Sinterklaas

A post for Christmas from poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children in The Netherlands in the 1960s. The illustration below is from the wall hanging which Julia made at the time.

Sinterklaas Kapoentje,
gooi wat in m’n schoentje,
gooi wat in m’n laarsje.
Dank u, Sinterklaasje.

Saint Nicholas, little capon,
Throw something in my little shoe
Throw something in my little boot.
Thank you, little Saint Nicholas!

Textile by Julia Banks

A brief but interesting rhyme appropriate for the time of year. It’s tempting to render Sinterklaas as Santa Claus, but that probably takes him a step further away from the 4th century Greek bishop whose feast day on December 6th. That was when Dutch and other European children would traditionally leave their shoes out, in the hope that the kindly saint or his proxies would leave sweets, gingerbread and other goodies in them.

Mama Lisa’s World gives ‘kapoentje’ as ‘you rascal’, and is coy about it: ‘This is a very short song and the word ‘kapoentje’ is a very old word with its origin not necessarily being positive. Over time however, its meaning is believed to be more in the context of a nickname of sorts.’ In fact, if you take off the diminutive ending ‘-tje’ (the thing that in English turns John into [little] Johnny and pig into [little] piggy), you are left with ‘kapoen’, which simply means capon: a castrated cock fowl destined for the cooking pot. Maybe a disrespectful reference to the bishop’s clerical celibacy, but after all, ‘rascal’ was once freighted with much more disapproval than it is now.

Even before listening to the Dutch spoken by a translating tool, my eye was caught by ‘gooi wat’ – literally, ‘throw something’ – for which we have a perfect north-east English dialect equivalent in the verb ‘hoy’. And indeed, the initial sound of ‘gooi’ is soft and aspirated, like a throaty ‘h’. So ‘gooi wat in m’n schoentje’ might better be represented by ‘hoy summat in wor shoesies’.

But I’m a poet, I’m attracted to a lot of stuff that linguists and oral historians would strenuously disagree with or disapprove of – so do feel free to tell me I’m making up false cognates.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2019!

 

In The Hague There Lives A Count
A, B, C, The Cat Comes With Me

In The Hague There Lives A Count

Here is a second post, by poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children in The Netherlands in the 1960s. The illustration below is from the wall hanging which Julia made at the time.

Textile by Julia Banks

In Den Haag daar woont een Graaf
En zijn zoon heet Jantje
Als je vraagt ‘Waar woont je Pa?’
Dan wijst hij met zijn Handje
Met vingertje en duim
Op zijn hoed draagt hij een Pluim
Aan zijn arm een Mandje……
Dag mijn lieve Jantje.

Statue in The Hague, by Ivo Coljé, 1976 (source: Steven Lek, Wikimedia Commons)

In The Hague there lives a Count
He has a son named Johnny
If you ask, ‘Where does your Daddy live?’
He points there with his little hand,
His little finger and his thumb.
On his hat he wears a plume,
On his arm a basket.
Good day to you, dear Johnny.

In Den Haag daar woont een graaf is a very well known Dutch nursery rhyme. Jantje – we would say Johnny in English – may be Jan I (John I) who became the Graafschap Holland (Count of the County of Holland) in 1296, when his father, Floris V, was assassinated. Jantje was only 13 years old, and after two years gave up his position to his cousin John II. Jantje died within the month. The Hague was traditionally the Graafschap’s residence, and in 1976, to celebrate its 750th anniversary, the City Council commissioned the statue shown here from sculptor Ivo Coljé.

It is possible that the rhyme is not about Jan I. Jan was a very common Dutch name, and it neatly rhymes with ‘Mandje’ (‘basket’) and ‘Handje’ (‘hand’).

Source: Local Heart, Global Soul

Here is Eleanor’s first nursery rhyme post.

A, B, C, The Cat Comes With Me

By Eleanor Brown

Here is the first of an occasional series of posts, by poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children when they lived in The Netherlands in the 1960s.

Later on, when I was married, I did have a lot of spare time. Because we moved to Holland in ’65 and we didn’t have a television. I spent a lot of time learning Dutch, because I’d got by then two young children who would go into nursery school, and I would need to be able to sing to them, nursery rhymes and so on. So my Dutch is based on nursery rhymes; I can’t discuss anything political, but I can sing you a nursery rhyme! And so a lot of my time there I went to the British Women’s Club Library…

With no YouTube to visit for colourful animations including a friendly ball bouncing along subtitled lyrics in time with the music; with no Babel Fish (RIP) or Google Translate to show texts side by side with their translations; with no smartphone language app encouragingly keeping score of learning tasks completed, Julia had to find her own way into Dutch. She must have had to learn tunes, pronunciation and intonations at toddler groups; perhaps at mother and baby sessions at the library. She must have had to do some guesswork and dictionary work at first, piecing together the meanings of (sometimes more or less nonsensical) texts with clues from the illustrations in books.

As in English, many Dutch early learning songs tell no very rational or sequential tale: bears buttering their sandwiches and snakes hanging out the washing are wonders to be met with in a world where beren rhymes with smeren and slangen rhymes with hangen.

In the absence of a television, Julia made her own visual aid: she coded her own and her children’s learning into a cross-stitch needlework textile wall hanging that illustrates 12 traditional Dutch nursery rhymes. The texts (together with audio and translations) of some of these can be found at Mama Lisa’s World: Children’s Songs and Nursery Rhymes From Around The World but if you make your own translations, you can enjoy finding equivalents for the flavour, rhythm or silliness of the original.

They range from the briefest summary of domestic animal whereabouts:

Textile by Julia Banks

A, B, C,                                           A, B, C,

De Kat gaat me,                          The cat comes with me,

De Hond blijft thuis.                   The dog stops at home.

‘Piep!’ zei de muis                        ‘Eek!’ says the mouse

In ‘t voorhuis.                                In the front of the house.

to a long, earnest account of (Everyboy) Jantje’s moral struggle as he gazes at the ripe plums his father has forbidden him to scrump. They include such recognisable childhood experiences as pulling your friend along in a little wagon, holding tight to mother’s umbrella in the wind and rain, and calling your sister stupid when you drop your cap in the mud.

Poetry at Off the Shelf: White Ink Stains

Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown

On 19 October 2016 we welcomed over 60 friends and poetry-lovers to the launch of the most surprising outcome of Reading Sheffield – a series of stunning poems, inspired by Sheffield readers, from Eleanor Brown, the award-winning Bloodaxe poet.  We thank the Off the Shelf Festival for their generous sponsorship and Sheffield Libraries for their hospitality.

eb-ots-crowd-oct-2016

Eleanor’s poems are a unique and highly persuasive way of honouring Sheffield readers’ experiences.  We are delighted that they are to be published by Bloodaxe in 2018.

Here is one of the poems Eleanor read for us, inspired by reader Jocelyn Wilson’s story. You can read more of Eleanor’s poems here and Jocelyn’s story here.

Honeymoon

 

Married in 1948. I had

the most exquisite nightdress, sort of like

a Greek goddess, and dressing gown to match.

They were the loveliest things I’d ever owned.

During the weeks before the wedding I’d

unwrap them from their tissue paper, hold

them up against myself and slowly sway

a sideways figure-of-eight. Didn’t have

a full length looking glass and didn’t dare

steal to my parents’ room to look in theirs.

 

We went away on honeymoon, the boat

to France and then by train to Switzerland.

I hadn’t brought enough to read. A kind

lady lent me a silly magazine:

the actress Lana Turner, 28,

was married for the fourth time, her trousseau

reported to have cost ten thousand pounds.

I gazed out of the window doing sums,

how many pairs of stockings must she have?

how many nightdresses and dressing gowns?

 

My husband hadn’t long been back from war

and – sort of totally exhausted – so

he slept a lot, in the warm weather. Well,

and I was very bored. But luckily,

luckily in this little Swiss hotel

there were a few English books. I was so

pleased to have them. I’d have read anything

(always somebody worse off than you

in a Thomas Hardy). Nobody says,

pack enough books to last the honeymoon.

 

In memory of Jocelyn Wilson 1926-2015

Jocelyn Wilson

Jocelyn Wilson

White Ink Stains: a reading by Eleanor Brown

Wednesday 19 October at 6.30pm, Sheffield Central Library

Reading Sheffield is pleased to announce

White Ink Stains

A reading by Eleanor Brown

eleanor-at-ots-crop

Eleanor is an award-winning poet (Maiden Speech, Bloodaxe Books) and adapter (Franziska, ad. Wedekind, Oberon Books).

Eleanor has written a number of poems based on the Reading Sheffield interviews. She will be reading from her poems (some of which you can see here) during Sheffield’s 2016 Off the Shelf Festival, on 19 October at 6.30pm in the Carpenter Room at the Central Library, Surrey St, Sheffield S1 1XZ.  The event is free, with support from the Humanities Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University.

Booking: mkg0401@aol.com