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dutch horizons

In 'Fishing for Amber' (1999), his alphabetically ordered yet delightfully unclassifiable tapestry of Irish stories, Dutch history and Ovidian metamorphoses, Ciaran Carson discusses the four Dutch words for horizon. It is a rare instance where English, usually lousy with synonyms, has only one option, whereas Dutch, which tends to make up for a lack of vocabulary with idiomatic expressions, boasts no less than four.

Carson's narrator here is a Dutch pipe-smoking, jenever-importing sailor in a pub near Lough Neagh, County Antrim. The rubric is Opium. The paintings used as illustrations - here by Turner - are just two of many discussed in the book, mostly from the Dutch Golden Age.

Horizon: this word bears many of your English associations of the line at which the sky and earth appear to meet, or the boundary or limit of any sphere or thought. We, too, sometimes think of it as a great circle of the celestial sphere, the plane of which passes through the centre of the earth and is parallel to that of the sensible horizon in a given place; and the broad ring in which our early artificial globes were fixed is also distinguished by the word horizon. We are familiar with the concept horizontal. More specifically, a poetic usage of horizon is 'where Holland ends'.
J.M.W. Turner - Antwerp: Van Goyen Looking for a Subject
Kim: this keen word is found in the jargon of mariners, and is like your English 'rim' or 'edge'. One could apply it to a pewter plate as easily, or to any like vessel, but it is more congenial to a seascape: here, one easily imagines brisk days, and the sails whipping and slapping, outward boats leaving the cold harbours, bound for the Spice Islands. Your English painter Turner, who spent some profitable time in Holland studying our Dutch masters, displays a transcendental grasp of kim in his dramatic Antwerp: Van Goyen Looking for a Subject. Here, the far-off cloud-capped palaces and spires of Antwerp float on the edge of the sea, illuminated by a sun-shower, like a vision of the New World. Everything else is tossed about by the breeze, including the yacht in which van Goyen stands, identified by his plumed hat. This is one of Turner's many tributes to the Dutch. I recall that when, towards the end of his life, Turner would still receive the odd visitor on his home-made roof terrace in Chelsea, he would point inland, saying, 'My English prospect', and downriver whispering, 'My Dutch prospect'.
Verschiet is indeed 'prospect', with all its attendant ambiguities and implications of futurity. It is the direction in which an object, such as a building, faces; an outlook. It is something presented to the eye: a pleasant prospect. It is a thing expected, or the chances of a thing's success or failure: perhaps not a pleasant prospect. (...) It is the thing which flits incessantly into the future, and is found in market-places thronged with prospective buyers. Without it, there would be no profit, for promises could not be made. The paintings of the Golden Age are redolent with verschiet; and even in interiors its rule is manifest.

(Today most Dutch speakers, I'd say, are familiar with 'verschiet' only in its metaphorical meaning of prospect, and probably only in the expression 'iets in het verschiet hebben', 'to have something on the horizon'.)

J.M.W. Turner - Dutch Boats in a Gale: Fishermen Endeavouring to Put their Fish on Board
Lastly, the increasingly archaic einder, the end of sight, as far as the eye can see. We note its Biblical connotations: the end is nigh, to the last syllable of recorded time, world without end. Turner manages to portray both kim and einder in his Dutch Boats in a Gale: Fishermen Endeavouring to Put their Fish on Board. To our left, an ink-dark squall - einder - blown straight out of Apocalypse, threatens to capsize the central fishing-boats with their ill-advisedly full sails, and the crew of the smaller vessel, busy gathering their catches into baskets, is unaware that they are on a collision course with the other boats; only by backing his jib could the helmsman avoid a crash, but the wind needed for this manoeuvre is in any case stolen by the bulging sails of the other boats. To the right, a beurtschip, or Dutch packet-boat, lies close-hauled on the starboard tack in a strong south-easterly, while two other ships, also close-hauled, diminish in the long perspective towards a strip of yellow between sky and water not yet overwhelmed by the cloud - kim -

dutch light

While on the subject of observing Holland , another interesting documentary is ' Dutch Light ' ('Hollands Licht', 2003), investigating the myth of the unique quality of light in Holland. It is the dramatic, almost tangible light of 17th … Read the full post »

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