Below is my poetic translation of Amsterdam by Jacques Brel. This translation aims to be more faithful to the original than the versions performed by David Bowie and Scott Walker…
In the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that sing
Of the dreams that haunt them from the coasts of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that sleep
Like the banners that drape along the city’s dull banks
In the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that die
Full of beer and cries at the first morning light
But in the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that are born
In the tiring heat of a still ocean
In the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that eat
Glistening fish, their tablecloths bleached.
They’ll show you their teeth that have chewed up fortune
And hauled up the sails and swallowed the moon.
And the fish smells like whore through the heart of the fries,
That they scoop up in portions increasing in size.
Then, with a laugh like a tempest they rise
Start laughing, turn away and they zip up their flies.
In the port of Amsterdam where the sailors all dance
They rub their guts on the bodies of women.
They turn and they dance like chewed up stars
To the rancid sound of an accordion waltz.
And they turn and they dance and they laugh all at once,
’till all of a sudden the accordion bursts
Then, with sullen faces and pride in their eyes
They bring their whore to face the port light.
In the port of Amsterdam there are sailors that drink
And they drink and they drink and they drink once again.
They’ll drink to the health of the whores of Amsterdam,
Hamburg, and anywhere, in fact they’ll drink to all the women
Who’ve given their bodies and have given their virtue
For a piece of gold, and when the sailors have drunk well
They’ll point their noses to the sky and blow them among the stars
And they’ll piss like I cry for unfaithful loves.
In the (Am) port of Amsterdam there are (Em) sailors that sing
Of the (F) dreams that haunt them from the (E) coasts of Amsterdam
In the (Am) port of Amsterdam there are (Em) sailors that sleep
Like the (Dm) banners that (E) drape along the (Am) city’s dull banks
In the (C) port of Amsterdam there are (G) sailors that (E) die
Full of (Am) beer full of cries at the (Em) first morning (E) light
But in the (F) port of Amsterdam there are (E) sailors that are born
In the (Dm) tiring (E) heat of a (Am) still ocean
(These chords repeat throughout the song)