Het kind en ik (1933)

Martinus Nijhoff

As a poet, it is easy to make things too difficult. Martinus Nijhoff mastered clear language like no other. But even to him, writing poetry was by no means child’s play.

illustratie: lees in nederlands

Het kind en ik

Ik zou een dag uit vissen,
ik voelde mij moedeloos.
Ik maakte tussen de lissen
met de hand een wak in het kroos.

Er steeg licht op van beneden
uit de zwarte spiegelgrond.
Ik zag een tuin onbetreden
en een kind dat daar stond.

Het stond aan zijn schrijftafel
te schrijven op een lei.
Het woord onder de griffel
herkende ik, was van mij.

Maar toen heeft het geschreven,
zonder haast en zonder schroom,
al wat ik van mijn leven
nog ooit te schrijven droom.

En telkens als ik even
knikte dat ik het wist,
liet hij het water beven
en het werd uitgewist.


Listen to this poem in Dutch.
Voiced by: Leo van Zanen

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seconds

Martinus Nijhoff has been widely read and praised ever since his debut, but he doubted his talent during his high school period. Sometimes he could be so indecisive that he spent years polishing and improving one of his poems. Longingly, he looked back on his youth, when life was simple and everything went smoothly. In this poem, Martinus describes a feeling many adults might recognize: the search for the inner child.

Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.

Martinus Nijhoff

Martinus Nijhoff

Den Haag 1894 - 1953

Martinus Nijhoff (nickname: Pom) was born into a publisher’s family and was brought up with love for the written word. As he enjoyed a classical education, he started writing poetry and published his first poetry collection at age 22. Nijhoff studied Dutch language and Dutch law but never got a permanent position; instead, he was very active as a writer. In addition to poetry, he wrote novels, critical literary reviews, translations and rhymed psalms. He gained national fame with his ‘Bible plays,’ plays in which biblical stories were put on stage for a large audience.

Language usage

Martinus Nijhoff’s poems are known for their simple language. He was incredibly meticulous and could work on a poem for years in order for it to be as clear and specific as possible. Partly due to this he reached a large audience, even when he broached rather difficult themes. He was able to address these difficult themes in his poems because the topics he touched upon were relatable to everyone. Due to these aspects he was considered an innovative poet, despite the fact that he drew inspiration from older traditions and often preferred traditional forms of poetry such as the sonnet.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

In Het kind en ik (The Child and I), Martinus Nijhoff reflects upon poethood. He knew from his own experience that it was quite difficult to find the right words. Whatever he put on paper felt artificial and made him feel despondent. This was quite strange, as Nijhoff was a man of wide reading who kept abreast of traditions, movements and developments in literature. But did it really benefit his poetry, or was all this knowledge an obstacle to expressing himself clearly and concisely?

The inner child

Nijhoff juxtaposes a poet’s brooding with the image of a child. A child is pure and unspoiled, and “without haste and without shame” will create the best poetry with the most beautiful language, which it “never had dreamed to write.” Unfortunately, we discover that the distance has become unbridgeable. Going back to the purity of youth is simply impossible, as we learn in this poem.


Yet the poet does not seem to be as despondent as at the start of the poem. Although the ‘pool of thoughts’ led to the gap between youth and adulthood, it also brought a comforting thought: “all I ever dream to write in my entire life” was already a part of him; the poet only had to cultivate it.

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story

When Martinus Nijhoff published his third poetry collection Nieuwe gedichten (new poems), which includes Het kind en ik (The Child and I), he was forty years old and already a well-known poet. Yet he found that writing poetry was not an easy job and often doubted whether he had picked the right words and topics. To ease his mind, he would often consult his friends from Utrecht, such as writer Simon Vestdijk and painter Pyke Koch. They stimulated and inspired him, but could not totally dispel his doubts. Nijhoff captured his struggles in this poem.

illustratie: ik heb een verhaal bij dit gedicht

Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl! We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Martinus Nijhoff in Leiden

Photo Anoesjka Minnaard

For a while, Martinus Nijhoff lived in Leiden, at Nieuwe Mare 7, with his spouse Netty Wind and their son Wouter Stephan. He also wrote for and about Leiden. In 1930, he wrote De Vliegende Hollander (the flying Dutchman), a play for the 71st quinquennium of the Leidsche Studenten Corps (Leiden fraternity). In 1939, he became chairman of the Leiden Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde (society of Dutch Literature).


This poem can be found in Leiden since 2002. In terms of lay-out, it occupies a special place in the corpus of Leiden wall poems, because it is one of the few poems distributed over two walls.

illustratie: citaten


A poem doesn’t merely consist of words; it consists of words and their silence.

Martinus Nijhoff

Read it, it doesn’t say what it says.

Martinus Nijhoff

A poet doesn’t weep.

Martinus Nijhoff believed that poets needed to arouse feelings of others instead of sharing theirs.

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • This is not the only poem in which Martinus Nijhoff expressed the desire to be an unspoiled child again. This was also an important theme in his first two poetry collections.
  • Just after Nijhoff’s death, poet Ida Gerhardt wrote an In Memoriam poem inspired by Het kind en ik (The Child and I). Referring to this poem, she wrote “the slate is full.”
  • Nijhoff was also a renowned translator of poetry and plays. In 1953 the Martinus Nijhoff award was introduced, which is granted annually to a translation work from and into Dutch.
  • During World War II, Nijhoff was a commander of the fourth squadron of Hussar-cyclists, which, after the German invasion, tried to stop their advancement between Oosterbeek and Wageningen. When this attempt failed, he became actively involved in the resistance.

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

The Child and I

One day I went out to go fishing
I felt quite despondent.
I made between the irises
A hole in the duckweed with my hand.

From below arose a light
up from the obsidian ground.
I saw a garden untrodden
and a child stood there.

Standing by his writing desk
Writing on a piece of slate.
The word beneath the stylus
I recognized, was mine.

But then it had written,
without haste and without shame,
all I ever dream to write
in my entire life.

And every time I quickly
nodded that I knew,
he made the water tremble
and it was then erased.

Vertaling: Anne Oosthuizen

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Lianne Heslinga. The translation into English is by Rianne Koene. The following publications were consulted: