Netherlands - An Ancient Of Days
( Originally Published 1906 )
"Of de kronen Luister toonen,
So runs a verse of a Dutch poem. In the original it is comparable in music of rhythm, perfection of rhyme, beauty of expression and depth of sentiment with Goethe's famous
"Ueber alien Gipfeln Ist Ruh."
I know of no greater praise. The following is a free translation:
Crowns may gleam
It was in Friesland I read this. It is in Friesland one may feel its truth.
Short as the voyage was across the Zuider Zee it seemed to bring us to a foreign shore — and to us a physical sense of northernness. We left the Port of Hoorn behind us, and presently on the left the towers of Enkuizen rose like those of a dream city from out the very waves them-selves. Its fishing fleet was abroad that day, and James counted two hundred pin ken all about us and afar on the horizon. In the evening light the Zuider Zee is remarkable for the clarity of its delicate coloring, an effect, possibly, of its shallow waters. There is a canvas by Mesdag in his museum that shows this. On that evening pale green predominated. The sea, being smooth, showed like a pavement of chrysoprase, on which the black hulls of such of the fleet as were at anchor rested motionless. Here and there a sail caught the pale sun-light, and on all sides the severe grace of spar and rigging was etched into a soft blue-gray sky.
Poor Stavoren! As we approached its desolate pier we realized that all our reading about this ancient, uncrowned land had not prepared us for the actual and complete effacement of its royalty. The one unfailingly silent witness of its downfall surrounded us — the calm waters of the Zuider Zee.
This sea tells no tales. It brings no message from the villages buried deep beneath its sands. Its rising tides do not whisper of that great Forest of Kreyl overwhelmed by the engulfing flood in that terrible thirteenth century, and now petrifying in its ooze. I could but wonder whether another horror of elemental convulsion might not upheave this sunken forest and scatter the gum and resin of its ancient trees as amber on some new-made shore. If ever the great sea be drained, and the project has been long under consideration, the menace to the land will still be as great. Elemental power can frustrate any work of man, and the fearful nights of March 12th, and 13th, of this. year demonstrated the futility of dependence on the dykes. So long as the German Ocean is subject to a conjunction of northwest winds and high tides, so long as its boisterous waters possess but the narrow outlet of Calais Straits, just so long will it threaten the continuance of the Netherlands as a geographical unit and a geological entity.
Stavoren's "hour" of royalty was approximately a thousand years long, then its glory departed never to return. In the fourth and fifth century it was flourishing with its gladiatorial shows, its theatres and circus borrowed from the Romans. It fraternized by means of reciprocity treaties not only with the Romans, but in due time with Batavians, Danes, Germans, and Franks. In comparison with Stavoren's age, royalty, and ancient glory, Amsterdam is a parvenu, The Hague is a spoiled infant of modern times, even Nymegen, the Little Rome of eastern Gelderland, is a youth of Charlemagne's time.
Rome, the Rome of the Caesars, is Ancient Frisia's contemporary, her enemy at first, and in the end her stout ally. It seems preëminently fitting that the royal governing house in the Netherlands should trace its descent from her ancient kings ; most fitting that the lions in Friesland's ancient arms should show as royal lions in the arms of the House of Orange-Nassau.
We left the lonely town and journeyed for about twenty miles through lonely coastlands that, in the long geological ages and the short Age of Man, have risen and subsided time and time again, that have lain for ćons as sea bottom in order now for a short time, a time dependent on the caprice of the ever-threatening North Sea, to show their lone green stretches beyond the protecting dykes. The slow twilight was falling upon a day that had been filled with that wondrous, pensive atmosphere which James calls North Holland's "half-and-half" light. In the distance, beyond the dreary stretch of dyke, a white sail was moving through the tall rush-like grass. There were no sheep, no cattle, no windmills, no water visible to give life and movement to the landscape. The gray arch of sky for one hundred and eighty degrees was unflecked by a bird. Once I saw a stork rise from the marshes and fly low over the green waste ; that was all. But the charm was great because enhanced by Friesland's history: kingly crowns, royal states, princely race — for them all, as for the land itself, this Ancient of Days, "their evening comes apace.