Henriette Roland Holst poem on a dock worker

Dutch dockers' wives during 1979 strike

This poem is a sonnet, first published in 1907. As far as I know, it has never been translated into English.

Here is my translation, from the original by Henriette Roland Holst:

Dock worker

You who dive from darkness of ship’s hold
up to the darkness where the blind night stays
or until noon, that’s when the solar rays
are flashing goldlike ‘long blue water bold,

in a clear world you’re shouldering at length,
go down again: up, down, along your narrow rope;
the whole world’s treasures pass you as you grope,
and you get nothing; only bread for labour strength.

Sometimes, a wave of anger fills your brain:
for freedom, you advance like a mad bull,
you fall, so wounded by the sharpness in their hand.

Then you lay powerless, of pain so full.
O tortured brother, please do look again:
learn calm strength, which you need, to understand.

The last six lines of the poem are about early twentieth century Dutch dock workers sometimes individually lashing out against individual bosses or policemen, as a reaction to exploitation.The poem advises to organize workers’ struggles; instead of reacting emotionally.

This is the original poem in Dutch, as published in Henriette Roland Holst’s poetry book, Opwaartsche Wegen (Ways Up), second edition, 1914, page 11:


Gij die duikt uit het donkere ruim der schepen
tot het donker gewelf der blinde nacht
of tot den middag, als de zonneschacht
goudflitsend glijdt langs blauwe waterstrepen,

in heldre wereld schoudert gij uw vracht,
en daalt weer: op en neer, langs smale reepen;
schatten der aarde voert ge door uw grepen,
en int niets, dan wat brood tot nieuwe kracht.

Soms stijgt een golf van toorn u naar den kop:
om vrijheid stort ge als een dolle stier
voorover, waar de scherpe punte’ u treffen.

Dan ligt ge machteloos, een kreunend dier.
O veelgekwelde broeder zie toch op:
leer kalme kracht, die ge behoeft, beseffen.

2 thoughts on “Henriette Roland Holst poem on a dock worker

  1. Pingback: Poetess Henriette Roland Holst died fifty years ago | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: ‘Sorry we missed you’, Loach film review | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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