Look who blossoms, yet again in mid-winter! Here in South Africa, July is the second month of the season, but the weather is mostly autumnal, with crisp and clear days: misty in the morning, but later sunny.
Seeing the pear tree covered in flowers this early should come as no surprise, yet the sight never ceases to amaze. Naturally, I recited to it “A Pear Tree”—and I think it approved of my modest effort to praise it.
When the Southern Double-collared Sunbird male displays to attract a mate—its chief concern, this time of year (mid-winter in South Africa)—it reveals yellow tufts on its shoulders that are usually concealed. So far, I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to photograph it in this state—somehow, it is either too windy, or the bird refuses to keep still, or (as was the case yesterday) the light conspires against me. This was the best of yesterday’s set, with heavy adjustment to the shadows to make the feathers in question visible.
Yet 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.
Pronounced [vutt sweevuh swis uh veyssy]1, the above is a line composed for “Skaapwagterjie”, the Afrikaans counterpart2 of “Shepherd Girl”. It translates to “That floats like a tune”, which does nothing to convey the alliterative and onomatopoeic beauty that Afrikaans achieves in this simple string of syllables. Incidentally, I am unable to use the line as no configuration of the stanza in which it is meant to appear permits me; but what a joy to have conceived of it!
The [uh] like the “a” in “about”.
I now prefer “counterpart” as a description of “Skaapwagtertjie”’s relationship with “Shepherd Girl” rather than “translation”. Whilst the process is that of translation, my goal is an Afrikaans poem in its own right.
“Skaapwagtertjie” is following the same path of development as its English counterpart, “Shepherd Girl”, with an early resolution of all the stanzas but the second. Just like “Shepherd Girl”, two weeks into its composition, the drafts for stanzas one, three and four are reduced to one or two versions, whilst for stanza two, there are more than ten (from a total of about twenty) yet to be whittled down to that number. This is my task in the days to come.
Presently translating “Shepherd Girl” into the Afrikaans “Skaapwagtertjie”, I am encouraged to do the same for another poem titled “Little River” (yet unfinished). The sketch contains several Afrikaans bird and place names which justify a full translation, I think. When I composed the first draft of “Little River”, I thought of it as a way of enjoying Afrikaans without actually composing a work in the language; but “Skaapwagtertjie” shows me the delights of doing so. Perhaps I shall eventually translate the entire anthology into Afrikaans; but for now, this set shall be my indulgence.
Ruminating on the nature of Poesy, I am struck by how much of its composition is a process of elimination. Poetry, to me, answers the question: “How, in language, do I express this thought as evocatively as possible?” The phrase into which a thought is cast may be constructed from any number of words at a poet’s command; his task: systematically to sift through these to find which, in his estimation, best encapsulate the promptings of his soul—or, in lowlier terms, best wrestle lyric from prose and style from substance.