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This poem is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

Ten Poems (translated by John Gallas and Kurt Ganzl) Emile Verhaeren

Emile Verhaeren, 1855-1916
A Belgian poet, writing in French, Verhaeren took a PhD in law, but soon turned to poetry full-time. It was said that ‘he did not care for bourgeois demands’. Describing the falling away of rural life, these poems have been called both ‘naturalistic’ and ‘examples of symbolism’. He died falling under a train at Rouen station.


The helps made Sundays-bread,
best milk, best wheat,
bent brows, jutty elbows out of sleeves,
sweat in them, and dropping in the doughtub.

Their hands, fingers, all of them, meant business,
their bodies budged in great bodices,
their thumping two-fists dobbed in dough,
punched bunshapes like breastflesh.

The blackwood cracked in kindled strakes
and off the cookboard’s edge, trays in twos
shoved the palesoft dough into the oven’s belly.

And the flames, through their way-in mouths,
like a huge hot gaggle of scarlet dogs,

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