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Ik hou van jou (I love you)

Don’t forget it’s Valentine’s day today! The words LIEFDE (love, the noun) and its partner HOUDEN VAN (love, the verb) always reminds me of a friend of mine who is a poet. It’s not because I am in love. It’s because his writings about love convince me that there are poets in this gloomy world who know and profoundly feel what they are talking about. His name is David Muiderman.

Ik hou van jouMuiderman’s poems don’t sound lyridiculous or literaryturelike, no, they have a sincere ring to them. So many other poets use grandiose words like LIEFDE time and time again and all they leave is a greasy taste. LIEFDE is just too big a word for most of us mortals. Muiderman’s love poems are in Dutch of course. So you’ll have to learn Dutch. At the end of this posting I’ll introduce you to one of his poems in translation.

In the meantime I would like to tell you about the origins of LIEFDE.

LIEFDE dates back to the 13th century. It was derived from the 10th century word LIEF, dear, well-liked. The person you love is EEN LIEFJE, sweetheart or (more formally) GELIEFDE, loved one. LIEVEN used to be a popular verb. ‘I love you’ in Dutch was ‘Ik lief je’ for a long time. Now we use the horribly gasping and wheezing phrase: IK HOU VAN JOU. So unromantic with al those painful ‘ow’ sounds! The preposition ‘van’ (belonging to) gives it possessive overtones!

‘Houden van’ clasps in its core the verb ‘houden’ (hold). IK HOU VAN JOU literally means ‘I keep a hold of you’. The verb ‘houden’ (like English ‘hold’) stems from the Gothic verb ‘hoeden’ (tend a herd). In the Middle Ages when people could be held as slaves or serfs, HOUDEN VAN used to mean ‘have someone on loan’ (eg. a vassal). Later on it evolved to: ‘be concerned about someone’. In time HOUDEN VAN developed from ‘watching over someone’ to ‘expressing tender care’.

Yet, more and more people appear to prefer the English phrase to the Dutch one. Pity that we need a foreign language to express our most intimate feelings. There are other options but they are not as common as IK HOU VAN JOU. There is the archaic ‘beminnen’ (love dearly) and the sentimental ‘liefhebben’ (cherish, literally have dear). In Flanders they are used to saying: ‘ik zie u graag’ or ‘ik zie u gère’ (I gladly see you) and they also mean IK HOU VAN JOU (I love you).

Maybe we should reintroduce IK LIEF JOU! It sounds so much sweeter, softer and at the same time more logical. First you LIEF someone, then you are GELIEFD (beloved) and eventually you are in a state of LIEFDE. Let’s start by sending the one you ‘lieft’ a card with; IK LIEF JE, MIJN LIEVE LIEFJE. And while we’re at it, rename Valentine’s Day: LIEFDESDAG, because on that day: LIEFDE IS ALLES!

When you’re in love or enthralled by love, you do everything for love. And of course you cannot help but surrender to the tsunamis of loving feelings. There is only one thing you should not do or say and that’s DE LIEFDE BEDRIJVEN (make love). It is the most unromantic way of performing the most beautiful and tender act that humans are capable of.

The verb BEDRIJVEN means ‘to commit’ or ‘to practise’. When a Dutchman BEDRIJFT EEN ZONDE, he ‘commits a sin’. BEDRIJVEN suggests acts that are unspeakably horrendous. It is an insult to say that you commit or practise love! So please, please, stop saying LATEN WE DE LIEFDE BEDRIJVEN (let’s make love). Use the lovely verb VRIJEN (pet) instead. It contains the word VRIJ (free) and when everything is as it should be between two people in love, you’ll feel free while making love. The French say: ‘faire l’amour’ and the Germans have the wonderful ‘sich lieben’. Wunderschön: ‘Wir lieben uns’. That’s true love for you.

So go to your loved one on Valentine’s day and whisper softly: MIJN LIEF, IK WIL JE LIEVEN and pledge that you’ll never ever say that you wish to commit love again.

Here is David Muiderman’s poem (as promised) with my free translation underneath.

Zoveel vandaag

Zoals we toen lagen
arm in armen
en zo steeds maar lagen
de zon achter ons
en voor ons liet
lieten we de wind
in de haren, de wilde haren
och ik hield van je
samen in één bed
samen op het strand
samen op de fiets
alles in alles samen
en zo steeds maar lagen
ach ik hou van je
dag na dag
en alle dagen
vooral vandaag
en steeds
zoveel vandaag

(© David Muiderman. Zacht zand, De Brouwerij, 2010)

So much today

As we were lying then
arm in arms
and would lie all the time like that
the sun behind us
and before us let
we’d let the wind blow
in our hairs, the wild hairs
oh I loved you
together in one bed
together on the beach
together on the bike
all in all together
and thus we would lie all the time
ah I love you
day by day
and all the days
especially today
and all the time
so much today

© translation: Ruud Hisgen, 2014