Balancing Fancy and Fact

Dot's Cottage. Copyright 2010 Google.
The cottage my mother grew up in, very different in appearance today. Directly to the left behind it, the gentle divide between two elevations of the Little River Mountains where I assumed (incorrectly) she tended the sheep. The actual pasture was toward the far left of the scene, up and over the slope (just left of the first telephone pole; at the time, she lived in a little hamlet just beyond the frame). (Google Street View)

“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.