To think that one agonises for weeks or months over what will be read or recited in a moment. A poet can but hope it is the sweetest moment in a reader’s life, echoing in his soul for a lifetime thereafter.
To a Tapper
Two versions of “Toktokkie”1 have come into being: “A Tapping Beetle”, composed in English, and “Toktokkie”, in Afrikaans.2 Both are in the style of a children’s rhyme, playfully recollecting my encounter with the titular beetle on a summery mountain slope.
- The Afrikaans poem, “Toktokkie”, is my second composition in the language, “Skaapwagtertjie” being the first. That poem too is part of an English-Afrikaans set, the Afrikaans version having emerged from the English.
- Pronounced [tocktocky], with the [o] in ‘voice’.
Toktokkie, its onomatopoeic Afrikaans name, imitates the tapping sound of its rear, which it bumps against the ground as part of its mating ritual. Knocking on the ground with one’s knuckle tricks it into tapping a response; the poems echo the rhythm in trochees.3
- DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM / DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM
Originally conceived in English, the mimetic Afrikaans “Toktokkie” proved irresistible, quickly commandeering my attention. Before long, what started as a fun compositional experiment, became two complete quatrains upon which I then modelled the English poem.
Consequently, both versions describe the same scenario in the same stanza structure with corresponding lines that differ only where rhyme and diction must dictate. Nonetheless, one poem is not a mere translation of the other, but a work in its own right.
To a Clapper
I shall now develop “A Clapper Lark”. Where the Tapping Beetle drums its rear on the ground to attract a mate, the Cape Clapper Lark flaps its wings so that they make a clapping sound as it rises into the air—it then utters two whistles before quietly descending.
In the morning, one hears and sees it performing its display, rising and falling from the grasses. Though relatively unimpressive in appearance—beige and brown—what it lacks in looks, it makes up for with spectacle—delighting passerine and passerby alike.
To “A Clapper Lark”, I shall bring the same light-hearted style of “Toktokkie” and “A Tapping Beetle”—and perhaps even an Afrikaans version, as here too onomatopoeia and alliteration are to be found in its Afrikaans common name, Kaapse klappertjie.4
- Afrikaans for ‘little Cape clapper”, pronounced [kaapsuh kluppuhRky], with [uh] as ‘e’ in ‘flutter’, [klu] as in ‘cluster’, a trilled [R] and [y] as the ‘i’ in ‘it’.
Incidentally, it dawns upon me that I am nearing the end of the compositional phase of the anthology. Four poems remain before editing begins, namely “A Clapper Lark”, “Little River”, “Boys” and “The Last Time I Saw Fireflies”, likely to be completed in April.
Amazingly—given my recent trend of lengthy writing times—“Kalossie”, the third of the “Wild Flower Sketches”, was completed in just four short writing sessions, including the conception of the original draft.
The “Wild Flower Sketches” then are a triptych of tercets celebrating Tritoniopsis antholyza, Lobelia chamaepitys and Ixia stricta. What a joy to have words prepared the next time I meet them on the mountain!
Next, I shall develop the “Toktokkie”1 poem, inspired by the beetle of that name. I composed the first draft—“Tock-tocky”—nearly a month after encountering it on the mountain that blessed summer evening.
I recognised it from childhood and remembered that knocking with one’s knuckle on the ground would persuade it to do the same with its rear!2 The poem enjoys this amusement in two stanzas.
The tapping is the origin of its common name, the onomatopoeic “Toktokkie”, Afrikaans for “little knock-knock”. I anglicised this to “Tock-tocky”, but no such contrivance is necessary—“Toktokkie” is its title.
- Afrikaans; pronounced [tockTOCKy], with a clipped version of the [o] in ‘or’.
- Tricked into thinking a potential mate is nearby.
“Lobelia”, the second of three wild flower poetic sketches, is complete. A short and, I hope, sweet celebration of the Thin-stalked Lobelia (Lobelia chamaepitys) that quietly adorn the mountainsides and waysides of the Overberg region in the Western Cape of South Africa from September (Spring) to April (Autumn).
Compositionally, “Lobelia” follows the tercet style of “Karkar Flowers”; like that sketch, buoyant and brief, singing the joy of beholding the flower. If the third sketch—“Kalossie”—permits it, then it too shall have this structure and so complete a tercet trio. To the development of this composition, I devote myself next.
Captivated by the Karkar and love-struck by the Lobelia, the Kalossie (Ixia stricta)1 was pure delight: its delicate bouquet of pink blossoms swaying in the breeze on the lithest stem, a wonder to behold in the heather! This impression on the mountainside that seminal summer evening, I must somehow commit to verse.
- Previously, I had misidentified the flower as Ixia scillaris. According to botanist Dr Christopher Whitehouse, the two are often confused, and such was my error.