There are well over 100 poems carefully hand-painted on public walls throughout the city of Leiden, including works by Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Marina Tsvetaeva, e.e. cummings, Basho, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Sapho, Dylan Thomas, Derek Walcott, and William Butler Yeats.
One is written in the curvy Lantara script of South Sulawesi’s Buganese language; another (credited as the oldest known Dutch text) was penned by a Flemish monk circa 1100; and there are shape poems (one looks like a tornado, another like a gigantic metal spike) as well as one poem that imitates the chirping of a bird:
Tjielp tjielp – tjielp tjielp tjielp
tjielp tjielp tjielp – tjielp tjielp
tjielp tjielp tjeilp tjielp tjielp tjielp
tjielp tjielp tjielp
The poems, which are always written in their original language (and are generally accompanied by a plaque with Dutch and English translations), are part of the ‘Poems and Walls’ project: an initiative curated by the Tegen-Beeld Foundation, which set out in 1992 to paint 101 poems on buildings and bridges throughout the city. The project ended in 2005, with Garcia Lorca’s De Profundis (“The hundred lovers are eternally asleep under the parched earth”) painted on a wall near Leiden Central Station, but since then private individuals and organizations have picked up their paintbrushes and transcribed their own favorites.
A downloadable walking tour is available online, though without the help of Google translate it remains Dutch to most of us.
Know Before You Go
Exit Leiden Central Station and walk toward city centre. Keep your eyes open, as the poems are written on walls throughout the small University town.