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EU President Publishes Book of Poetry

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Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Union and former Prime Minister of Belgium, published a book of haiku this past Thursday. Haiku Herman, as he's called in Europe, is known for composing the little poems when political meetings drag on too long and occasionally publishing them on his website (I've written about him before here). The poems in his new collection, fitting with his position, appear in the original Dutch and are translated into English, French, German and Latin.

People hoping for some haiku-insight into Sarkokzy's political machinations or Greece's debt crisis will be disappointed by the book. Most of Van Rompuy's poems are simply about nature--the key word being simply. The European press is seeking out complexity and symbolism in his verse, but Van Rompuy insists that readers should take his poetry at face value. Though, to be honest, it's hard not to find political symbolism in a poem like this one:

In the nearby ditch
toads mating passionately
inaugurate spring.

The haiku form is a suitable match for a politician known to eschew the spotlight. Van Rompuy was elected president in large part because he wasn't seen as a threat to upstage other European leaders. At his book launch, he explained how the haiku form suits his political style:

"A haiku poet, in politics, cannot be extravagant, nor super-vain, nor extremist. He should incorporate into his actions a sense of balance, the desire for simplicity and harmony, the feeling of being part of a larger part."

On the few occasions that Van Rompuy's poetry addresses politics, it's apparent that he isn't just blowing smoke. He embraces a somewhat passive, simple approach to governing.

Different colours, tongues, towers and gods
I search my way.

Asked if the haiku were any good, Nobutake Odano, the Japanese Ambassador to the EU, was diplomatic (that's his job, after all), saying, "I am not trained in haiku so I cannot make a judgment." Belgian poet Bart Mesotten could afford to be more blunt, calling Van Rompuy's work good but not great. The Guardian summed up the critical view of his work as "broadly competent, if uninspired and fairly literal," which seems about right to me. I've included a selection of his haiku below. What do you think?

A gull on one leg
standing straight up in the sea
unaware of the cold.

Birds in concert,
one sings above all others.
I don't know its name.

"They changed the water
of the pond. A few dead fish
were left behind.


When the storm subsides
the sea finds its usual calm.
Fire scorches forever.

Are you mute forever?
Are flesh and blood now extinct?
I will be your grave.

The storm subsided.
From a broken branch
I pick an apple.

Airy flakes of snow
softly land on the branches.
Beauty in layers.

Frost has now hardened
the folds of winter soil.
Tomorrow it will thaw.

"To dine at leisure
flooded in bright sunlight:
the perfect summer.

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