Val (1922)

Hendrik Marsman

Few wall poems are so internationally influenced as Val (Fall). This is remarkable, as Marsman wrote Denkend aan Holland (thinking of Holland) which - according to many - is the Dutchest poem ever written.

illustratie: lees in nederlands


Ich falle nach Venedig hinunter 
und so weiter - bis zu den Sternen 



lichtende rank
die heelal
na heelal


grondeloos lood
aan het snoer
diep door den schoot
van het al
aan den vloer
van den dood


achter den wal
van den dood

blind door het luik
van de hal

Uit: H. Marsman Verzamelde gedichten
EM Querido's uitgeverij, Amsterdam, 1940


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

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seconds

Hendrik Marsman wrote this poem in his early twenties after a visit to Berlin. It is a tribute to the expressionist poet Georg Trakl, whose lines are quoted at the beginning of this poem. Following by example of Trakl, Marsman engaged with the people and the universe. Despite the infinity of the universe, the light of the stars connects us all.

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.

Hendrik Marsman

Hendrik Marsman

Zeist 1899 - Golf van Biskaje 1940

Hendrik (‘Hennie’) Marsman was born in 1899 as the son of a bookseller and a schoolteacher. His first poetry collection Verzen (Verses) was published in 1923, which also includes the poem Val (Fall).

Fervent life

Four years after his debut, Marsman released one of his best-known poetry collections, Paradise Regained, in which he pleads for a fervent and dangerous life. This ‘vitalism’ contrasted sharply with his own life, as afflictions such as epilepsy and depression seriously impaired his (mental) health. After a depressive episode, Marsman found himself to be a demon for work and wrote numerous poems, essays on his time, contemporaries and translations.

Thinking of Holland

Marsman’s poetry is no longer widely read, but his Herinnering aan Holland (Remembrance of Holland, 1936) - “thinking of Holland, I see wide rivers running slowly through endless lowlands” - is still one of the most famous Dutch poems. Marsman wrote Herinnering aan Holland in the year he permanently moved abroad, where he felt liberated from Calvinism and narrow-mindedness. When he fled France at the start of World War II, his vessel exploded and only his wife survived.

Are you interested in more poems written by Marsman? His Collected works, which includes Val (Fall) and Herinnering aan Holland (Remembrance of Holland), can be read online.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

The poem begins with a motto in German: “Ich falle nach Venedig hinunter / und so weiter - bis zu den Sternen” (I’m dropping down to Venice / and further - to the stars). It is taken from a letter from Georg Trakl, a German expressionist. The motto contains an extraordinary image: the water in the canals, and perhaps the renowned Venetian glass, reflecting the light of the stars. Even when the starlight touches the earth, it lives on. Marsman explored this idea in the poem Val (Fall).

Perpetual falling?

In this poem, Marsman describes the falling of a star. The falling seems never-ending, “universe after universe” the “shining tendril” falls. Stone, beast, plant: will these things perish while the star continues to fall? Without touching something (“groundless”), the star is falling straight down. But it does not fizzle out because there is a hatch, and after that “boat / star / vale”. The light is reflected on the water, the same image Trakl used in the quote. Marsman seems to have added the crate which is caused by the falling star. Or is it actually the light shining through underwater?

Distance in time and space

Did Marsman simply describe the falling star, or did it also symbolize something? Some readers discovered a metaphor in the image of a star that drops down dead yet continues to exist. Perhaps Marsman alluded to Georg Trakl, who passed away in 1914 but still lived on. Unfortunately, Marsman never expressed his opinion on this.

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story of this poem

In 1922, when he was in his early twenties, Marsman visited Berlin and Paris. In these cities, artists were experimenting with new art forms which were not about perceptible reality, but about new ways of seeing, experiencing and expressing. Emotion and expressions were the main focus. The young poet took in all the impressions and information, and was eager to continue his writings when he had arrived home.

Expressionism in the polder

Val (Fall) was written in Zeist during the winter months of 1922, and is probably one of the few true expressionist or cubist poems in Dutch. Marsman was strongly influenced by the German poet Georg Trakl (1887 - 1914), who often considered the relation between man and the universe in his work. Trakl also experimented with typography and isolated words.

illustratie: stadsverhalen

Stories from Leiden

Fall by Marsman contrasts ominously with the wall of the building at Zoeterwoudsesingel 42. Like angry thunderclouds in a grey of sky. The original owner of the building has passed away. In his will, he designated his house to be a student house, on the condition that it would remain unchanged. The house is currently occupied by three foreign students. They know nothing about Marsman’s fall from heaven. The view of the world from Leiden is vast enough for them. Emily Stanbury is in a bit of a hurry. She has to get to class. Afterwards, she will work out and then have dinner with her housemates. She might work on her thesis, later. Above Marsman’s thunderclouds, the sun shines in a blue sky. The landlord is dead. Marsman is dead. Emily leaves in a hurry. Very much alive.

Photography: Patricia Nauta
Text: Joop van Gerven

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! We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Hendrik Marsman in Leiden

Photo Anoesjka Minnaard

Marsman in Leiden

This wall poem was realized in 1994. The falling of the star is also reflected in the design of the poem. The colors become darker as the words ‘fall’ straight down with an increasing distance, which can be seen in the combination of “stone / beast / plant.” The distance between these three words is much larger than in other lines.

Marsman in Berlin

Marsman wrote Val (Fall) for his first poetry collection. In every poem, he conveyed his feelings around a particular topic; he dedicated other poems to cities such as Berlin. In 2012, the Dutch embassy in Berlin commissioned the realization of this wall poem in honor of the 775th anniversary of the city. Unfortunately, due to new housing development the poem is no longer visible.

illustratie: citaten


I want a life, grand and compelling!

Hendrik Marsman summarizes his vitalism in the first line of the poem De grijsaard en de jongeling (The gray-beard and the young man). You can read the entire poem here.

The true artist discovers, even in the very mundane, the unusual, the extraordinary, the essential-living.

Marsman in an essay on art.

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • In the 1920s, Hendrik Marsman thought that there was a need for vitality, innovation and strong leadership. He was therefore attracted by fascism. However, this changed in the beginning of the 1930s, when he saw how fascism manifested in Germany under the command of Hitler.
illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels


I'm dropping down to Venice
And further - to the stars



shining tendril
that flares
in universe 
after universe


groundless lead
on the string
deep through the lap
of the universe
against the floor
of death


behind the wall
of death

blindly through the trapdoor
of the hall


Translation by James Brockway

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

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

  • Berg, Erik van den. Een goede dood is de beste levensloop. In: De Volkskrant, 26 augustus 1997. Via De Volkskrant. (29-9-2017)
  • Boven, Erica van en Mary Kemperink. Literatuur van de moderne tijd. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho, 2015.
  • Goedegebuure, Jaap. Zee, berg, rivier; het leven van H. Marsman (Amsterdam, Antwerpen 1999).
  • Meinkema, Hannes, Marsmans Verzen. Toetsing van een ergocentrisch interpretatiemodel. Wolters-Noordhoff/Bouma's Boekhuis bv, Groningen 1977. Via DBNL.org. (30-9-2017)
  • Hendrik Marsman. Via het literatuurmuseum. (27-9-2017)
  • Biografie Hendrik Marsman, Huygens instituut.