Wiljan van den Akker PhD (Netherlands)



Wiljan van den Akker PhD (Netherlands)

Wiljan van den Akker (1954), poet and translator, got his PhD in Modern Literature in 1985 and was appointed full-professor of Modern Dutch Literature in 1987 at the University of Utrecht.
He taught in Berlin (at the Freie Universität), Köln, Paris, Lille and was a Senior Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley. From 1993 till 2003 he was the Director of the Research Institute for History and Culture. He became Distinguished Faculty Professor of Poetry in 2003. From 2006 till 2014 he was Dean of Humanities, after which he became Vice-Rector for Research until his retirement in 2021. His field of research is Modern Western Poetry. In 2008 he published his first volume of poetry, De Afstand (De Arbeiderspers) for which he received the C. Buddingh’ Award in 2009. In 2011 Hersenpap (De Arbeiderspers), his second volume of poetry, was published. Together with Esther Jansma he wrote the novel De Messias (published in 2015, Uitgeverij Prometheus) about fraud both within the academic community as in the trade of old violins. In 2018 he published a collection of short stories, Verdwaald (Uitgeverij Prometheus). Together with Esther Jansma he published two bilingual volumes of translations of poetry by the American poet Mark Strand: Gedichten Eten/Eating Poetry (2006, De Arbeiderspers) and Bijna Onzichtbaar/Almost Invisible (2011, Van Oorschot Uitgeverij). In 2021 his translations of Charles Simic’s poems were published (Dat Ongrijpbare Iets, Van Oorschot Uitgeverij).

that’s impossible to track down but where
you find yourself without someone
having brought you a key or having shown
you the way into this labyrinth of halls
and immeasurable rooms where countless
new doors swing open into even larger
spaces with ever more windows
and endless views where swathes of light
shine through the glass shrouding
the floors in blackness under a roof
of back-breaking trusses like a toppled ark
stranded and smashed on a rock
in a motionless starlit ocean destroying
with one devastating wave the foundation of

the house where you have never been
and never will be in your lifetime
but that you still seem to recognize
when it comes to visit you
in a dream a thousand years deep



Despite all our efforts to be well prepared – merry
conversations deep in a warm summer evening
decorated with the best of our comforting gestures –
we were taken by surprise in the middle of the night.

It would be slow, we believed, come little by little,
always in our presence of course and never so fast
we would gaze in amazement on this breathtaking
morning into a garden, changed at once and for all:

grass trimmed as lawn
trees pruned to the trunk
brushwood clarified
weeded trails and tracks.

Had we known it would happen so quickly and even
this very night, we could have stayed up, sneaked
to the window, opened a blind with the tip of one
finger to see its appearance and look at its passing.

Then again we might not have been granted this view:
this familiar, from now on only forever remembered
garden, its unruffled pool, steaming in this early
wintry light in which we can all soon disappear.


The first thing we do in the morning
time and again is try to forget
their presence during the night.
The mere fact that we keep this quiet,
to ourselves makes them disappear
behind the newspaper’s backpages,
stirred and drowned in a hot cup
of coffee. After that it’s only a matter
of swallowing and getting dressed.
There will be nothing left to see
but this house and its flowery garden
where serenity rustles in the trees,
shame smoothly translates into silence.


They always show up in the evening.
Of course they have never really
disappeared from the garden. We just
prefer the idea of this happening to us
for the very first time and only to us.
Besides we can have a much better look
at them in the dark. They huddle together
in silence at the far edge of the lawn
under the wintry trees. Sometimes some
of them try to dig holes in the frozen
ground. Look at them, how they’re
mining for clues in the backyard,
fishing for hints in the starless night.

©️ Wiljan van den Akker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s