orange family and when he was a diplomat in England he was knighted by King James I in 1622. The Dutch know him because he is one of our major poets and because he was the father of the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens. At the end of this month an exhibition dedicated to these two geniuses will be opened in de Grote Kerk in the centre of The Hague. Don’t miss it!
Sir Constantine Huygens loved his birthplace with all his heart. In 1643 Huygens wrote 150 short poems in Latin about the streets and buildings of The Hague. The volume’s title was ‘Haga vocalis’, ‘Voices of The Hague’. This week a lovely and beautifully illustrated book came out. It is called: ‘Stemmen van Den Haag’ (published by Prometheus).
In these poems Huygens gives a voice to the streets and buildings of The Hague. They speak about themselves. If you know some Dutch or Latin you can listen to these ancient voices from the seventeenth century and walk through the streets of The Hague with this book in hand (there is also an app). You’ll find out that most of the streets and buildings are still there, alive and kicking.
Academic Frans Blom and poet Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer translated the Latin texts into modern Dutch. This is not material for absolute beginners, but if you have some Dutch, you can understand these witty poems. Here is an example followed by my poor attempt at translation.
In ons Den Haag ben ik Parijs:
Gezellig druk en eigenwijs.
Omdat ik bruis van bruisend leven,
Zij alle troep hier mij vergeven.
Vergeven? Nee, het is een eer
Te zijn vergeven van verkeer.
In our The Hague I am Paris:
Pleasantly busy, saucy and free.
Brimming with dazzling life
Let me be forgiven for all the noise.
Forgiven? No, it is my pride
To be alive with dealings.
(The pun on ‘vergeven’ is lost in this translation. ‘Vergeven’ can mean ‘forgiven’ but also ‘infested’.)
Photo by RTV West (http://www.omroepwest.nl/missie-en-visie-omroep-west)