Rutger Kopland

The Poetry of Rutger Kopland

Patient Instrument

Rutger Kopland is without a doubt one of the Netherlands’ most popular poets and this popularity is due largely to the tone of his poems. Kopland speaks to his readers in a quiet, conversational style, using ostensibly simple phrases. His poems seem to evoke a wistful, almost nostalgic atmosphere of a lost paradise, happiness beneath an apple tree or in the grass, Among the Cattle, to quote the title of his 1966 debut volume. They seem to evoke it.

Kopland addressed the issue in a series of notes from his diaries that were added as an appendix to one of his volumes: ‘Everyone finds a lost paradise in my poetry, a longing for it. I don’t long for the past, I long for experience (…) and experience is new, now.’ These diaries also reveal that Kopland has long wrestled with the problem that the obvious words for the proverbial ‘major emotions’ have a steamroller effect, flattening everything before them. Those words might have been worth something in a world that was still whole, but that world no longer exists for Kopland, neither does he long for its return.

Kopland’s poetry is constantly balancing on the borderline between language and what it evokes. Irony was a common device in his early work and he is a master at using subtle exaggeration to steer a path between cliches. He once described the clash between his nostalgic tone and the far-from-nostalgic meaning of his poems elegantly as ‘memories of the unknown’. Through creation, through writing and slashing, something completely new emerges and turns out to be a memory: the memory of what and who you always were, irrespective of all the ideas you’ve always had about yourself: a stranger, someone else, an emptiness,

a hole in the form of
a man in the landscape.

In his poems, Kopland is constantly observing himself.

In his later volumes, from the eighties on, Kopland’s poetry seems to become more abstract, more philosophical. He wrote a series entitled ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ in which a non-specified ‘it’ wanders, merges, dissolves, disappears,

and it went on, as if there was always something else
that has to be sought, found, lost, sought, as if there was always something, something that has to be
before it disappears and after.

The poems seem to provide the basic pattern for the kind of movement Kopland makes in all his poetry. They demonstrate the ‘mechanics of emotion’. The continuing presence of these mechanics in his latest volumes - Geduldig gereedschap (Patient Instrument, 1993) and Tot het ons loslaat (Until It Lets Us Go, 1997) - guarantees that Kopland is still a poet whose work evokes the response: yes, that’s it exactly! - and that feeling is immediately reassuring, almost comforting. But what it exactly is is rather disturbing: the ‘now’ in which you are who you are is already over, a memory, the essential unknown, intangible.

One wonders how long it will take the Nobel Prize committee to consider Rutger Kopland, clearly an exceptionally gifted poet, and a very proper focus for their liberations.

Poetry Nation Review

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.

The Independent


I know those are woods, rivers,
meadows, villages, and that
I love them, I know it.

But more and more as now, as
a bird loves its nest:

not for ever. I see your withered
fingers on the rail, the small, grey
feathers fluttering at your temples,
the crowsfeet near your eyes,

dear one, do you see how still and far
that world is now, how only
the shadows of the clouds are moving,

do you feel how the wind is all
you feel. A time is coming - when we’ll
be birds again, as once we were,

in the days before we were.

Translation © 1998 James Brockway

Rutger Kopland

Rutger Kopland (1934-2012) is a pseudonym of R.H. van den Hoofdakker. Van den Hoofdakker is the retired psychiatrist and university lecturer, Kopland the poet - two personas who only met in Kopland’s conviction that scientific research is fundamentally no different to the process of writing a…

lees meer


De poëzie van Rutger Kopland . Poetry.


G.A. van Oorschot

Herengracht 613
NL - 1017 CE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 623 14 84
Fax: +31 20 625 40 83

[email protected]

lees meer