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.
As if in lockstep with the development of its completed English counterpart (“Shepherd Girl”), “Skaapwagtertjie”’s second stanza is a challenge. Having reduced the number of versions for the stanza from just over twenty to two strong contenders for the final draft, I have reached an impasse.
Stanza one introduces shepherdess and flock on the mountain, whilst stanza two elaborates upon her solitary hours watching the sheep. The challenge: which of the two stanza versions most evocatively captures the scene in its four (very) short lines. To find the victor ludorum, I can but nitpick!
If truth be told, I am still vacillating between—nay, tormented by—my final choices for stanza two in the English poem. In fact, I devoted today to composing six additional versions of the stanza (from which I have extracted three with promise) to assure myself that I have exhausted every variation.
I had hoped that completing the Afrikaans would bring resolution to my concerns about the English version, but it seems there is yet more work to be done on the latter before I can finalise the former. This is primarily due to the fact that I wish to bring the two poems into thematic agreement.
The second stanza is the only one in which they sufficiently diverge (in subject matter) to cause me concern. In spite of my past pronouncements that the two compositions develop independently, my innate desire for uniformity compels me to seek symmetry, and I must attempt to create it!1
It may be that the aforementioned new English second stanza trials produce nothing worthy and I must humbly accept that the current version is my best offering; but, until I am satisfied that I have summoned every poetic ingenuity within my power, I shall not proceed with the Afrikaans.
- I am, of course, in the fortunate position that I can so shape both poems that they agree without compromise—the English version informing the Afrikaans and vice versa. This is not one poet translating the work of another, but a poet casting his own composition into another language (a most fascinating exercise).
et again, autumn surprises with Nerine humilis. Blooming beside a remote dirt road in a sea of greyish green, little lashes of pink caught the eye, compelling one to stop and admire. The flowers remind me of Tritoniopsis lata, which I recently discovered, but they are not related.
The Purely Pragmatic
The traditional poet is often tempted to use a word solely for its rhyming ability and must, therefore, be ever wary of the possibility that his choice serves no other function than the purely pragmatic, adding nothing conceptual to the work.
I faced just such a trap in a variation for “Skaapwagtertjie”’s1 first stanza, where the word windjie’s2 sole purpose was to rhyme with kindjie3, contributing nothing beyond those lowest of functions: superfluous detail and mere rhyme.
The Delightfully Literary
Another temptation concerns my anachronistic compositional style—a Romantic use of language to complement my theme. I prefer, for example, “upon” and “whilst” over “on” and “while”; a line with a literary phrasing over a prosaic one.
In the Afrikaans counterpart of “Shepherd Girl”, I must presently decide whether the archaic newels4 or familiar mis5 (both mean “mist(s)”) best suits the poem. In cases such as these, it is fortunate that my artistic approach indulges!
- The Afrikaans counterpart of “Shepherd Girl” that I am now composing.
- Pronounced [veyngki] (with [ey] like the [ei] in “reign” and the [i] in “in”), Afrikaans for “breeze” (literally “little wind”).
- Pronounced [keyngki] (with [ey] like the [ei] in “reign” and the [i] in “in”), Afrikaans for “little child”.
- Pronounced [neevils] (with the [ee] in “deer” and [i] like the [a] in “about”).
- Pronounced [miss] (with [i] like the [a] in “about”).