Sunday, December 16, 2012

The apparition of the Iron Duke

A few months ago I was sampling a thick volume of poems by Hans Faverey (1933-1990), a modern Dutch metaphysical poet that I like very much. Here I found one of his earlier poems, that I had never seen before:
Met lieslaarzen aan?

Met lieslaarzen aan.
De ijzeren hertog?

De ijzeren hertog.

Heeft hij de wind
in de rug? En roept
hij iets, hard?

Ja. De ijzeren hertog,
met de wind in de rug,
en met lieslaarzen aan,

riep iets heel hard.
Wearing waders?

Wearing waders.
The Iron Duke?

The Iron Duke.

Does he have the wind
at his back? And does he
shout something, very loudly?

Yes. The Iron Duke,
with the wind at his back,
and with waders on,

shouted something very loudly.
The moment I read this poem I had a vision of the "statue of the Iron Count". Really.
I saw the statue clearly. It was situated in Rotterdam. It was huge. It was invisible.
And it captured the essence of the city. It was a city god. An angel.

Since then I've been thinking about the Iron Count. Where is he exactly? I have found fragments of his enormous bulk and frame:
  • The cast-iron men of Antony Gormley had the correct material, weight and hardness. And they had the required feeling of mystery and slight menace. They were a good start. But they were too small.
  • The statue of the nationalist poet Hendrik Tollens has the right size if we include the pedestal. And the right proud and defiant posture. But the whiteness is all wrong. We need darkness for the Iron Count.
  • We even have a statue of a real count: William IV of Holland. And it is made of dark metal. And it has a menacing appearance because of the heavy helmet. But it is much too small. And the horse does not fit into the picture.
  • And then I saw the latest project of one of my favorite artists: Harmen de Hoop. This has the exact size, material, "look and feel" and placement. Wonderful. But it is not in the right place. In Rotterdam there are only two places suitable for the Iron Count: in the middle of the Kralingse Plas (our biggest artificial lake) or in the Nieuwe Waterweg (the harbour river).

Now I know where he is, I will greet him when I go by.

There are two Iron Dukes and both fit the context of the poem:
  • Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1508-1583), duke of van Alva. Nicknamed "the Iron Duke" in the Low Countries because of his harsh and cruel rule there and his role in the execution of his political opponents and the massacre of several cities.
  • Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), duke of Wellington.  His name was given to Wellington boots, after the custom-made boots he wore instead of traditional Hessian boots.
And the boots also fit the context of the poem:
  • In his biography, it is reported that Wellington noted that many cavalry soldiers sustained crippling wounds by having been shot in the knee — a very vulnerable and exposed part of the body when one is mounted on a horse. He proposed a change in the design of the typical boot by having it cut so as to extend the front upward to cover the knee. This modification afforded some measure of protection in battle.
  • In World War II, Hunter Boot was requested to supply vast quantities of Wellington and thigh boots. In the Netherlands, the British forces were working in flooded conditions which demanded Wellingtons and thigh boots in vast supplies.
Hans Faverey was first pointed out to me by the Rotterdam artist Henri van Zanten. He has also shown met the beautiful rural poetry of Habakuk II de Balker.

Harmen de Hoop: -
Information on the The Iron Duke - Wikipedia

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