Bertus Aafjes – Schaatsenrijders (skate riders)

Schaatsenrijders is one of Aafjes’ sonnets to Friesland where he took cover from the Germans in WWII.

It’s been a strange week in the Netherlands. Not so much because Thierry Baudet, the leader of the Forum for Democracy, stepped down. He had not taken sufficient measures against sounds of antisemitism of young party members. And to save the party he took responsibility and left. That was all good. But a couple of days later he wanted to lead the party again, his party was not having it. He has now highjacked their social media…

In crazy times I like to turn to the solidness of poetry, especially the poems that lie on tablets in Leeuwarden. And by coincidence one of the first I put on picture is Schaatsenrijders by Bertus Aafjes. Normally we would call people gliding over frozen water: schaatsers or skaters. Schaatsenrijders or skate riders – to be compared with cyclists or bike riders – makes the activity more active as I picture them pushing those skates off into the ice in determinedand muscular strides.

After WWII, Bertus Aafjes published a collection of sonnets as a tribute to Friesland where he had been kept out of the hands of Nazi-Germany. Here’s a link to the original Dutch version. This is my translation. In Dutch it’s a sonnet in it’s rhyme and rhythm. I just want to bring its splendorous meaning across.

Grey-floored the frozen waters lie.
And skate riders speed, backs straight, over the white tracks, as quick
As peas fired from a catapult.

Rhythmic sound their resilient pushes.
And from below the ice floor
Sings back
A strange choral, sometimes stressed and stiff
As from water beings captured there.

Yonder out in space rides a small figure.
Through a world of snow and cold azure.
Now he dives in a dark group of trees.
And his skate loudly scratches a feather blown away
But almost immediately you see him again.
As an arrow he escapes the inferno.

I can’t help but wonder if he is the figure escaping the Nazis and what he would make of Thierry Baudet trying to skate on muddy waters that won’t freeze on his command.



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