A Poet Vindicated

Mist Above Bethoeskloof, 5 June 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The ridges of the Little River Mountains with a misty mantle. As a girl, my mother watched the family’s sheep beyond the concealed elevation, just left of centre.

Yesterday, I spoke again with my mother about her childhood shepherding days as the very mountain upon which she grazed her flock slowly succumbed to the mist:

“Would you still be up there at this time?”

“By now, I would be home.”

“What time did you descend?”

“I do not know; we did not have watches or clocks.”1

“How fortuitous that you should tell me this! The second stanza in the Afrikaans version of ‘Shepherd Girl’ has the line ‘Van ure onbewus’2—‘Of hours unaware’!”3

For days, I have been vacillating between several versions of the incongruent second stanza in the English and Afrikaans compositions of the poem in question. My most recent gripe was with its line “Of hours unaware”.

It is meant to show that she passed the time in a world of her own, but “Of hours unaware” seemed to me overly hyperbolic: how could she not know what hours were?4

Yesterday’s anecdote revealed that this was in fact the case, vindicating my poetic choice and helping me select the English and Afrikaans stanza versions containing that line as the ones to appear in the final drafts!

  1. My mother watched her stepmother Dot and step-uncle Mike’s sheep which were kept in the latter’s pen atop the mountain. Uncle Mike would crack his whip from far below on the foothills as the signal for her to fold the sheep and return home.
  2. Pronounced [fun eeRuh onbeviss]: [ee] is formed by rounding the mouth as if to say “ooh”, but positioning the tongue to form “eeh” (like the [u] in the French mur); the [R] is trilled (“RRR”) and the [i] like the [uh] in “about”.
  3. I am yet to recite to her the complete Afrikaans poem, but I am happy to report that she was delighted with the English one!
  4. How bizarre the scruples of the poet when working out the implications of his lines!

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