28th Jan 2020

'Haiku Herman' publishes poetry book

Taking a break from redesigning the EU's economic architecture and herding member states toward a unified response to the Greek crisis, EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy has published his first anthology of Japanese-type mini poems.

Known as Haiku, the 17-syllable non-rhyming verses were written in Dutch and have been published with translations into English, German, French and Latin on subjects ranging from birdsong to mating toads and the seasons of the year.

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  • Mr Van Rompuy: "gentlemen, do I look like a dictator?" (Photo: Luc Van Braekel)

"In the nearby ditch/ toads mating passionately/ inaugurate spring," reads one verse. Another reads: "Frost has now hardened/ the folds of winter soil. /Tomorrow it will thaw."

The slim hardback volume, published on Thursday (15 April) in the Belgian parliament in a ceremony attended by journalists, Belgian dignatories and the Japanese ambassador, is set to cement Mr Van Rompuy's moniker as "Haiku Herman."

The former Belgian prime minister, with his unassuming professorial air, was catapulted onto the European stage late last year when he was chosen to become EU president.

Previously not particularly well-known beyond his country's borders, international journalists latched on to what they saw as the most exotic fact about him - that he wrote Japanese verse.

He happily contributed to this image by showcasing a poem - "Three waves rolling / together into the harbour / The trio is home" - at the launch of the three-country presidency of the EU in October last year.

Another verse was aired during his first speech after being chosen for the top EU post.

"Haiku is an awakening of the spirit - away from technocratic rationality, away from the sophistication, attention seeking and glitter. Back to basics. Our time is in need of simplicity," said Mr Van Rompuy at the launch.

He has been writing Haiku since 2004 when a poet friend introduced him to the art form. "Since then I have not stopped writing. Not obsessively, but enthusiastically," he said, according to Belgian daily Le Soir.

Since being appointed president, Mr Van Rompuy, has often been pilloried in the media for being grey and somewhat invisible. He was famously insulted by a British eurosceptic MEP for having the "charisma of a damp rag."

He has taken to making self-deprecatory remarks in response. "From grey mouse to putschist. That was quick. As De Gaulle, although I cannot compare myself with him, I would say - gentlemen, do I look like a dictator?" he said last month when accused of usurping some of the European Commission's powers.

And while he may not be setting the EU alight in terms of oratory and celebrity, he is widely recognised to be quietly cementing his power behind the scenes in Brussels.

On the international stage, however, he is taking some time to establish himself. Newspapers widely commented on the fact that he only secured a handshake with US president Barack Obama at the recent nuclear security summit in Washington rather than a face-to-face meeting.

"I know that I am the only poet among the 27 EU leaders. But I hope I won't just be remembered for being a poet," he remarked on Thursday.

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