Mark groet 's morgens de dingen

Or, Mark greeting the things in the morning

Dag ventje met de fiets op de vaas met de bloem Hi little guy with the bike on the vase with the flower
ploem ploem ploum ploum
Dag stoel naast de tafel Hi chair besides the table
Dag brood op de tafel Hi bread on the table
Dag visserke-vis met de pijp Hi fishery-man with the pipe
en and
Dag visserke-vis met de pet Hi fishery-man with the hat
goeiendag good day
Daa-ag vis Bye-ee fish
Dag lieve vis Bye dear fish
Dag klein visselijn mijn Bye my little fishery-fish

The above is one of Paul van Ostaijen's poems, and is, in my opinion, one of his finest. I tried translating it to English so that my non-Dutch-speaking readers could appreciate it (Dutch-speaking readers will most likely already know it anyway), but it's almost impossible to properly translate it. In this poem, van Ostaijen invents a few words that aren't part of the Dutch language proper.

A good example is 'visserke-vis'. The first part, 'visserke', is (now) a dialect diminutive of 'visser', which translates to "fisherman" (though it is likely that in Van Ostaijen's days, 'visserke' wasn't considered to be a dialect word). The second part, 'vis', is just Dutch for 'fish'. A literal translation would thus be 'fishereman-fish' On the other hand, given the relative similarity of both words, it is conceivable that Van Ostaijen is just playing with the sound of those words here (he does that later in the poem, anyway), and as such, it's not entirely clear whether he's talking about a fish with a pipe and a had, or about a fisherman with a pipe and a hat. It could be both.

His use of the word 'Dag' adds to confusion. In Dutch, the word 'Dag' can be used as a greeting when seeing people for the first time in the morning, but it can also be used as a greeting when leaving people in the evening. Since this is used near the end of the poem, I translated it by using its second meaning; but it's also possible that Van Ostaijen is just playing with us.

Of that final line, I should add that the size of the letters is not my doing; Van Ostaijen's original version contained this. In fact, he is known for his expressionistic way of using letters, and some of his other poems go into extremes with that; his wikipedia entry has a nice example.

The final verse of the poem sounds pretty well, but defies all grammar. In proper grammar, the verse would read "Dag mijn klein visje". Van Ostaijen turns 'visje' into 'visselijn' so that it rhymes on 'mijn', and puts 'mijn' at the end. Whereas it's still possible to figure out a meaning of the first part of 'visserke-vis', this certainly isn't possible with 'visselijn'. It just isn't a word; all you can make of it is that he's talking about a fish. This certainly contradicts the idea that he was talking about a fisherman earlier.

All in all, "Mark groet 's morgens de dingen" is a very funny poem; it describes a man or a boy who does nothing else than say hello to objects when he gets up in the morning; and though it's necessary to explain the language if you don't speak Dutch to fully appreciate it, the idea that there's much more to be found behind the words is most likely wrong. This is just silly amusement.


I think you can translate dag as good day and have a similar level of ambiguity in English.

Thanks for the post

Comment by mjr Thu Jul 11 12:16:16 2013