Working on “Skaapwagtertjie”, the Afrikaans version of “Shepherd Girl”, I am surprised at the first draft: how closely it approximates the English without being laboured; nonetheless, I do not intend slavishly to imitate the original. That manner of mere translation I find offensive—a gross abuse of language for the sake of fidelity (invariably at the cost of good verse) that I wholly condemn; and thus, whilst I began with a rudimentary direct Afrikaans translation, I shall let the language take its course and effect whatever changes to content and style it requires. Rarely do the poetic subtleties of a line migrate between languages, but where I can replicate these without contorting the Afrikaans, I shall do so.
I now have three versions of the “Shepherd Girl” poem from which I must choose one as the final composition. They are similar in most respects except for stanza two, which concerns how my mother passed the time whilst sheep watching. The dilemma: which pastime is most apt?
Another decision I must make concerns a line in stanza three: do I choose the figurative version, which allows for good onomatopoeia but poor fluidity, or the literal version, which allows for better flow but little lyrical effect—alliterative, onomatopoeic or otherwise? I cannot decide!
“Shepherd Girl” is developing beautifully. Three of the four stanzas have their variations reduced to one or two preliminary versions for the final draft; only the second stanza has yet to be brought to that point, with about nine variations under consideration.
I spent much of the week on those variations, attempting to weed out the least workable among them; but, with every one I eliminated, several more would spring up! From more than twenty options, I have now set apart nine from which I must extract one.
It sounds complicated, but the poem is a simple ballad with short lines. The challenge is finding the right details to cast in verse—those that best capture the subject and theme (a biographical glimpse into my mother’s youth—its innocence, hardship and beauty).