‘Larrios’ by J. Slauerhoff

Suggested by Bart Wessels, former marketing manager at Singel Publishers, where he currently heads the imprint Volt, focusing on translated work by leading foreign authors.

Driven by the desire for love and joy (or perhaps just a tranquil harbour where his soul can find rest), the narrator sails the seven seas in search of the woman of his dreams. This detailed, sublimely written ship’s log hints at the many hours Slauerhoff spent at sea as a surgeon. “My miserable life was slung across those three encounters like a broken bridge on wrecked pillars,” the narrator laments.  Then you appeared on one of the verandas of the last house. That’s when it began. You leaned over the unpainted balustrade. You did not look up at first, but a glance was all I needed to take you in from top to toe, from your skin’s surface to your innermost depths. Still you resembled so many other Spanish women, with a mantle around your slim shoulders, your pose betraying the promise of slender and sultry movement, and of course you wore a red flower in your all too shiny hair. Although I could not see your eyes, your overall appearance hinted at their colour and gaze. When you looked up, just as the train was gathering speed, several metres from the window, I was dismayed to see your eyes were filled with the suffering that has waited patiently for centuries and, despite the grief and subjugation, has refused to submit, but has instead grown stronger in resistance, as if it awaits a single unspeakable word to rise up proud and irresistible, as if that long humiliation were borne arbitrarily, driven by a strange desire to be put to the test. That is how you looked at me and I forgot everything, even that I was being dragged onward, and so I was shaken by the torment that overcomes us all; to be faced suddenly with a life-changing decision, which must be taken that very instant or never again, and once taken is forever irrevocable. This truly is our mortal struggle, in the midst of life, compared to which our later death is merely a painless ascent, but I did nothing and lost you, Larrios.

from the collection Schuim en Asch (Foam and Ash), 1930. Available online in Dutch here