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Word of the Day: vreugde (rejoicing, joy)

This sunny Sunday, 16th June, is a day to rejoice. And not only because it is Father’s Day. Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary distinguishes two kinds of rejoicings. Either you feel joyful, or you make someone joyful. All in the one verb. In Dutch we need two distinct verbs: ZICH VERHEUGEN (Ik verheug me over deze zondag -> I rejoice at this Sunday) and VERBLIJDEN (met mijn zonnige karakter verblijd ik jouw hart -> with my sunny character I rejoice your heart). In both cases Johnson says that the perpetrator is a rejoicer. There is no word for a rejoicer in Dutch. Alas.


The noun VREUGDE stems from the Middle Dutch verb ‘vreughen’ which evolved to ZICH VERHEUGEN. ‘Vreughen’ was derived from the Germanic verb ‘frawjan’, which can still be detected in the Dutch word VROLIJK (merry) and in the German word ‘Freude’ (joy).

When I hear the German word ‘Freude’ I immediately rejoice and start to crow Schiller’s and Beethoven’s ‘Ode an die Freude’ (1823) from the ninth Symphony:

‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium, Wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum! Deine Zauber binden wieder, Was die Mode streng geteilt; Alle Menschen werden Brüder, Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.’ (Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium, We enter, drunk with fire, Heavenly one, your sanctuary! Your magic reunites, What custom strictly divided. All men become brothers, Where your gentle wing rests.)

Joy is what we all desire, what we all aspire to. We are all on a journey to a joyful understanding what we are and what our place is in on earth. Understanding this will make us all brothers and sisters with harmonious relationships. Beethoven, Schiller, Spinoza, Einstein, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, so many scientists, philosophers and artists explored new paths to understanding and joy.

And speaking of the joyful science of Life, today is Bloomsday, the day immortalized by the Irish writer James Joyce in his novel ‘Ulysses’ (1922). ‘Aha’, I hear you say, ‘that bloody book that I never managed to finish. That overrated and unreadable piece of literature! Food for snobs and nerds.’ Yes indeed. That book.

I confess that I am one of those who think the world of this novel. For over forty years I have been rereading Joyce’s masterpiece. Pity that you, whom I just heard vent this unfortunate myth, will never partake of the many funny, saucy, moving and uplifting phrases ever written.

From 1982 we (a group of Irish expats and Joyce lovers) organised a dramatic Bloomsday reading usually in the Haagse Kunstkring (Circle of Arts in The Hague). In the year 2012 we had our last performance. We look back on a thirty-year tradition of successful performances with talented actors and musicians. People who had never read Joyce were surprised that this writer could give so much joy with his portrait of a day in the life of three Dubliners on a Thurday in June 1904.

Each Bloomsday we’d end our performance reading from the last episode. In this long and winding stream of monologue Molly Bloom thinks about her life and loves and, because she does not realize that James Joyce allows us to listen in on her private musings, we hear things that make us laugh and cry and sometimes even blush.

As a poor substitute for this year’s absent Bloomsday reading I finish this posting with the quote to end all quotes from Joyce’s joyful ending. Rejoice! Read Joyce!

‘and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes’