Sunday, 19 November 2017

HCA: 'Vænø og Glænø' in English translation

Vænø and Glænø

Close to the coast of Sealand, off Holsteinborg, there once lay two wooded islands, Vænø and Glænø, on them were a village with a church and farms; they lay close to the coast, they lay close to each other, now there is only the one island left.
One night there was a terrible gale, the sea rose higher than it had done within living memory; the storm increased in violence; it was doomsday weather, it sounded as if the earth split asunder; the church bells were set ringing and tolled without human assistance.
During that night Vænø disappeared to the depths of the sea; it was as if the island had never existed. But since then, on many a summer’s night, at low tide in still, clear water, when the fisherman was out spearing eels by torchlight in the prow of his boat, he saw, with his keen eyesight, deep down beneath him the island of Vænø with its white church tower and the high church wall. ‘Vænø is waiting for Glænø,’ the legend had it; he saw the island, he heard the church bells tolling below, but he was wrong about the latter, it was assuredly the sound of the many wild swans that often lie on the surface here; they cluck and complain, as if one was hearing bells ringing from far off.
There was a time when there were still many people on Glænø who could remember that stormy night and that they, when young, had driven between the two islands at low tide, just as one nowadays can drive across, not far from Holsteinborg, to Glænø from the Sealand coast; the water only comes up to the hubs of the wheels. ‘Vænø is waiting for Glænø,’ people used to say, and that became a legend and a certainty.
Many a young boy and girl lay in in bed on stormy nights and thought: tonight the hour will come when Vænø fetches Glænø. Fearfully, they said their Lord’s Prayer, fell asleep, had sweet dreams – and the following morning Glænø was still there with its woods and cornfields, its friendly farmsteads and hop gardens; the birds sang; the fallow deer leapt; the mole did not smell any sea-water as far as it could tunnel in the earth.
Even so, Glænø’s days are numbered; we are not able to say how many days there still are, but they are numbered – one fine morning the island will have disappeared.
You were perhaps down here by the shore only yesterday, saw the wild swans lying on the water between Sealand and Glænø, a sailing boat with taut sails glided past the wood thicket, you yourself drove across the shallow ford, there was no other possible route; the horses stomped in the water, it splashed up over the cart wheels.
You have travelled from this spot, are perhaps travelling some way out into the great wide world and after some years return once more: now you see the wood here fringing a large green stretch of meadowland where the hay smells sweetly outside decorative farmhouses. Where are you? Holsteinborg lies there still, resplendent with its gilded spires, but not close to the fjord, it lies higher inland; you walk through the wood, across fields down towards the shore – where is Glænø? You see no wooded island in front of you, you see open water. Has Vænø fetched Glænø, the island it had so long been waiting for? When did that stormy night take place when this came to pass, when the earth shook so that Holsteinborg was shifted many thousand hands’ breadths inland?
There was no stormy night, it was in broad daylight. Human ingenuity built a dike to keep out the sea, human ingenuity blew away the inland waters, linked Glænø to the mainland. The fjord has become a meadow with lush grass, Glænø has joined itself to Sealand. The old estate lies where it always did. It was not Vænø that fetched Glænø, it was Sealand that reached out with long dike arms and with the breathing of pumps blew and uttered the magic formula, the nuptial words, and Sealand received many acres of land as a wedding present. This is the truth, it has been registered, you can see it with your own eyes, the island Glænø has disappeared.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

HCA's 'I Andegaarden' in English translation

In the Duckyard

There was this duck from Portugal, some said from Spain, no matter which, she was called ‘The Portuguese Bird’, she laid eggs, was slaughtered and made a meal of – that’s the course of her life. All those that crawled out of her eggs were called the Portuguese and that meant something; now there was only one left of her entire line in the duckyard, a yard the hens also had admittance to and where the cock paraded with endless arrogance.
‘He insults me with his clamorous crowing!’ the one remaining Portuguese said. ‘But he’s a handsome sight, you can’t deny him that, even though he isn’t a drake. He ought to learn how to restrain himself, that is a sign of better breeding, something the small songbirds up in the linden tree in the next-door garden possess! how delightfully they sing! there is something so moving about their song – I call it Portugal! If I had such a little songbird, I would be a mother to him, loving and kind, it’s in my blood, in my Portuguese blood!’
And just as she said this, a small songbird appeared; it tumbled down headlong from the roof. A cat was after it, but the bird escaped with a broken wing and fell down into the duckyard.
‘It looks like the cat, that scum of the earth!’ the Portuguese said; ‘I know him from the time I had ducklings myself! That such a creature is allowed to live and roam around on the rooftops! I don’t think that occurs in Portugal!
And she commiserated with the little songbird, and the other ducks, which weren’t Portuguese, also did likewise.
‘Poor little dear!’ they said, and did so one after the other. ‘We are admittedly no songsters,’ they said, ‘but we have an inner sounding board or something similar; we feel this, even though we don’t talk about it!’
Then I will talk about it!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘and I will do something for it, for that is one’s duty!’ and she climbed up into the water trough and flapped around in the water, almost drowning the little songbird in the sudden shower it got, though the intention was good. ‘That is a good deed,’ she said, ‘one that the others can observe and take example by!’
‘Cheep!’ the little bird said, its one wing was broken; it was difficult for it to shake itself, but it perfectly understood the well-meant splashing. ‘You are so good-hearted, Madam!’ it said, but refrained from asking for more.
‘I have never considered the kindness of my heart!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘but I know that I love all my fellow-creatures except the cat, but that no one can expect of me! it has eaten two of my offspring; but one can well do as if at home here; I myself am from a foreign region, as you can see from my bearing and plumage! my drake is a native, does not have my blood, but I am not haughty on account of that! – if you are understood by anyone here, I dare assert that it is by me!’
‘She’s got portulaca (purslane) in her crop! a little common duckling said that was witty, and the other common bird found ‘portulaca’ quite excellent, for it sounded a bit like ‘Portugal’, and they nudged each other and said quack! the duckling was so exceptionally witty! and then they struck up a conversation with the little songbird.
‘The Portuguese bird really has a way with words!’ they said. ‘We’re not birds with big words in our beaks, but our concern is just as great even so; if we don’t do anything for you, we’re discreet about it; and that we feel is the best way to do things!’
‘You have a delightful voice!’ one of the oldest ones said. ‘It must be lovely to know one brings pleasure to as many as you do! I really don’t understand it at all! so I keep my mouth shut, and that is always better than saying something stupid, as so many others do to you!’
‘Don’t pester it!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘it needs rest and care. Little songbird, shall I give you another splashing?’
‘Oh no, let me stay dry!’ it begged.
‘The water cure is the only thing that helps me,’ the Portuguese duck said; ‘diversion is also excellent! now the neighbouring hens will soon be paying a visit, there are two Chinese hens, they wear bloomers, have much breeding, and have been imported, which raises them in my estimation!’
And the hens came and the cock came, today he was so polite that he wasn’t coarse at all.
‘You are truly a songbird!’ he said, ‘and you make the most of your little voice that can possibly be made of such a little voice. But one needs a bit more locomotion, more driving force, if anyone is to hear that one is a male bird!’
The two Chinese hens stood entranced at the sight of the songbird, it looked so ruffled from the splashing it had been subjected to that they felt it resembled a Chinese chicken. ‘It’s quite delightful!’ and they began to converse with it, speaking in whispers and P-sounds in refined Chinese.
‘We happen to belong to your species. The ducks, even the Portuguese one, belong to the web-footed birds, as you have probably noticed. They do not know us yet, but how many do know us or take the trouble, no one, no even among the hens, despite the fact that we were born to sit on a higher perch than most of the others. But that is no matter, we mingle unobtrusively among the others, whose principles are not the same as ours, but we only look on the positive side, only speak of what is good, although it’s difficult to find something where there is nothing. With the exception of us two and the cock there are none in the henhouse who are intelligent but seemly! that cannot be said about those who live in the duckyard. We warn you, little songbird! do not believe her with the stumpy tail, she is treacherous! the speckled one there, with the diagonal wing-bays, she is cantankerous and never lets anyone have the last word, and what’s more she is always in the wrong! – the fat duck says bad things about everyone, and that is against our nature, if one cannot say something good, they one should keep one’s beak shut. The Portuguese bird is the only one with a smidgen of breeding and possible to associate with, but she is passionate and talks too much about Portugal!’
‘What a lot the two Chinese have to whisper about!’ a couple of the ducks said, ‘I find them boring; I’ve never spoken to them!’
Now the drake came! he thought that the songbird was a house sparrow. ‘Well, I don’t make any difference! he said, ‘and it’s the same either way! It belongs to the music-making machines, and if one’s one of those, that’s the way it is!’
‘Don’t take any notice of what he says!’ the Portuguese duck whispered. ‘He’s a respected businessman and business is doing far too well. But now I’m going to have a rest! one owes it to oneself if one’s to become nice and plump, for the time when one’s to be embalmed with apples and prunes!’
And she lay down in the sun, blinked with one eye; she lay so well, she was so well-meaning, and so she slept well too. The little songbird pecked at its broken wing, lay down close to its protector, the sun shone warmly and delightfully, it was a good place to be.
The neighbouring hens went around scratching, they basically only came because of the food; the Chinese were the first to leave, followed by the others; the witty duckling said about the Portuguese that the old bird would soon be in its ‘duckage’, and the other ducks laughed, ‘duckage’, it sound like ‘dotage’ he’s so exceptionally witty!’ and then they repeated the previous joke ‘portulaca!’ that was very funny; and then they lay down.
They lay there for a while, when suddenly some old leavings were thrown into the duckyard, it landed with a smack that woke up all the birds, who leapt up and flapped their wings, the Portuguese duck woke up too, rolled over and squashed the little songbird terribly.
‘Cheep!’ it said, ‘you came down very hard on me, Madam!’
‘Why were you lying in the way!’ she said, ‘you mustn’t be so touchy! I have nerves too, but I’ve never said cheep!’
‘Don’t be angry,!’ the little bird said, ‘the cheep just slipped out of my beak!’
The Portuguese bird didn’t listen to this, but dived into the leavings and had herself a good meal, and when that was over and she had lain down, the little songbird came up and wanted to be amiable:
Of your heart so sweet
I’ll sing as a treat
At every wing-beat!’

‘I’m resting after my meal!’ she said, ‘you must learn house manners in there! I’m having a sleep!’
The little songbird was quite surprised, for it had only meant well. When Madam woke up later, it was standing in front of her with a small grain it had found; it placed it in front of her; but she hadn’t slept well, so naturally she was surly.
‘That you can give to a chicken!’ she said; ‘don’t stand there hanging over me!’
‘But you’re angry with me!’ it said. ‘What have I done?’
‘Done!’ the Portuguese said, ‘that expression is hardly comme il faut, I would draw your attention to!’
‘Yesterday there was sunshine,’ the little bird said, ‘today it is dark and grey! I feel so terribly sad!’
‘You’re no good at telling the time!’ the Portuguese said, ‘the day isn’t over yet, don’t just stand there in their ignorance!’
‘You’re looking at me just as angrily as the two horrid eyes did when I fell down into the yard!’
‘What impertinence!’ the Portuguese said, ‘are you comparing me to the cat, that predator! there is not a drop of evil blood in my veins; I have taken care of you, and now I shall teach you some manners!’
And she bit off the songbird’s head – it lay there dead.
‘What’s all this!’ she said, ‘couldn’t it even stand that? in that case it was no good for this world! I’ve been like a mother to it, that I know! for I am tender-hearted!’
And the neighbour’s cock stuck its head into the yard and crowed at full blast.
‘You’ll be the death of one with that crowing of yours!’ she said, ‘the whole thing’s your fault; it lost its head and I almost lost mine.’
‘He doesn’t take up much space lying there!’ the cock said.
‘Speak of the little bird with respect!’ the Portuguese said, ‘it had tone, it had melody and it had breeding! it was loving and gentle and that suits animals, just as it does so-called human beings.’
And all the ducks gathered around the dead little songbird; the ducks have strong passions, they either feel envy or compassion, and since there was nothing to be envious of here, they were compassionate – as were the two Chinese hens.
‘We will never have such a songbird again! he was almost Chinese,’ and they wept till they clucked, and all the hens clucked, but the ducks were the ones whose eyes were more red-rimmed than all the rest.
‘We have a heart!’ they said, that nobody can deny!’
‘A heart!’ the Portuguese said, ‘yes, indeed – almost as much as in Portugal!’
‘Let’s concentrate now on having a good feed!’ the drake said, ‘that’s more important! If one of the music-making machines stops working, we’ve plenty left even so!’

Friday, 17 November 2017

Two poems by Ronelda S. Kamfer


all i wanted to retain
was the blue of the sea
the green of winter
the yellow of the sun
the distance of the moon
the water of rain
the sound of the wind
my place behind mother’s back

Worse things than alone

when the fruit  was harvested
and the countryside dry and meagre
when the ground was good
and the summer sun burnt
you sweet and tough
there was always a tree that
grew out of season

my grandpa said
we call it jealousy
for it grows in the emptiest garden
it bears the loveliest fruit
and gets the most sun

To see the original poems in Afrikaans, go to here

Thursday, 16 November 2017

HCA's 'Det nye Aarhundredets Musa' in English translation

The Muse of the New Century

The Muse of the New Century – whom our grandchildren’s children, perhaps a more distant generation, will come to know, but we shall not – when will she reveal herself? What will she look like? What melody will she sing? What strings of the soul will she brush? To what heights will she raise her era?
So many questions in our bustling age, where poetry almost gets in one’s way, and where all the ‘stuff of immortality’ that present-day poets write will perhaps only exist in the future as inscriptions in charcoal on prison walls, seen and read by a few curious people.
Poetry must also do its bit, at least do some muzzle-loading in the party strife where blood or ink flows!
This is partisan talk, many people will say – poetry has not been forgotten in our own age.
No, there are still people who on their ‘free Monday’ feel an urge to indulge in poetry and who admittedly, when they sense this spiritual rumbling in their respective vital parts, send word to the bookshop and buy poetry for no less than four shillings, the best that is recommended; some content themselves with what they can possibly get thrown in for free, or satisfy themselves with reading a snippet on the paper cone from the grocer’s shop; it’s cheaper, and cheapness must be taken into account in our busy age. The urge exists for what we already have, and that is enough! The poetry of the future, like the music of the future, belongs to flights of fancy like those of Don Quixote – to speak of them is like speaking of voyages of discovery on Uranus.
Time is too short and too precious for fantasies, and what – if we were to speak sensibly just for once – what exactly is poetry? These sonorous emissions of thoughts and emotions are nothing but the vibrations and motions of nerves. Each of us is being played on like a stringed instrument.
But who plucks these strings? Who causes them to vibrate and quiver? The spirit, the invisible spirit of the deity which, through them, allows his movement, his mood to resound, and this is understood by the other stringed instruments, causing them to sound in tones that merge in consonances or form stark contrasts in dissonances. That is how it has been, that is how it will be in the forward movement of humanity in the awareness of freedom!
Each century, each millennium can be said to have the expression of its greatness in poetry; born in the closing era, it comes to the fore and rules in the new era that is to come.
In the midst of our bustling, machine-roaring age she has then already been born, she who will be the Muse of the New Century. We send her our greetings! may she hear them or chance to read them, perhaps already among the charcoal inscriptions we have just mentioned.
The rockers of her cradle went from the furthest point a human foot set foot on during the expeditions to the North Pole to as far out into the polar sky’s ‘black sacks of coal’ a living eye gazed. We did not hear the swish of the rockers because of all the clattering machinery, the whistling of the locomotives, the blasting of rock-faces and the old ties of the spirit.
She was born in the great factory of the present, where steam exerts its power, where Master Bloodless and his helpers toil day and night.
In her possession she has a woman’s great, loving heart, with the vestal virgin’s flame and the blaze of passion. She received the lightning bolt of reason, with all the changing colours of the prism down through thousands of years, colours assessed on the basis of fashion. The mighty swan’s shift is her splendour and strength, woven by science, ‘primeval forces’ gave it its uplift.
She is a child of the people on her spear side, sound in spirit and thought, with seriousness in her eye, humour on her lips. Her mother is the nobly born, highly educated emigrant’s daughter with the golden rococo memories. The Muse of the New Century has blood and soul in her of both.
Magnificent baptismal gifts were laid in her cradle. In great numbers, strewn like sweets, are the hidden riddles of Nature with their solutions; from the diving bell wonderful ‘knick-knacks’ have been shaken from the depths of the sea. The map of the heavens, this suspended Pacific with its myriad of islands, each a world, was embroidered onto her cradle blanket. The sun paints pictures for her; photography can give her toys.
Her wet nurse has sung to her of the ancient Norwegian skald Eyvindr and of the Persian poet Firdousi, of the medieval Minnesingers and what Heine in his exuberant youth sang of his true poetic soul. Much, far too much has her wet nurse told her; she knows the Norse sagas, the old primeval mother’s gruesome legends where curses swish with bloody wings. She has heard the entire ‘Arabian Nights’ in the space of a quarter of an hour.
The Muse of the New Century is still a child, though she has leapt out of her cradle, she has plenty of will, without knowing what she wills.
As yet she still plays in her large ‘nursery’, which is full of art treasures and rococo. Greek tragedy and Roman comedy stand there inscribed in marble; the nations’ folk songs hang on the walls like dried plants, one kiss and they will burst out in freshness and fragrance. She is encompassed by the eternal chords of Beethoven, Gluck, Mozart and all the other maestros of thoughts expressed in music. On her bookshelf lie so many work considered immortal in their own age, and here there is plenty of space for many others whose names we hear buzzing along the telegraph wires of immortality but which die with the telegram.
She has read a frightful lot, much too much, for she has been born into our age, a vast amount will have to be forgotten again and the Muse will know how to forget.
She does not think of her song, which will survive for thousands of years just as Moses’ writings live on and Bidpai’s golden-crowned fable about the beaver’s cunning and fortune. She does not think of her mission, her resounding future, she is still at play as yet, during the struggle of the nations that shakes the air, that places sound images of quills and cannons in all directions, runes that are hard to read.
She wears a Garibaldi hat, but reads her Shakespeare and thinks for a brief moment – he can still be performed when I have grown! May Calderon rest in the sarcophagus of his works, with the inscription of fame. Holberg, well, the muse is cosmopolitan, she has him bound in a single volume along with Molière, Plautus and Aristophanes, but most frequently reads Molière.
She is liberated from all the unrest that plagues all the chamois of the Alps, although her soul longs for the salt of life, just as the chamois do that of the mountain; in her heart there lies a tranquillity like that of the ancient legends of the Hebrews, this voice of the nomad on the green plains in the quiet, starry nights, although her heart swells more strongly in song than in that of the rapturous warrior from the mountains of Thessaly in Greek Antiquity.
And how are things with her Christianity? – She has learnt the multiplication tables of philosophy, both single and double; has cracked one of her milk-teeth on the chemical elements, but gained new ones instead, bitten on the fruit of knowledge while in her cradle, eaten and become wise – so that ‘immortality’ came to her in a flash as being humanity’s most brilliant idea.
When will poetry’s new century dawn? When will the muse be known? When will it be possible to hear her?
One lovely spring morning she will arrive on the locomotive’s dragon, roaring through tunnels and over viaducts, or come across the gentle, surging sea on a spouting dolphin, or fly through the air on Mongolfier’s mythical Roc and come to land somewhere where the voice of her divinity will greet the human race for the first time. But where? Will it be from Columbus’ discovery, the Land of Freedom, where the Native Americans were hunted like quarry and the African Americans treated like drudges, the land from where we heard the song about ‘Hiawatha’? Will it be from the Antipodes, that nugget of gold in the South Seas, that land of contrasts, where our night is day and black swans sing in the forests of mimosa? Or from the land where the Colossus of Memnon sounded and still sound, though we did not understand the sphinx of song in the desert. Will it be from the island of coal, where Shakespeare is the ruler from Elizabethan times? Will it be from the home of Tycho Brahe, which refused to accommodate him, or from California’s land of adventure, where the Giant Sequoia, the Wellingtonia, lifts its crown as the king of the world’s forests.
When will the star shine, the star on the muse’s brow, the flower in whose petals is inscribed the century’s expression of the Beautiful in form, colour and scent?
‘What is the new muse’s agenda?’ our own age’s knowledgeable members of parliament ask. ‘What does she want?’ Ask rather what she does not want!
She will not appear as a spectre of the time that is past! nor will she fashion dramas out of the discarded masterpieces of the stage or to cover up lacks in dramatic architecture by the dazzling drapes of lyrical poetry! her flight ahead of us will be as that from the cart of Thespis to the marble amphitheatre. Nor will she break sound human speech into pieces and rivet it to an artificial carillon of ingratiating sounds from troubadour tournaments. Nor will she present metre as being noble and prose as being commonplace! they stand as equals when it comes to sound, sonority and power. nor will she carve the old gods out of the blocks of Icelandic saga! they are dead, there is no sympathy for them in the new age, no kinship! Nor will she invite her own age to put up their thoughts in the low-class inns of French novels! nor will she anaesthetise with the chloroform of everyday stories! She will bring a life elixir! her song in verse and prose will be brief, clear, rich! The heartbeat of nationalities – each is but one letter in the large alphabet of progress, but she treats each letter with the same love, fashions them into words and sings the words in rhythms that form her anthem of the present.
And when will the fullness of time have arrived?
It will be a long time for us who still remain here, but a short one for those who flew ahead!
Soon the Chinese Wall will fall; the railways of Europe reach the sealed-off cultural archives of Asia – the two cultural streams will meet! that perhaps the cataract will reverberate with its deep roar, we old people of the present will quake at the powerful notes and sense in them a Ragnarök, the fall of the old gods, forget that down here times and peoples must disappear and only a small image of each, enclosed in the capsules of the word, will swim on the current of eternity as a lotus flower, and will say to ourselves that all of them exist and are flesh of our flesh, in various guises; the image of the Jews gleams from the Bible, that of the Greeks from the Iliad and the Odyssey, and ours then? Ask the Muse of the New Century, in Ragnarök, when the new Gimli, the eternal heavenly dwelling place of the happy survivors, will rise up in transfiguration and understanding.
All the power of steam, all the pressure of the present are levers! Master Bloodless and his busy helpers, who seem to be the mighty rulers of our age, are but servants, black slaves, that adorn the hall, bear in the treasures, lay the tables for the great feast where the Muse, with the innocence of the child, the enthusiasm of the young maiden and the calm and knowledge of the matron, raise the wonderful lamp of literature, this rich, full human heart with its divine flame.
Hail to you, Muse of the new century of poetry! our salutation rings out and is heard, like the thought-anthem of the worms, the worm that that is cut in two by the ploughshare as a new spring gleams and the plough cuts furrows, slices us worms into small pieces so that the blessing can grow for the coming new generation.
Hail to you, Muse of the New Century!