The success encountered in Paris by his Swiss mentor friend Jean Villard Gilles’ “La Venoge”, about an unknown little river, inspired and encouraged him to write the song. The flat country referred to in the song is West Flanders, the region in Belgium from which his family originated. It is a region with many open fields and few trees.
Because this landscape is rather typical not only of the West Flanders, but of large swathes of the Low Countries, the Dutch version of the song is popular in the Netherlands.
The French lyrics are by Jacques Brel, the Dutch lyrics by Ernst van Altena