Cees Nooteboom has been a traveling narrator all his life, in front of a large audience. Readers, especially Germans, loved him for it. This applies above all to short stories and novels in which he took his readers halfway around the world, as well as to some reports. But in his poems he repeatedly moved to faraway places, for example Broome in Australia or Menorca.
These poems form the true center of a large-scale work, without its audiences, who have always traveled with their souls, bothering themselves. They are in the author’s self-perception: Nooteboom has repeatedly indicated that he first considers himself a poet. But they are also because they clearly state the motives for travel and its futility.
A new volume of poetry has now been published, it is the 16th for this 87-year-old author. It is entitled “Farewell” and may be the last such book: It is intended to be the closing words of life in literature as well as life in general, and the poems leave no doubt about that.
This poet belongs to a special kind of infantry
In the beginning, a man appears in a winter garden, in the midst of the Mediterranean environment: “The end of the end, what could it be?” He asks himself, then his gaze stops at a passing gray cloud. Between them, there is a reflection about a person who “went into the world”, and the following verses can be recognized as a reflection of the poet himself to any reader familiar with the work of Sis Noteboom: “… strange, // a person with wings, but without / claws, Transparent, fond of shells / and stones, leaf in the wind, here // and there, surrounded by poems // Never far from the sea.
One would consider the Cees Nooteboom a great hiker, due to the many and long trips he has made. But it actually isn’t, since most of these hikers are on their way to specific destinations. Instead, this poet belonged to a special kind of infantry. Although he wants to move from one place to another, he always knows that the satisfaction that seems to be tied to reaching a goal will never be achieved in the end. So you don’t get lucky in the first place.
And so the apparently disturbed narrator bursts out over and over again, over his half promise of happiness. But then he is only half disappointed if the promise does not come true. After all, he’s done one big tour, and it won’t be long before he’s gone for the next big tour. At least that’s how it has been up until now.
Longing had long since become his livelihood
The fact that Cees Nooteboom writes sad poems is often noted, just as melancholy appears to be one of the defining characteristics of the entire work. The poems show how and why this feeling arises: it clearly belongs to the self-healing of a person who yearns in principle and is looking for a reason to stop.
But he cannot find it, and how does that work, long since longing has become the basis of life for him. Cees Nooteboom knows himself well enough to call this dilemma: “I’ve gone so many paths, always looking for / what should be farther away, and when I finally saw it, it disappeared like an illusion // or arose as a poem.” So sadness may not be the correct word to describe this poet’s position. Because these lines go beyond the gentle and sad self-approval of melancholy. There is no consolation in them. The verses belong to moderate despair.
According to the usual classification of travelers, the Cees Nooteboom is an intermediary between a nomad and a tourist, as it seems to be more oriented towards the latter than the former, as it shares the tourist with that longing. That’s why he always has to set new goals in spite of everything. That is why what was wanted and what was achieved must always fall apart. That is why the need for geographical change does not stop with disappointment, but rather, in the literal sense of the word, it continues.
But because at the end of the day you lose your power while you are still traveling, because you see, hear and smell less while you are on the road, the outside world is going there with everything still worth talking about. At the same time, the inner world asserts itself until it no longer wants to associate itself with anything, and what remains in the end is a thin, almost transparent soul that suffers from being in travel more than capable of experiencing anything: “I am running blind, pale dog / In the cold. Here it should be, // Here I say goodbye to myself / Then slowly // become nobody. ”There is nothing to be lifted against it.
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