Extra weird Dutch poetry

Cataloging the Dutch pamphlets in reverse chronological order has resulted in some interesting discoveries. As somebody who came into this project with no knowledge of Dutch history outside of the Napoleonic wars, I’ve certainly learned quite a bit. The reverse chronological order has actually been helpful in this respect, as it enables me to work backwards from a period of history I am at least somewhat comfortable in, and by examining the backgrounds to those events it becomes easier to figure out what these pamphlets are talking about without having to do too much additional research. (The fact that the vast majority of the Dutch pamphlets deal with major political upheavals makes research easier as well, since I can usually find English or French language sources that clarify the content of the pamphlets without having to muddle my way through yet more Dutch). As a result, I have a completely new perspective on the time period, since moving from effect to cause has resulted in a more nuanced view of history (at least on my end).


F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9 title page

Considering that this will most likely be my final post on this blog, I have decided to share one of the most bizarre items I have had the pleasure of cataloging for this project. That item is the Antwoord van Daniel Raap … (F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9). In a rare case of a pamphlet actually being honest about its content, the title page describes it as “extra raar” (lit. “extra weird”). What follows is fairly standard for the mid-18th century Dutch pamphlets, poetry describing the conflicts between Orangists and Republicans in the Netherlands. In this case, as Raap was the leader of the Doelists, it supports a return to the hereditary rule of the house of Orange-Nassau but advocated for democratic elections and absolute cognatic succession. There are quite a few pamphlets of this type in the collection, but this specific piece is noteworthy because of its inclusion of the Arlequin francois[sic].

F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9 "Arlequin francois"

Arlequin francois is also a poem, but the language is nearly incomprehensible. Each line of the poem is a morass of grammatically intertwined Dutch and French. It’s unclear whether this choice was made just to be difficult, as a subtly comment on Franco-Dutch relations, or simply to make it easier to rhyme (as in the opening lines: “Rarekiek, messieurs, rarekiek watte vreemds enne bezondre / kieke rekt toe, watte dink, c’est par diable grand wondre”). The whole thing is totally bizarre, and appears to be some smack at the excesses of various factions. This fits with other items in the volume that suggest controversy surrounding the political activities of Amsterdam’s wine merchants. Inexplicable poetry has been a pretty common occurrence on this project, but bizarre linguistic mash-ups have been extra rare. Won’t some Dutch history expert come to the Newberry and figure out what this is supposed to be?

2 Responses to Extra weird Dutch poetry

  1. Debora Pfeiffer

    Hello David,

    Thank you very much for this post. I would love to have a look at some of the manuscripts. I lived in the Flemish part of Belgium for eighteen years, and would say that my command of Flemish/Dutch is still extremely good, as is my command of French.

    Language like this: “Rarekiek, messieurs, rarekiek watte vreemds enne bezondre / kieke rekt toe, watte dink, c’est par diable grand wondre” is really common in Flemish towns, especially those in the province of Brabant, where Brussels is located. (Brussels tends to be mostly French-speaking, though it lies within the boundaries of a Flemish province.)

    “Kiek” is Flemish dialect for “kip”, which means, of course, “chicken.” To say that someone is “een rare vogel” is ABN or Algemene Beschaaft Nederlands. But in the smaller towns, it is common to call someone a “rarekiek”–a strange chicken.

    I would translate the passage above roughly as follows: “Strange chicken, my men, strange chicken/how strange and exceptional/ the chicken stretches out/what a thing/it’s by the devil, a great wonder

    What I’ve written in English is ridiculous, but in Flemish dialect it sounds perfectly normal. It’s something that a man would say to his drinking buddies. Perfectly logical. Commenting on politics. I could also imagine that the “kiek” might be the Wallonian “coq” as on the flag and coat of arms. This would make sense, because of the friction between the Flemish and the Walloons.

    I could provide a prose translation if you think that would help at all.

    If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact me. I work at the UIUC International & Area Studies Library. I don’t have academic credentials in Flemish and French, but I do have them in theatre, English literature, and in library and info science, if that helps.

    Thank you.

    With best wishes,

    Debora Pfeiffer

    • That’s some interesting insight. I should have mentioned it above, but my first thought when I came across this item was Belgium. What made me second guess this assessment was that the target of the poem was a porcelain merchant in Amsterdam, and there are several explicit references to current events in Amsterdam, including a supposed conspiracy of vintners to increase the power of William of Orange.

      I didn’t think of it at the time, but your comments have suggested a solution to the apparent Brabant-area nature of the language and the very Holland-en-West-Vriesland nature of the content: there is another copy of this item in the same volume. That copy lacks the “Arlequin francois” part, which makes me suspect that the item in my blog post might have been a Brabant-area reprint of an item originally published in Amsterdam or the Hague and expanded by some anonymous wag (since both items lack any sort of production information and I lack any sort of experience analyzing provincial Dutch printing practices this is totally conjecture on my part). This is all outside the scope of the level of detail we’ve been using when cataloging these items, but makes for interesting blog posts, discussions, and hopefully (if enough researchers come across the items) great scholarship.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!