Posted by: patriciamar | May 14, 2010

Strolling in Rhythm & Verse

Published in the April 2010 issue of the ISN-R Leiden Vox Discipulorum

Strolling in Rhythm & Verse
by Patricia Willers

While most cities are constantly bustling with people and activity, the city of Leiden seems to preserve a special peacefulness that allows its citizens: families, students, and businessmen alike, to slow down and stroll through the city streets. Although this may irritate some when they are searching for an open grocery store to buy their Sunday evening dinner, in the end, the point is to understand and embrace it. The next time you need a way to slow down and see the world that is quickly passing you by, take a walk through Leiden using the dozens of poems, verses, and sonnets painted on the walls of the houses of Leiden.

To tour the whole Leiden area, follow the poems for the full route, which will take between two and three hours. The café, De Stadhouder, located at Nieuwe Rijn 13, serves as an excellent starting place. Inside, you will find a list of the poems as well as a map of the locations of the poems.

If you are only looking to do a bit of exploring, visit just a few poems and spend some extra time considering the row houses, canals, and unique architecture, and what it may have been like in earlier years. The poems are sometimes chosen by the homeowners and community surrounding them, so at times, they really seem to give you a glimpse of Dutch life. With some in particular, such as that on the Villa Cecelia, it is easy to imagine a few possibilities.

The many poems of Leiden were painted on the walls through a project called “Poems and Walls,” which started in 1992 and was completed in 2005. The program was started by an initiative of the private foundation, ‘Tegen-Beeld,’ started by Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins. The idea behind the poems was to unite language and images. The verses are written in a variety of languages, although many times with Dutch and English translations.

Leiden is the perfect setting for this unique form of art because of the town’s rich history of authors, artists, and both Dutch and international scholars. The “Poems and Walls” program maintains a website which can be found at http://www.muurgedichten.nl/wallpoems.html. Through this website, it is possible to find a map of the poetry walk, a virtual tour of the numerous wall paintings, and a more detailed description of the “Poems and Walls” project. It is also noted on the website that a follow-up to the initial project may take place in 2010. A book, entitled “Dicht op de muur,” by Marleen van der Weij, is also available. Both the book and a majority of the website are written in Dutch, but the map and general description are more than enough to lead you on an excellent poetry walk. If you are interested in a guided tour, the Leiden VVV can sometimes help to arrange tours.

 As the city blooms into spring and you hurry on with your lives, make a little time for a poetry walk in Leiden, whether you read all 101 poems or only make it to the first café, it may remind you that you are living someplace new, and to make time to stop, look around, and enjoy it.

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