Leo Vroman, poet – illustrator – scientist

Leo Vroman  April 10, 1915 – February 22, 2014
This Dutch poet, illustrator and scientist died yesterday in Fort Worth, Texas at the age of 98.

He lived in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) from 1940 to 1945 and was a POW of the Japanese on Java and in Japan. After the capitulation of Japan, he moved to the US and became a hematology researcher.
Because of this background and the fact that his wife was born in the Dutch East Indies, much of his poetry has a direct connection to Indonesia.


I emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States in 1957, travelling with a light heart but with a heavy load. My father had made me a strong wood crate to carry all my books, many of them contemporary poetry from Bertus Aafjes to Jan Wit (Dutch poets of that time). Naturaly also L. Vroman: “Gedichten” (“Poems”) and “Gedichten – Vroegere en Latere” (“Poems – Early and Later”). I have slowly shed many of my Dutch books but I still have the two of L. Vroman. I don’t read them frequently anymore and they have browned along the edges, but they remain among my most prized possessions. When I do pick them up, my fingers automatically go to his poems “Borstvogel” and “Soember Brantas” as they remind me most of my long-lost youth in the place where I was born.

I plan to quote his poem “Vrede”  (“Peace”) in the introduction of my memoir telling my experiences in concentration camps for women and children on Java under the Japanese during WW2 , in both the original Dutch and the English translation. I can’t read either version without getting tears in my eyes, but for some reason, the English reaches deeper into my heart:


Come tell me after all these years
your tales about the end of war
tell me a thousand times or more
and every time I’ll be in tears.

Leo Vroman 1964


Kom vanavond met verhalen
hoe de oorlog is verdwenen,
en herhaal ze honderd malen:
alle malen zal ik wenen.

Leo Vroman 1957

For a few years I lived in Arlington, Texas, very near Fort Worth but I never had the courage to make contact with Leo Vroman because he was of a generation right between my father and me. I probably should have ……

Thank you, Leo Vroman, for the joy of your poetry and drawings.

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2 Responses to “Leo Vroman, poet – illustrator – scientist”

  1. Peter Visser February 28, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    Thanks for mentioning Leo Vroman. As a teenager I remember picking up a copy of his illustrated poems from my father’s book shelf when we lived in London and that’s half a century ago! I regret to say I was too young to really appreciate what I was reading and I haven’t come across his work or heard his name again until you mentioned him. I suppose it is hardly surprising as he is not well known in the English/Afrikaans-speaking world I now live in. I tried to source his books on the internet to no avail. Incidentally, poetry loses much of its impact when translated and I have to disagree with you – I prefer the original.

    • Peter Visser June 23, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

      Update to my comment about Leo Vroman in February. Age must have crept up on me because I now find that there are numerous books of his available from sellers on Google. I rarely use it as I prefer the more secure Dutch search engine and they threw up a blank. However, my cousin from Friesland is coming to visit me in Kaapstad (Cape Town) next month and when I mentioned Vroman to her she said “No problem!” and promised to bring a few Vroman poetry books with her. Anyway Leo, I trust we don’t have to wait too much longer for your book to come out!

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