On the Hiatus
The past year and nine months have been disruptive but wonderful. I moved from my beloved South African pastures to the hills of South Limburg (The Netherlands) and, as a result, have had little time to write. The reason for the move was love, which against all odds, I found at last in the form of a gentle Dutchman.
Adjusting to love and life in a new country—greatly aided by the similarity between the Dutch and Afrikaans languages (the latter being derived from the former)—this period was marked by distraction of the best kind, exploring parts of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium with simple but unforgettable trips.
Amongst these was a visit to the picturesque home of Maurice Carême (1899–1978) whose lyric poetry for children made a lasting impression upon me when I first encountered it a decade and a half ago. The foundation in his name has preserved his home as he left it, affording visitors a unique glimpse into his life.
I had the singular and unexpected pleasure and honour to hold one of his original manuscripts in my hands. Were it possible, I would have spent the entire day poring over these fascinating documents, as well as his library, occasionally sitting in the laissez-faire garden, which in summer was pretty as a picture.
On the Poem
Thus, after an unexpectedly lengthy hiatus, I resume work on my anthology of lyric poetry. It has been a year since the last poetic sketch, “A Tapping Beetle” (and its Afrikaans companion “Toktokkie”1), was completed. I then began developing “A Clapper Lark”, and I am pleased to report that it too is complete.
- Afrikaans; pronounced [tockTOCKy], with a clipped version of the [o] in “or”.
What began as an English sketch of but two short quatrains, after much wrestling and episodic inspiration, transformed into two compositions with eight even shorter couplets. These are centre-aligned so that the symmetry echoes the shape of the bird in flight and the length (or, more aptly, the height), its ascent.
Like “A Tapping Beetle” and “Toktokkie”, “A Clapper Lark” has an Afrikaans companion (I hesitate to use the word “version”, for it implies a mere translation, whereas it is conceived as a poem in its own right, though the theme and style are the same): “Kaapse Klappertjie”.2 Both celebrate the bird’s courtship display.
- Afrikaans for “little Cape clapper”, pronounced [KAAHpsuh KLUppuhRky], with [uh] as the [e] in “flutter”, [KLU] as in “clung”, a trilled [R] and [y] as the [i] in “it”.
To attract a mate, the Cape Clapper Lark male flies up into the air from the grasses, rapidly clapping its wings. As it reaches the highest point, it utters either a long, ascending “pooooeeee” in the case of the species that inspired the poem,3 or two descending “tseeoo tseeuuuu”s in that of the species I filmed.4
- Mirafra apiata apiata
- Mirafra apiata marjoriae
“A Clapper Lark” and “Kaapse Klappertjie” describe this lively flying-up-diving-down, clapping-then-whistling display in eight stanzas each.5 Of the two, “Kaapse Klappertjie” seems to me the most successful phonetically, rhythmically and emotionally, the result of the inherent crispness of the Afrikaans language.
- Whilst writing these paragraphs, I suddenly conceived of a simple way at once to infuse the English composition with more vivacity and joviality, and align its structure with that of the Afrikaans. Originally, the final version of the English poem had four stanzas and the Afrikaans, eight. Both now have eight. This text was adjusted accordingly.
The common name of the bird in each language is an excellent example of how Afrikaans suits the concept of the poems better: “Cape Clapper Lark” flows; “Kaapse Klappertjie”2 skips. Taking this difference into account, the boisterous display of this otherwise unobtrusive bird is best expressed in that tongue.
The above-mentioned “A Tapping Beetle” and “Toktokkie” and “A Clapper Lark” and “Kaapse Klappertjie” form a set describing the amusing manners in which the creatures in question attract a mate. All four poems are centre-aligned and make liberal use of onomatopoeia: a visual and lyrical delight to compose!
On a Bridge
Next, I shall develop “Little River”, first drafted in mid-September 2019. Whilst living in the Overberg region of the Western Cape province of South Africa, it was my custom to drive once a week to the seaside town of Hermanus. These drives resulted in many a sight, which, in turn, resulted in many a poetic sketch.
On the way, in summer, I would encounter flights of swallows at Klipdrift6 where a small, simple bridge crossed the Kleinrivier7 river. Beneath this bridge, they nested; upon it, they sometimes alighted in the roadway; and above it, they frolicked and flitted—always an exquisite performance for anyone willing to watch.
- Afrikaans for “stone ford” or “Stanford”, pronounced [clipdRift], with a trilled [R].
- Afrikaans for “small river”, pronounced [cleyn-RhfeeR], with a trilled [R].
How fondly I remember those moments, for I was such a one! I would stop upon the narrow bridge—to the bafflement and annoyance of the occasional fellow road user who would invariably appear just then and end my adoration—and lose myself in the spectacle of Greater Striped Swallows (Cecropis cucullata) in flight.
I would also see many other birds; among them, the African Black Duck (Anas sparsa) and Vleitinktinkie8 (Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cisticola tinniens), both of which appear in the original “Little River” draft: a sketch about the river, its bridge and its birds. In the coming weeks, I shall develop the draft into a complete lyric poem.
- Afrikaans for “little marsh tink-tinkler” (literally “marsh little tink-tinkler”); pronounced [FLEY-tihng-tihngky], with the [ih] as the [e] in “flutter” and [y] as the [i] in “it”; named after its tinkling call, whence its other English common name, Tinkling Cisticola.