With the death of Rutger Kopland (1934-2012), Dutch literature has lost one of its most beloved and widely-read poets. Kopland made his debut in the mid-1960s in the literary journal Tirade. Shortly thereafter he published his first collection of poetry, Onder het vee (Among Cattle, 1966), which includes his now legendary poem ‘Under the Apple Tree’. The tone was gentle, searching and melancholy; the choice of words, clear and direct.
A figure of speech Kopland often employed was the paradox, as one reads in these well-known lines: ‘The finder hasn’t looked properly’, and ‘Leaving is a sort of staying on’. During the 1970s his work took on a calmer, more philosophical tone. Kopland’s themes often touched on the difference between being and not - or no longer - being; on confronting boundaries: he imagines, for instance, how a dead bird on the beach still desires to fly, how a stone can speak and become human, how a human in turn can become an animal (unaware of his mortality).
In addition to poetry, Kopland also published three collections of essays. His work received numerous awards: the Jan Campert Prize (1970), the Herman Gorter Prize (1975), the P.C. Hooft Prize (1988) and the VSB Poetry Prize (1998). He also received honorary doctorates for his poetry as well as his scientific work. A serious automobile accident in 2005 had grave consequences. Kopland’s short-term memory in particular was affected, as seen in a documentary about his life made at the time of the accident. Nevertheless he recovered sufficiently to be able to resume his public appearances and, in 2008, to publish his last collection of poetry, Toen ik dit zag.
Kopland is one of the Netherlands’ most translated poets; many foreign-language editions have been published with the support of the Dutch Foundation for Literature. J.M. Coetzee wrote a foreword to a selection of Kopland’s work in English, and in France his admirers include the novelist Patrick Modiano and the poets Jacques Réda and André Velter. The writer and translator Jean Grosjean once said: ‘Kopland grabs the reader by the heart, fiercely, like a bird of prey.’
Anthologies have been published in French (Gallimard, translated by Paul Gellings), English (Harvill Press and Waxwing Poems, translated by James Brockway and Willem Groenewegen) and German (Hanser, Hendrik Rost and Mirko Bonné). The British newspaper The Independent wrote of his work: ‘The quality of his lyrics and elegies, alpha and omega of the poet’s trade, indicate a warm and intelligent man who tackles the big subjects with economy and tact.’