by Sylvia Choleva; photography by Daniel Lekov

Part 1 of Vagabond's series on a project where each embassy of the 27 member-states of the EU and Turkey in Sofia adopts a wall in the city centre and adorns it with a poem

the netherlands poetry wall


Jan Hanlo is one of the most famous poets in The Netherlands. Born in 1912 in Indonesia, he moved to London with his mother after his parents divorced. On the eve of the Second World War he lived in Amsterdam and had begun studying psychology, but his studies were cut short when he was sent to Berlin to work for the Germans. In the meantime he had become aware of his homosexuality. After graduating, he worked at a psychiatric hospital and taught English as a sideline. His personal psychological problems worsened and he ended up in a clinic – later his experiences there underlay some of his writings. After leaving the hospital and having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, he headed for Amsterdam, where he met poets from the Movement of the 1950s. It was in Amsterdam where he wrote his poem "Oote," which brought him renown. His is a unique style that resembles children's nonsensical poetry by combining various sounds – an avant-garde approach for the time. He also began writing some prose – short stories without plots. His homosexuality never stopped making his life diffcult: once he got imprisoned for a month because of his relationship with a 15-year-old boy, and later, due to public intolerance of his way of life, he left for Morocco. In 1969 he returned from Marrakech with a 13-year-old boy, who was soon sent back to his homeland by the Dutch authorities. A week later, on 16 June 1969, Hanlo died in Maastricht in a motorcycle accident.

zoals de koelte ‘s nachts langs lelies
en langs rozen
als wit koraal en parels diep in zee
zoals wat schoon is rustig schuilt
maar straalt wanneer ik schouwen wil
zo meen ik dat ook jij bent
als melk
als leem
en ‘t bleke rood van vaal gesteent
of porselein
zoals wat ver is en gering
en lang vergeten voor het oud is
zoals een waskaars en een koekoek
en een oud boek en een glimlach
en wat onverwacht en zacht is en het eerste
en wat schuchter en verlangend en vrijgevig
gaaf maar broos is
zo meen ik dat ook jij bent

like the coolness of night upon lilies
and roses
like white coral and pearls deep in the sea
like something beautiful peacefully hides
yet is radiant when I wish to look
so I believe that also you are
like milk
like loam
and the pale red of faded stones
or porcelain
like the way that what is far is close
and is long forgotten before it's old
like a wax candle and a cuckoo
and an old book and a smile
and what is unexpected and soft in the beginning
and what is shy and full of longing and generously
bestows but is fragile
so I believe that also you are



Austria poetry wall

Born in Vienna in 1941, Wolf Harranth is the author of children's and youth literature, as well as a translator, literary critic and editor. Until 1985 he worked as the editor-in-chief of the Jungbrunnen publishing house and has also worked in television. His translations include works of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde, among others. He is the author of The Pink-Eared Elephant (1971), The Bird Sings, the King Jumps (1976), My Old Grandad (1981), Dad Lost Something (1991), Our Land – Poems (1992), The Double Oliver (1992), A Tree for Jacob (1993) and The Peach Pit Lives Inside the Peach (1994).

Mach die Augen auf:
komm auf Vieles drauf.
Mach die Augen zu:
und du bist du.

Open your eyes:
it makes you clever and wise.
Close them and see
deep inside: that's me!



Sweden poetry wall

The poet, psychologist and translator Tomas Tranströmer was born in 1931 in Stockholm. Before becoming interested in music – he played the piano and the organ – and drawing, he was obsessed with archaeology and science, and dreamed of becoming an explorer. He studied in a classical school, where he began to read and write poetry. In 1956 he received his degree in psychology from the University of Stockholm. As a psychologist he worked with problem children, people with disabilities, convicts and drug addicts. From the mid-1960s he split his time between writing and working as a psychologist. He often gave readings at US universities, often with his friend and fellow poet Robert Bly. He has travelled around the world, including to the Balkans – he both visited and was published in Bulgaria – Spain, Africa and the United States. In 1990, a year after publishing his tenth book of poetry, For the Living and the Dead, he suffered a stroke that affected his speech. Tranströmer is the author of nearly 30 books and has sold thousands of copies of his work in his home country. His poems have been translated into more than 50 languages. He is a master of transcendental poetry, and in his verse has experimented also with metre. He has won many prestigious awards, and in 1997 a prize was instituted in his name.

Står på balkongen
i en bur av solstrålar -
som en regnbåge.

On the balcony
standing in a cage of sunbeams –
like a rainbow.



Estonia poetry wall

Jaan Kaplinski, born in 1941, is an Estonian writer, translator and poet whose works have enjoyed international recognition. His mother was Estonian, and his father was a Pole who disappeared in the Soviet labour camps during the Second World War. Kaplinski studied linguistics at the University of Tartu and wrote his first romantic poems – under the influence of Shelley and Lermontov – while still in high school. He worked in the fields of linguistics, sociology and ecology, and has translated poetry into Estonian from French, English, Spanish, Chinese and Swedish. Since 1965 he has published 14 books of poetry, five essays and a number of prose works. He has been translated into Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, Latvian, Russian and Czech. Kaplinski has won several national and international prizes. During the Perestroyka years, Kaplinski worked as a journalist both in his native country and abroad. From 1992 to 1995 he served as an MP in the Estonian parliament, and sympathised with the leftwing liberals. He is interested in Celtic mythology and languages, Native Americans, and classical Chinese philosophy and poetry. He lectures on the history of the Western civilisation at the University of Tartu. Recently Kaplinski has gained popularity as a poet addressing environmentalist issues, as well as for his Taoist views.

Mul ei ole hinge. Ma ise olen
halli kivi hing. Siin ma magasin,
kuni mind äratati. Keegi
tahus meisli ja haamriga
ülearuse ettevaatlikult ära.
Ent ma pole valmis. See mina
on midagi kivi ja mõne sõna vahel.
on midagi minu ja mõne
sõnatu mõtte vahel
siin halli kivi südames,
kus ajal pole kohta,
kus kohal pole nime.

I have no soul. I myself am the soul
of a grey stone. I have slept here
until they woke me up, somebody
with a chisel and hammer carefully
tooling the surplus away.
But I am not finished.
This me is something in-between
the rock and some words,
the words something in-between
me and some wordless thoughts
in the heart of the grey rock
where time has no place,
where place has no name.

Read more Wall-to-Wall poems here (Part 2), here (Part 3), here (Part 4), and here (Part 5).



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