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Letters of Utrecht: The Endless Poem

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In the Dutch city of Utrecht, a poem is growing—one letter at a time, every week, for the past six years.

Every Saturday, at around one in the afternoon, members of Utrecht's guild of poets gather at the center of Utrecht, where the end of a long string of letters has currently reached, to carve the next letter in stone and install it in the cobblestone pavement. As new letters are added words begin to form, then sentences and finally verses. It takes about three years to publish an average sentence, and the poem grows by about five meters every year.

The idea of the endless poem was developed by the Million Generations Foundation, a Dutch think tank devoted to developing knowledge for the good of the future, in collaboration with a local poet’s guild. The project was inspired by the 10,000 Year Clock that’s currently being built in London that is expected to keep time for 10,000 years. Originally, the foundation wanted to build a stone clock, something like a calendar that would be written in verse, but later settled on a poem instead.

The project officially began on June 2, 2012, but they retroactively added 648 letters so that the poem could have a start date of January 1, 2000. The foundation reasoned that seeing a fair chunk of the poem already in place would make the project more intriguing and appealing, attracting more sponsors to the project. Sponsorship is important because the project is entirely funded by the public. It cost 100 Euros to purchase one letter, of which 10 Euros goes towards charity and the rest goes towards the cost of installing the stone. So as long as there are sponsors willing to donate, Letters of Utrecht will continue to inch its way through the city’s streets.

The poem, as it currently stands, read as follows. (The poem is machine translated using the service of Google Translate, so probably it’s bad translation. But to be honest, it’s a mess.)

You have to start somewhere to give the past a place, the present is getting less and less. The further you are, the better. Go ahead now,

Leave your tracks. Forget the flash where you can exist, the world is your itinerary. Was there a time that you had another, which passed.

You're the other one already. You are, as you know, the center of this story. This is eternity. That lasts. Who has the time. Go therefore and revel in your story. Tell.

Tell us who you are with each step. In our story we disappear eventually, and only you remain over time. You and these letters, which are cut out of stone. Like the letters on our grave.

The cracks in the cathedral. Raised to the sky like an index finger, to indicate the guilty and demand more time. So we can go up straight, like people along the canal.

They stare at their feet. Look up! See Utrecht’s churches protruding above ground level. Raise your hands, beg with the towers to be this privileged. To be, to be now. The weather is nice.

Stare further. Life is witness to your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps connect the past with written letters. All seasons recognize themselves …

So far seven poets have contributed to different sections of the poem. Once a section ends, another poet picks it up from where it left and continues. The part that is not yet published is kept a secret.

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Photo credit: Peter Nederlof/Flickr

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Photo credit: Dick Sijtsma/Flickr

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Photo credit: Peter Nederlof/Flickr

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