ALTHOUGH the greater part of Holland rises above sea level, the world's imagination has always been caught by the almost equally large low-lying sections -- former swamps, lakes, inland seas -- which would be submerged were it not for dunes, dykes, locks and pumps. Voltaire, that caustic wit who loved us not, condensed his feelings into the famous valediction: "Adieu, canaux, canards, canaille!" And in the English tongue there was Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote in "The Traveller:"
Embosom'd in the deep where Holland lies, Methinks her patient sons before me stand, Where the broad ocean leans against the land.
And Byron, who referred in "Don Juan" to "that water-land of Dutchmen and of ditches," and Thomas Hood, who wrote playfully that "Holland lies so low, they're only saved by being dammed."
As with the poets, so with us all. It is the water which looms large in any mental picture of Holland (and in a good many pictures on canvas as well) -- the water, and the patient, skilful, unremitting toil of the inhabitants, toil which has transformed vast flooded areas into lush, fertile land and kept the hungry water-wolf at bay. In America, the conception of Holland threatened constantly by inundations is part of the childhood recollections of millions who treasure the memory of "Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates."
People living on a continent cleft by that aggressive giant, the Mississippi, have no difficulty in understanding why the world has always been so much interested in our broad man-made acres. In Holland, every day of every year, a never-ending, tenacious struggle is waged and won (most of the time) by puny men against one of nature's most powerful elements. Just as the airman or the mariner cannot relax his vigilance for one second on pain of damage or death, so the Hollanders who man the dykes, the locks and the pumps must be forever on the alert. The penalty of a moment's lapse of attention and care is loss
Loading, please wait...