“Shepherd Girl”, the poem I am currently developing, describes a day in the hard but simple youth of my mother. At eight years old, it was her duty to watch sheep up the nearby mountain, spending many hours alone on the eastern extension of the Little River range. Twice now have I been confronted with an erroneous understanding (on my part) of the details she had shared of that period.
The slope and fold, for example, were not where I thought they were, and she lived then in a different locale! These discoveries I had to weave anew into the composition as, upon pressing her further, she provided greater clarification. There is in the work a touch of pastoral romanticism—a fragile girl on a rugged mountain—but I want as far as possible her actual experience reflected in the lines.
I am delighted to report that a fourth stanza has materialised for “Shepherd Girl”, this after the third seemed too abrupt a conclusion to the vignette. Moreover, I am considering an Afrikaans version of the poem—not a mere translation, but a composition in its own right (my first in that language). Afrikaans—what I call low-resolution Dutch (from which it is derived)—is my mother’s mother tongue, a superb language for rhyme. Already I have translated one of the rough stanzas as a test, but first, there are weeks of work on the English draft to be done.
I officially started developing the “Shepherd Girl” poetic sketch today. The original draft consisted of several rough stanzas that outlined the substance of the poem—ideas and rhymes not fully formed, which I put in a coherent order a few days ago. From these, I have now extracted three promising stanzas, the framework of the poem. At its heart, “Shepherd Girl” is a glimpse into my mother’s childhood, wrestling beauty from the harsh realities of her youth (gleaned from many a tale in bittersweet nostalgia).
I was surprised to spot a Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) yesterday, my first sighting of the antelope in the wild. (“Springbok” is Afrikaans for “jump-buck”, pronounced with a trilled “R”, “i” like the “a” in “about” and the “o” in “orange”.)
“Mountains”, a two-stanza ode to the mountain ranges that line the Overberg region of the Western Cape of South Africa, is complete. What has to be one of the roughest poetic sketches I have ever jotted down—the first line, much to my embarrassment, began with “The something something mountain…”—is now a vivid lyric poem.
At first, I had little hope for the sketch, but its subject called out to me and I had to make an attempt. I am pleased I did! I shall reflect upon the composition in the days to come. Once I am satisfied I have exhausted all possibilities, I shall move to the next sketch—in all likelihood, “Shepherd Girl”, a vignette of my mother’s childhood.
In 2017, as I began to take an interest in birdwatching, I photographed what at the time I believed to be a Cape Batis male for its black breast band. Today, I discovered by accident (whilst attempting to identify another bird) that it was, in fact, a Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica). I see now the magnitude of my error, but betwixt the African Stonechat (below, left1), the Cape Batis (below, right1) and the Bar-throated Apalis (below, centre), is it any wonder an amateur would be just a little confused!
Pairs: female left, male right.
Illustration: Sasol eBirds of Southern Africa Universal App., Copyright 1993, 1997, 2002, 2011: Variously Random House Struik (Pty) Ltd, Norman Arlott, F H Chamberlain Trading (Pty) Ltd
After a three-year absence, the Cape Batis (Batis capensis) returns to the garden! I saw two. This one is a female. I glimpsed the other, but I hope it is a male. How thrilled I would be were they to nest here in August!
Here, a copse of pine fumes with mist atop a ridge of the Little River Mountains whilst there, a final puff lingers upon a rugged peak. Below, the Little River itself is all but a mirror in the stillness. Modest are the joys of the Overberg in the arms of the South African autumn.