Today, while I was on my lunch break, I walked past a little glass cabinet which functions as a tiny library. People are invited to leave old books there and to take others for free. This afternoon I found Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and a Dutch translation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. When I opened the latter, I found a note with a short poem on it in Dutch, addressed to “Rob.”
In Dutch, it reads:
Morgenvroeg ga je ‘fintop'(?)
dat is voor jou een grote strop
De komende tijd zit je niet op rozen
maar hiermee kun je je tijd verpozen
De mensen in dit boek zijn ook soldaat
zorg dat je je er doorheen slaat.
Which in English roughly translates to:
Early tomorrow you’ll go ‘fintop’ (?)
which to you is a noose and the looming drop
The days to come won’t be easy for you
But with this you can kill a moment or two
The people in this book are soldiers, too
Just make sure that you get through.
The only thing that bothered me was the word “fintop” or “gintop” or something like that. My colleagues and I spent a good ten minutes googling variations of the word but we couldn’t find anything. Maybe it’s a military acronym, like AWOL or SNAFU?
There was no year printed anywhere in the book, but we traced it back to 1954, and then tried to find out if the Dutch army was involved in any major campaigns around that time. All we found out was that in 1953, the Royal Airforce came into being, and in 1956 Dutch officers joined a UN delegation to supervise relations in the Middle East.
What can we read into this poem? The receiver is someone – let’s say a boy – who sees his army career as a noose, a tough period to get through; he is to derive inspiration from the heroes of this story. Perhaps a severe parent made him join the army “to make a man out of him”, as the cliche goes. Conscription was still a thing in the 1950s, so perhaps he was drafted, which would explain his reluctance to go.
What a special and personal find! This is why I love secondhand books; because they have lived lives before they ended up in my bookcase. Interestingly, the book is fairly unscathed and the spine isn’t even cracked. Maybe our young soldier wasn’t the reading type, or maybe he didn’t get the chance.