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J. van Tooren

J. van Tooren, pseudonym of Anna Maria Mulder-Swanenburg de Veye, born Anna Maria Swanenburg de Veye, 1900, Rangoon, Burma [now Yangon, Myanmar]; died August 14, 1991, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, translator, editor, author, and poet. She is considered the mother of Dutch haiku and one of the founders of the Haiku Kring Nederland (Haiku Circle Netherlands).


Anna Maria Swanenburg de Veye was born in Rangoon, Burma, in 1900. She completed grammar school in the hogere burgerschool (higher civic school; HBS), then studied law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She began writing poetry at this time and submitting to newspapers and magazines. She adopted a pseudonym for her writing because she believed that a poet should be free to work anonymously—in an ivory tower, as she said. She chose the name J. van Tooren, explaining that the “J” did not stand for anything in particular, only that she felt “it’s a graceful letter.”

On Saint Nicholas Eve 1960, Anna’s husband, Johannes Gijsbertus Wilhelm Mulder, presented her a copy of Harold Stewart’s book of haiku translations, A Net of Fireflies. Stewart translated the tiny Japanese verses as rhymed couplets, but she was immediately captivated by haiku’s directness and suggestiveness. A Net of Fireflies referred to R. H. Blyth’s books of translations, and she ordered these directly from Japan. Through Blyth’s versions Tooren realized that haiku is more than what appeared in Stewart’s book. Thus, at age 60, she decided to teach herself Japanese and translate haiku herself. Using grammar textbooks and Blyth’s volumes, which include the kanji,rōmaji transliterations, and English translations, she managed to master Japanese and started translating original haiku into Dutch. Thirteen years later, when Anna was 73 years old, her first book of Japanese short-form verse, Een jonge maan, (A young moon) was published. It was an immediate success in the Netherlands and has since been republished many times in various formats. Although J. van Tooren was not the first to publish haikai, she is widely regarded as the mother of the genre in her homeland. She is quoted as saying, “Yet I never had the feeling that it was all started by me. The haiku started themselves. They wanted to be translated and I couldn’t resist.”

Haikai Poet and Translator

In her book-length essay Those Women Writing Haiku , American haikuist Jane Reichhold wrote about her Dutch friend:

It’s interesting to note how many of the women in the Netherlands discovered haiku. In the early 70’s, a woman writing under the name of J. van Tooren, became unhappy with the Dutch translations which were second generation, having been made from English translations of the Japanese. Though already a grandmother, she studied Japanese in order to make her translations direct from the original. In 1973 these were published as Haiku Een jonge maan, a book which is still in print and still wining enthusiasts for haiku.

Haiku Een jonge maan is masterfully conceived. On the very first page is [an epigraph]: De weg van haiku begint in Zen [The way of haiku begins in Zen] quoted from Hasumi Toshimitsu. Then begins an essay on the character of haiku for about one third of the book. The rest is comprised of selections of haiku translated from the accepted Japanese masters. These are divided into the seasons.

The book has another division.… [I]t has text on one side and quotations relating to the text on the left side. In the haiku section, however, the haiku appear on the right side, with comments or explanations on the left.

Retelling of how she came to write Haiku Een jonge maan J. van Tooren explains it thus: “Since early youth I was fascinated by foreign languages, especially if generally unknown and seeming to a hide a deep meaning. In childhood I taught myself the Runes from Jules Verne, and much later, the Egyptian hieroglyphs of the Middle Empire and a good deal of the wonderful Sanskrit. As a student of Law at Leiden University, I amused myself translating poetry, most of it English; just for the fun of it. Long before this, I wrote many poems in Dutch which were published in weekly and monthly magazines. However, I tore all of these up as they did not satisfy me. Then followed years of active life; social-judical work at the Philips Company, marriage, a child, many-fold social contacts and only a few religious poems were published in the weekly Remonstrant Brotherhood. Then suddenly, at the age of 60, I was struck to the core by the Japanese haiku, in the beautiful, if rather free translation (22 syllables) from Harold Stewart. Immediately I translated them. So should poetry be, I thought: short, simple, objective, suggesting instead of saying a deeper meaning.”

“Then I got hold of the literal, but flowing translation by R.H. Blyth, with the Japanese text in characters and transcription. That was the real thing! Thirteen years after the publication of Haiku —Een jonge maan, followed Senryu —de waterwilgen [Senryu—The water willows] and then Tanka—Het lied van Japan [Tanka—A song from Japan].”

The following haiku, three from each season of the year, are samples of Tooren’s original translations of the work of Japanese haiku masters. The left-hand column presents Tooren’s Dutch versions; the right-hand column contains the Japanese original, a translation by R.H. Blyth, and, in a note, the source for the English version. The Dutch texts are taken from Tooren’s “Haiku en Haikudichters” (Haiku and haiku poets) article.

Waarlijk, ‘t is voorjaar!
zie, een heuvel zonder naam
in morgenwazen.

       Spring has come
a nameless hill
       is shrouded in mist
                         — Bashō2
Handenvol plukte ik
van het gras van de lente, en
ik wierp het weer weg.

       Plucking it, plucking it,
Throwing it away, —
       The grass of spring.
                         — Raizan3
O, dode moeder!
altijd, als ik de zee zie,
— als ik de zee zie.

       When I see the ocean,
Whenever I see it,
       Oh, my mother!
                         — Issa4
Op de tempelklok
is een vlinder gevlogen
en ingeslapen.

       The butterfly
Resting upon the temple bell,
                         — Buson5
Door de rivier slechts
stroomt de duisternis verder;
zoveel vuurvliegen!

       In the river alone
Darkness is flowing, —
       The fire-flies!
                         — Chiyo-ni6
Des zomers een stroom
doorwaden; in het midden
nog een keer omzien.


       The summer river;
In mid-stream,
       Looking back.
                         — Shiki7
De herfst komt langzaam,
in een huis gaat het licht aan,
‘t is nog niet donker

       The beginning of autumn;
A lamp from someone’s house is seen;
       It is not quite dark.
                         — Buson8
Eerste sneeuwvlokjes,
het blad van een herfsttijloos
buigt haast onmerkbaar.

       A leaf falls,
Totsu! Another leaf falls,
       Carried by the wind.
                         —Ransetsu (his death haiku)9
Wat werd geroepen
in deze zware nevel,
tussen berg en schip?

       In the dense mist,
What is being shouted,
       Between hill and boat?
                         — Kitō10
‘t Jaar neigt ten einde;
nog draag ik mijn bamboehoed
en strosandalen.

      The year draws to its close;
But I am still wearing
       My kasa and straw sandals
                         — Bashō11
Die hier eerst woonde,
ik weet hoe ‘t was, elk ding,
de kou die hij leed

       The previous owner:
I know it all, —
       Down to the very cold he felt.
                         — Issa12
Van de oude abdij
staat alleen nog de poort in
verdorde heide.

       Only the gate
Of the abbey is left.
       On the winter moor.
                         — Shiki13

And finally, five original verses by “the mother of Dutch haiku:”

alleen als het rijpt
zie je de fijne twijgen
van berkebomen

only when it ripens
do you see the fine twigs
of birch trees14

uit verre tuinen
in licht verloren, hoor ik
een vogel fluiten

from distant gardens
lost in light, I hear
a bird whistling15

De oude dame
zet voorzichtig haar voetjes;
haar ogen ken ik
The old lady
places each foot carefully;
I know her eyes16
een beestje beweegt
ergens in ’t water; de maan
beweegt ook even

an animal moves
somewhere in the water; the moon
also moves a bit17
zacht glijdt het maanlicht
tot aan mijn hand — die wit wordt
en opeens eenzaam

the moonlight glides softly
down to my hand — which turns white
and suddenly lonely15

J. van Tooren died in her hometown of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in 1991 aged 91 years.

Compiled by the Haikupedia Editors

Sources / Further Reading

Works composed, compiled, and edited by J. van Tooren

  • Buschman, Simon. Laat licht van opzij (Lets light from the side). Foreword by J. van Tooren; drawings by Ferenc Gögös. Schiedam, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Simon Buschman, 1980.
  • Tooren, J. van. “Acht Tanka” (Eight tanka).” De Gids 150 (1987), 555–56. Text available on the DBNL website.
  • Tooren, J. van. “De fietser”” (The cyclist).” Elseviers Geïllustreerd Maandschrift 45 (1935). Elseviers Geïllustreerd Maandschrift 45 (1935). Poem. Text available on the DBNL website.
  • Haiku-kern Eindhoven. Eerste keus (First choice). Eindhoven, Netherlands: Haiku-kern Eindhoven e.o., 1985. Membership anthology.
  • Molen, W. J. van der, J. van Tooren, and Bob Verstraete, editors. Haiku: een vierkantje zon. Tweede bloemlezing van Nederlandse en Vlaamse haiku (Haiku: A square sun: Second anthology of Dutch and Flemish haiku). Soest, Germany: Kairos, 1984.
  • Tooren, J. van. Haiku—Een jonge maan: Japanse haiku van de vijftiende eeuw tot heden  (Haiku: A young moon: Japanese haiku from the fifteenth century to the present). Foreword by Prof. Dr. Frits Vos. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1973. In Dutch. Ten print editions were published from 1973 to 2000 and ebook versions from 2012. A Hungarian translation was published in 2011.
  • Tooren, J. van. “Haiku en haikudichters” (Haiku and haiku poets).” Tirade 172 (December 1971), 578–89. Text available on the Van Oorschot website. Essay with examples.
  • Tooren, J. van, trans. Het zingen van de krekels: Japanse haiku (The singing of the crickets: Japanese haiku). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1996. Selected translations.
  • Tooren, J. van. Japans gedicht: de mooiste haiku, senryū en tanka (Japanese poem: The most beautiful haiku, senryū and tanka). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1985. Poems selected from Tanka: het lied van Japan (1983), Haiku: een jonge maan (1973), and Senryū: de waterwilgen (1976).
  • Tooren, J. van. Japanse tanka-poëzie (Japanese tanka poetry). Middelburg, Netherlands: Zeeuws Kunstenaarscentrum, 1978.
  • Tooren, J. van. “Mist.” Elseviers Geïllustreerd Maandschrift 45 (1935). Poem. Text available on the DBNL website.
  • Tooren, J. van. Oogwenken: Haiku senryu tanka (Blink of an eye: Haiku senryu tanka). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1981.
  • Tooren, J. van. “Senryu, flitsen van Japanse humor” (Senryu, flashes of Japanese humor).” Tirade 15 (1971), 321–29. Text available on the DBNL website
  • Tooren, J. van. Senryū: De waterwilgen: Japanse volkspoëzie (Senryū: The water-willows: Japanese folk poetry). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1976. Includes a selection of verses that deal with the Dutch, as the Japanese people saw them in the seventeenth century. The choice and translation of these senryū is by Prof. Dr. Frits Vos. A German edition of the book was published in 1981.
  • Tooren, J. van. Tanka: het lied van Japan (Tanka: The song of Japan). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1983.
  • Tooren, J. van. “Tanka—Japanse lyriek” (Tanka—Japanese lyric).” Bzzlletin 7 (1978–1979), 57–66. Text available on the DBNL website.
  • Tooren, J. van. Van de herfst die voorbijgaat: Japanse haiku (Of the passing autumn: Japanese haiku). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 2nd expanded edition, 1997. First published in 1996.
  • Tooren, J. van. Verzen van iemand (Verses from Someone). Bloemendaal, Netherlands: Stichting Dichtersgroep Dimensie, 1980. Poetry.
  • Tooren, J. van, trans.. Vijftien tanka (Fifteen tanka). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1981. New Year’s Eve gift edition; 750 copies printed in December 1981 and exclusively intended for friends of Meulenhoff publishers. Not commercially available..
  • Tooren, J. van, with Simon Buschman. Hoog uit het blauw: Tanka (High from the blue: Tanka). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1995.

Anthologies containing Tooren’s work

  • Buschman, Simon, compiler. Haiku: een vroege pluk: Bloemlezing van Nederlandse en Vlaamse haiku (Haiku: An Early Harvest). Soest, Germany: Kairos, 1981. 160 haiku by 60 authors from the Netherlands and Flanders.
  • Buaschman, Smon, Adri van Berg, and Karel Hellemans. Tussen twee oevers: Eerste bloemlezing van Nederlandstalige tanka en kyoka (Between two banks: First anthology of Dutch tanka and kyoka). Amsterdam: De Beuk, 1995. 8 tanka of Van Tooren’s.
  • Hulzen, Joop van, and Servaas Goddjin. Spelen met wind en maan: Haiku in Nederland (Playing with wind and moon: Haiku in the Netherlands). Amsterdam: De Beuk for Haiku Kring Nederland, 1990. Tenth anniversary anthology of the Haiku Kring Nederland, including haiku history and criticism as well as a conversation with J. van Tooren.
  • Mulder, Hetty, Marian Poyck, and Henk van der Werff, editors. Om Niets Om Alles: Haiku: Keuze uit 40 jaar Nederlandse haiku en tanka (About nothing about everything: Haiku: Selection from 40 years of Dutch haiku and tanka). Haiku Kring Nederland, 1st edition, 2020.

Other sources

  • Blyth, R. H. Haiku. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 4 volumes, 1949–52.
  • Blyth, R. H., Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1949.
  • Blyth, R. H. Japanese Life and Character in Senryu. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1960.
  • DBNL (Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren; Digital Library for Dutch Literature) website.
  • “Haiku in the Netherlands,” Haiku in Europe: Chapter Five in Jane Reichhold, Those Women Writing Haiku. Gualala, Calif.: AHA Books, 2000. 
  • Haiku.nl (Haiku Kring Nederland; Haiku Circle Netherlands) website.
  • “J. van Tooren.” Haiku Kring Nederland website. Biographical sketch, 2 original haiku and 2 tanka.
  • Reddingius, Hans. “Haiku in Holland.” The Haiku Foundation website; originally posted July 2016.
  • Reichhold, Jane. “Haiku in the Netherlands.” Those Women Writing Haiku. The Haiku Foundation website.
  • Spoor, Corine. “J. van Tooren, de oermoeder van de haiku” (J. van Tooren, the founding mother of the haiku).” De Tijd (August 14, 1981). Two articles about haiku.
  • Verhart, Max. “Haiku in the Netherlands and Flanders” (Presentation to the First European Haiku Congress, Bad Nauheim, Germany, 13th May 2005).” Deutsche Haiku Gesellschaft website: . A German-language version, “Haiku in den Niederlanden und Flandern” is also available aon the DHG website.


  1. This sketch is based predominantly on the biographical information in “J. van Tooren” on the Haiku.nl website. []
  2. Blyth, Haiku 1: Eastern Culture (1949), 118. []
  3. Blyth, Haiku 2: Spring (1950), 373. []
  4. Blyth, Haiku 4: Autumn–Winter (1952), 323. []
  5. Blyth, Haiku 2: Spring (1950), 258. []
  6. Blyth, Haiku 3: Summer–Autumn (1951), 222. []
  7. Blyth, Haiku 3: Summer–Autumn (1951), 86. []
  8. Blyth, Haiku 3: Summer–Autumn (1951), 331. []
  9. Blyth, Haiku 1: Eastern Culture (1949), 27. []
  10. Blyth, Haiku 3: Summer–Autumn (1951), 370. []
  11. Blyth, Haiku 1: Eastern Culture (1949), 182. []
  12. Blyth, Haiku 4: Autumn–Winter (1952), 168. []
  13. Blyth, Haiku 4: Autumn–Winter (1952), 284. []
  14. Published in Haiku-kern Eindhoven, Eerste keus (1985) and in “J. van Tooren,” Haiku Kring Nederland website. English version by C. Trumbull. []
  15. Ibid. [] []
  16. Tooren, Oogwenkena (1981). []
  17. Hulzenet et al., eds., Spelen met wind en maan: Haiku in Nederland (1990). English version by C. Trumbull. []
Updated on June 29, 2024