Five Dutch sayings about spring you should know

Five Dutch sayings about spring you should know

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Yes, spring has sprung and “Nothing is so beautiful as spring, when weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush,” wrote the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Spring came with a lot of surprises in the Netherlands this year. So, Ruud Hisgen from Direct Dutch has put together 5 Dutch spring sayings that reflect the crazy spring we’ve had so far.

April 2021 brought us snow, hail, storms, thunder and lightning and sun. However, now it is time for us to welcome May. As you know, the Dutch are obsessed with the weather and you should be able to join the discussion. Use any opportunity to show that you’re weather-wise in Dutch by using these expressions freely.

1. Maart roert zijn staart (March has a sting in its tail)

Spring begins at the end of the third month of the year, usually around March 21. At this time, the weather is generally very “wisselvallig” (unstable, changeable).

2. April doet wat hij wil (April does what it wants to do)

This saying means more or less what the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in the opening of his stunning poem, The Waste Land (1922): “April is the cruellest month”. But the Dutch will also say, “Aprilletje zoet heeft nog wel eens een witte hoed,” a little rhyme which means: “little April sweet sometimes has a white hat”. The white hat is a metaphor for snowfall.

3. In mei leggen alle vogels een ei (All birds lay an egg in May)

This is, of course, nonsense. However, the full expression is: “In mei leggen alle vogels een ei, behalve de koekoek en de griet, die leggen in de meimaand niet”. In English, this translates to, all birds will make their nests in May, except the cuckoo and the godwit, they do not lay eggs in the month of May. After the two capricious months of spring, March and April, the sunny and green month of May is full of promises. Life is starting anew. Things are looking up. Days are getting longer. Summer is around the corner.

4. Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid (A new spring and a new sound)

The season of spring is full of inspiration for Dutch poets. Achter de wolken schijnt de zon (behind the clouds the sun will shine) is part of a pep talk when things look gloomy. The saying “Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid,” too. The Dutch may not remember but it was taken from the opening lines of a once very famous and very long Dutch poem published in 1889. The title of the poem is Mei (May) and it was composed by Herman Gorter. The subsequent three lines are:

Ik wil dat dit lied klinkt als het gefluit,
Dat ik vaak hoorde voor een zomernacht
In een oud stadje, langs de watergracht.

(I want this song to sound like the whistling
That oft I heard on a summer’s night
in an old town, along the water canal.)

Good news for English readers. For the first time in 132 years, two translations of this epic poem about youth have been published this spring. One translation is by the Englishman Paul Vincent (published by Flanor) and the other one is by the Dutchman Michiel Kruijff (Arimei Books). Michiel Kruijff translated the first line as, “The spring is new and new the sound it brings.” Whereas Paul Vincent's version is: “A newborn springtime and a newborn sound.”

Unfortunately, neither of these translations sound as if they will lead to a new English expression that is as powerful as the Dutch: een nieuwe lente, een nieuw geluid!

5. Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan [all birds have begun their nests]

What? Surely this is not Dutch. Well, yes and no… This line of poetry was written around the year 1100 CE by a monk in the West-Flemish dialect and it is the first line of the earliest Dutch literary text. Some experts claim that it is Old English, but the Dutch have come to see it as the auspicious beginning of a rich Dutch literary history. This short love song is the Dutch Beowulf or the Dutch Iliad. So, what does it mean?

The complete poem is:

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan, (hebben alle vogels nesten begonnen)
hinase hic enda thu. (behalve ik en jij)
Wat unbidan we nu? (wat beiden [wachten] we nu?)

In modern English, this translates to, “All birds started building their nests/except I and you/What are we waiting for?” With some imagination, you can recognise most of the words, except “hinase” (meaning “except” which is no longer in use in the Dutch language).

I cannot think of a happier or more appropriate poem to start a new era, a new year, a new spring, a new relationship. If you’re ever in need of a seductive come-hither text to win over someone of your liking, this is it.

Do you want to learn Dutch and be able to understand and use these sayings and phrases? Sign up for a Dutch language course with Direct Dutch. 

Ruud Hisgen


Ruud Hisgen

Ruud is teacher and managing director at Direct Dutch, he is also an author.

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