Evening song.1

Oh play another song for me
Old man, honest and true,
Try and see if one sweet chord
Can move my heart anew.

The sick child prays, the old man plays
His song had never been so tender,
Nor, like now, so magical:
It filled him, too, with wonder.

There trills a chord so heavenly
It moves the old man’s heart.
The organ stops, the dear child’s soul
This earthly vale departs.

A longing for sanctification2

Who shall free us fully and for ever
From the body of this death, bent beneath the yoke?
How long must I still combat my nature
Ere this heart from sinful service be revoked?

That God my God would be, I pledged my troth
With singleness of mind Him would I follow
But I was tried – forgotten was my oath
I was tempted – and my foot did falter.

No, with my own strength I shan’t learn to conquer
Soul, confess your weakness, self-deceit, take flight!
A child’s heart must be shaped by the Father
The Master be the pupil’s guiding light.
Well then, Father, let your love be my teacher
My Master, take my hand, and show your standard
I stood alone – and fell: now we’re together
I succumbed, but win behind your vanguard.

Only now do I feel strong, when with weakness stricken
Powerless in myself, but in the Lord, almighty!
Sin may tempt, the evil passions quicken,
Thou castest down all foes, O God in me!

I am grieved, but it’s a godly sadness
A night-cloud – tinged all round with dawn’s bright crimson
I weep, Lord, though my heart is full of gladness
I bow my head – but, Father, in thy bosom.

I know in Whom my faith is founded,
Though day and night change constantly,
I know the rock on which I’m grounded,
My Saviour waits, unfailingly.
When once life’s evening overcomes me,
Worn down by ills and strife always,
For every day Thou hast allowed me,
I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise.3

The pilgrimage4

Homesickness flowed through
The heart of a pilgrim,
Seeking the heavenly
City of pleasures,
Of joy everlasting,
Which once God’s angel
Had promised to him.

Crystal-clear rivers,
May your placid waters
Show the reflection
Of this lovely sight.
Glittering mountains,
From far you behold it,
The place that my soul
Doth ease and invite.

I hear there the chiming
Of bells as though ringing.
The sunset suffuses
The woods with its glow.
If I only had wings
Like a dove I should glide,
And fly fast through the sky,
To you, city, I’d go.

Sanctified wistfulness
Softens my spirit,
And vehement yearnings
Rise up from my heart.
With weariness sinking
On his bed of flowers,
He gazes with longing
On those distant parts.

Wide, oh too wide
Is the distance between us.
Long is the journey,
I am overwhelmed.
Dreams of enchantment
Unveil the delightfulness,
Give me the joys
Of the heavenly realm.

Looming vault
Now opens: an Angel,
Shining like silver,
Doth kindly descend,
Speaking thus: Would God
Deny you the power?
He who before made you
Yearn without end?

Silent delights and the
sweetest illusions,
May weaklings derive from them
True nourishment.
Perpetual striving
Is manly and noble.
It leads to the target,
Makes real the pretence.

Sweet as the fragrance
Of flowers he vanishes,
Up springs the pilgrim
Made strong by his words.
He wanders down difficult
Paths with great courage
Till, dazzling, the heavenly gates
Do emerge.

It opens its wings
Like the arms of the Mother,
Who longs for her son
And his advent attends.
Jubilant singing
Greets the ears of the weary,
As bravely his journey
Is brought to an end.

Pious parents are a blessing,
Child, you can’t thank them enough!
They pave for you the straight and narrow
Path, which many find so tough.5

Oh the skylark ever chirping
On thy nimble wings now circling
Flying higher in the sky.
Singing hymns let us unite
Rising in the glorious light
Freed from fetters now am I.6

The king on the tower platform7

The hills lie ayonder
All misty and grey
The valleys are sunken
In nocturnal shade.

All round me is slumber
Not one sign of woe
Is brought to disturb me
By breezes that blow.

I’ve ever looked after
Each one’s happiness
I’ve drunk of the cup
In both need and distress.

The night time has fallen
The firmament glows
I long for the peace that
Most pleases my soul.

O glimmering starlight
The Writ from on high
With love you attract me
And capture my eye.

Rapturous music
Of heavenly choirs
Scarce heard, yet caressing
And soothing my ears.

My hair’s turning grey now
My ardour doth pall
My armour now hangs
Full of rust on the wall.

Justly I’ve spoken,
And justice I’ve done
Oh when will my hour
Of peace finally come?

The peace which my spirit
Doth crave with all might
Abide now no longer
O most blessed night!

May I gaze upon stars
Which more wonderfully glow,
And be able to hear sounds
Much louder than now.

Winter morning8

’Twas a cheerless winter morn
Of sunlight not a glimmer.
At intervals a death-knell rang
And pierced the misty shimmer.

How dull it sounded, that one bell,
Given a brief ringing,
But soon one heard a hoarse voice raised
To sing a song of mourning.

It was a destitute old man
They carried to his grave.
His burial was as grim and drab
As once had been his days.

Now he’s in God’s glorious light,
The choirs of angels sing.
Rejoicing now, their fulsome tones
Throughout the world shall ring.

The larks9

Welcome sight of larks ascending,
Skyward paths forever wending,
Some alight beside the stream,
Others frolic in the tree.
To sing God’s praise is the delight
Of one who from my heart takes flight!

Cemetery in spring10

Resting place of our departed,
Don the festive dress of spring.
Hide thyself behind rose-petals,
Green grass be thy covering.
Close the gate and all thorn-hedges,
Open up thy tombs for me.
Very well then, I am ready,
Even though this vernal splendour
Urges me to labour further.

Evening clouds11

Clouds during the day so dark
In the western sky do hover,
Glowing with a purple shimmer
Pierced by sunsets’ golden light.

In like way, foretells my heart,
Soon or late, when I, death-stricken,
Leave this life, my soul will quicken
And what now is dark make bright.


Br. 1990: 104 | CL:
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Isleworth, about September 1876

1. Nine of the quotations copied out on these sheets are translations by Bernhard van Meurs of poems by Ludwig Uhland. They are included in Het leven van Ludwig van Uhland en vertalingen uit zijn dichtbundel, Nijmegen 1877. (Abbreviated below as Van Meurs 1877). There are several textual discrepancies, mostly small ones, and differences in punctuation. Those variants may indicate that Van Gogh used a slightly earlier edition. He occasionally omitted lines or stanzas. The first poem is ‘Het Orgel’ (Van Gogh uses the title ‘Avondzang’ (Evening song)). Van Meurs 1877, p. 130. Van Gogh quoted the German version in two of his poetry albums. See Pabst 1988, pp. 34 and 45. The source text has ‘Mijn hart’ (My heart) in line 4.
2.Zucht naar heiliging’ (A longing for sanctification) is to be found in César Malan, De harpe Sions. Een honderdtal liederen voor piano of orgel, voor den huisselijken kring. Freely adapted by J.J.L. ten Kate. Utrecht 1868, no. 19 (unpaginated); cf. letter 90, n. 16.
a. The source text has ‘heeten’.
3. ‘Ik weet ... loflied toe’ (I know in Whom my trust is founded) is hymn 180:5.
4. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘De pelgrimstogt’. Van Meurs 1877, pp. 95-98. Translated from Ludwig Uhland. Van Gogh omitted ‘En juublende zangen’ (between lines 53 and 54) from the source text, wrote ‘zijn’ instead of ‘mijn’ (l. 73 and 75), ‘zijgt’ instead of ‘zinkt’ (l. 76), and ‘Zacht’ instead of ‘Zoet’ (l. 104). The poem was also published in De Katholiek. Godsdienstig-, geschiedkundig en letterkundig Maandschrift 69, Nieuwe reeks, derde deel, Leiden 1876, pp. 124-127. Van Gogh quoted five stanzas from the German version (‘Der Pilger’) in one of his poetry albums. See Pabst 1988, p. 42.
5. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘Een geluk in de kindsheid’. Van Meurs 1877, p. 152. Translated from Ludwig Uhland.
6. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘Lied van een gevangene’. Van Meurs 1877, p. 150. Translated from Ludwig Uhland. Van Gogh quoted only the first of the two stanzas.
7. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘De koning op het torenplat’. Van Meurs 1877, pp. 141-142. Translated from Ludwig Uhland. The source text has ‘ook’ instead of ‘steeds’ (l. 160).
8. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘Een wintermorgen’. Van Meurs 1877, pp. 151-152. Translated from Ludwig Uhland.
9. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘De leeuweriken’. Van Meurs 1877, p. 157. Translated from Ludwig Uhland. The last two lines in the source text read ‘Eén belust op tierelier / Fladdert in mijn binnenst’ hier!’ (l. 193-194).
10. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘Het kerkhof in de lente’. Van Meurs 1877, p. 153. Translated from Ludwig Uhland. Van Gogh quotes the first and third stanzas but omits the three lines of the second stanza, probably because of their harsh tone: ‘Ach, ik vrees dat straks de dood / Naar uw vunzen donkren schoot / Een der mijnen weg zal dragen’ (Oh, I fear that death / Will soon take one of mine / To your dark and filthy lap).
11. Bernhard van Meurs, ‘Avondwolken’. Van Meurs 1877, p. 164. Translated from Ludwig Uhland.