Translating Mulisch: The jumping of horses and the freshwater sea

I’m currently slowly translating one of Harry Mulisch’s short stories from the original Dutch. This is a fragment of the translation. Keep in mind that this is a very early draft.

The jumping of horses and the freshwater sea

This message serves to gain some insight in the demise and the salvation of the human mind, with regard to the mythology of the former island Schokland, situated in the eastern part of the former Zuiderzee.


When Gustaaf Nagelhout was 13 years old, he fell in love with a little blond girl, the daughter of a pilot in civil aviation. From her dad she inherited the far, light blue eyes, by which man could see past the horizon; from her mother her healthy mouth, full with teeth. She was happy and well-fed, wore a light dress and yes, her hair in pigtails – and on her head, yes on her head a straw hat! On his way to drs. Scharr, a retired schoolteacher from whom he got supplemental lessons (he was still in primary school, was kept back both in the first as in the third year), Gustaaf saw her for the first time. There she came, dancing, blond and light blue… as struck by lighting he stood, trembling and his mouth open wide, no longer able to move his body.

Even when she had disappeared from his sight for quite some time, Gustaaf Nagelhout still stood there, his schoolbag on the ground. He had turned white and felt a thousand tears ready behind his eyes. It felt as if, in this very moment, his life had really begun. It began with waiting – motionless on a lively street. Everything else, everything preceding, had disappeared, had gallanty tipped his hat and took his leave. Gone were his parents, his hobbies, his friends, the school – everything was smothered, scorched by what had just passed and went around that corner.

Even if it took his entire life, Gustaaf Nagelhout wouldn’t take a single step and would stay standing at that same spot, waiting for her return. It was quite an odd spot, where he was waiting, nailed down like that: right near a store in writing materials and a shop-window dressed with ladies’ underthings. There he stood and waited as if a monument; a deep belief told him, that he would never see her again should he remove himself but an inch from that holy place, where he had first seen her.