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Word of the day: dichtbij (close by)

In the previous posting we had a closer look at DICHTERS (poets) and their GEDICHTEN or DICHTEN (poems) and concluded that the word DICHT (poem) had no relation with the adverb or adjective DICHT meaning ‘close’ or ‘thick’ or ‘tight’.

Today I was cycling to meet and greet my favourite philosopher Spinoza whose image was bronzefied in the nineteenth century and who has since been pondering the wiles of the world on the Paviljoensgracht in the heart of The Hague.

Behind him is one of the few remaining streets where professional women lend frustrated men a helping hand and often other parts of their bodies. The name of this street is Doubletstraat and it is situated behind a wonderful court of almshouses where retired people live.

After I had had my exchange of thoughts with Baruch, I cycled to the Zuidwal (southern wall) which was once the boundary between the populated area of the village of The Hague and the meadows and fields stretching out as far as Rijswijk and Delft.

Cycling along the Zuidwal I peeped into the other end of the Doubletstraat and noticed a handwritten poem on the wall. I jumped off my bike and had a closer look (een kijkje van dichtbij).

This is the text:

Een gedicht
brengt U
bij U


I have translated this text for you as follows:

A poem
brings You
to You

doesn’t it

It is a cryptic piece of graffiti for a red-light street, isn’t it? The anonymous poet plays on the words GEDICHT and DICHTBIJ. As we have seen these words are not related. The adjective or adverb DICHT comes from a medieval Germanic verb which originally meant ‘to contract’, ‘to grow’, ‘to strengthen’ (modern Dutch ‘gedijen’). The ensuing word DICHT (joined tightly) is closely related to ‘tight’ in English.

The anonymous author of the short text seems to suggest that poetry is a means to bring people closer, to themselves, to each other? Is the second U someone else? In that case, the poet claims that a poem can shorten the distance between two people.

The words DICHTBIJ and DICHTER BIJ evoke some kind of intimacy, which must be alien to the lonely men pacing up and down the Doubletstraat and the tough women displaying their glowing skin from behind the windows.

This short text raises many questions. Why has ‘U’ been written with a capital? Is this capital ‘U’ a reference to the almighty? Is it an allusion to the 19th century popular hymn ‘Nader mijn God tot U’ (Nearer, My God, to Thee: / There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;/ all that thou sendest me, in mercy given; / angels to beckon me / nearer, my God, to thee; / nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!).

Is the poet warning the straying sinners that the beckoning women in the Doubletstraat are fallen angels? Is ‘U’ singular or plural?

And who is John? Is John a Hagenaar (‘Sjon’) who wants cheap and quick relief from the prostitutes who are lowering their rates because of the rapidly diminishing trade? All over the Netherlands city councils are closing down red-light streets.

Or is John an allusion to the unfortunate baptist, the mystical apostle or the gloom and doomsayer?

And why the exclamation mark instead of a question mark? Why this poem in the Doubletstraat, loneliest and busiest of Hague streets?

Instead of closeness the text has created distance… So was that its purpose, was it, John! Or wasn’t it? John.