Afrikaans Current events Discussion of author’s portfolio Discussion of genre Discussion of poetry

Best Wishes for the Season – In the words of Breyten Breytenbach

The best way to express my best wishes to my family, friends, followers and fellow book lovers for the new year is to quote a few lines by Breyten Breytenbach, the acclaimed South African-born poet and author, from his work A Season in Paradise (1973). This poignant section from the book, called “Op Pad na die Kouga” (meaning “On the Road to the Kouga”), describes his trip to the Kouga, a mountainous, remote part of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. His words, those of a returned political exile, bring back memories to me of the essence of the South African hinterland, the “platteland”. I have translated these lines from Afrikaans as best I can so that you may enjoy the imagery, and so that I may pass on his very beautifully expressed salutations in the last stanza of the prose poem:

ON THE ROAD TO THE KOUGA – Extract
By Breyten Breytenbach / B.B. Lazarus (pseudonym)

May there always be a light in your house,
may the frogs remember you,
may your apples grow sweeter every year,
and your grape arbour greener,
may your friends always bring over some wine,
may the house you have built be redolent of
the fragrance of cedar wood and geranium leaves,
may the walls of your ditches not collapse
and fall apart too quickly,
so that the water can flow even more brightly in them,
may the stars and the mountains and the silence
stand guard over you and your family,
now and tomorrow and every morning and evening,
and every day’s night.”

Source: Op pad na die Kouga / On the way to the Kouga, By Breyten Breytenbach / B.B. Lasarus (pseudonym), From: ’n Seisoen in die Paradys / A Season in Paradise (1976) – Translated from Afrikaans by Marthe Bijman

ON THE ROAD TO THE KOUGA
By Breyten Breytenbach / B.B. Lazarus (pseudonym)

on the road to Upper-Kouga through narrow passes over landscapes
that lie shimmering in the sun’s dying light
where the dark defeats the world peak by peak
we came over a ridge
and turned off to where the moon passes over
as pale and safe as a word
in one’s own trusted mother-tongue
and there was light in the house:
it was good,
we were glad.

the people living there met us
in the hearth the coals were still glowing
where there’s a fire there’s always kneading-chatting
we ate the fresh bread with mulberry and apricot jam
and we enjoyed the wine and later, outside,
we sniffed at the  oven
because it was still warm of the fragrance
of something from far away, coming to life
and it was good, like that
so that was that
as it should be
because we were no longer guests and hosts,
and we were glad

we drank of the water that
trickled from the mountain
we looked at the old and somber watchful mountains
how they stand guard around the valley
and at the stars and the mountain:
the cross above the ravine
and the others
like fires over a charred veldt
we saw a little plume of smoke in the moonlight
and listened to how all the frogs chew in time
all on one tooth
and how the cicadas in the trees still sing praises
to the sun of yesterday-and-tomorrow,
and we were glad

We don’t know the love-names of the stars
the trees are gorgeous but unimaginable
in the dark we do not see future visions
in the dark
we discovered that the farms here
are named for longings
so heavy and so chilled;
Begrudged, Depths-of-Sorrow, Inconvenient
to up there in Damnation Valley
but that’s not saying anything
and it is good, like that,
and we were happy
to be with you.

may there always be a light in your house
may the frogs remember you
may your apples grow sweeter every year
and your grape arbour greener
may your friends always bring over some wine
may the house you have built be redolent of
the fragrance of cedar wood and geranium leaves
may the walls of your ditches not collapse
and fall apart too quickly
so that the water can flow even more brightly in them
may the stars and the mountains and the silence
stand guard over you and your family
now and tomorrow and every morning and evening
and every day’s night.


Afrikaans original version:
Op pad na die Kouga – Vir Oom Martin

op pad na Bo-Kouga deur nou passe oor landskappe
wat lê bewe in die son se sterwenslig
waar die donker die wêreld vat kruin vir kruin
het ons oor ‘n nek gekom
en afgedraai na waar ‘n huis die maan trek
so bleek en so veilig soos ‘n woord
in mens se eie mond-vertroude taal
en daar was lig in die huis:
dit was goed,
ons was bly

die mense van die huis het ons ontmoet
in die vuurmaakplek was die kole nog rooi
waar vuurgemaak word is daar altyd gekniegde gesels
ons het die vars brood geëet
met konfyt van moerbei en appelkoos
en ons het van die wyn geniet
en later, buite, aan die oond gaan snuif
want dié was nog warm met die geur van iets
van vér wat lewe kry
en dit was goed so
so was dit vanself
so moet dit tog wees
want daar was geen genooide of gasheer meer,
en ons was bly

ons het van die water gedrink wat uit
die berge syfer
ons het na die ou en somber wagterberge gekyk
hoe hulle wagstaan om die kom
en na die sterre bo die berge:
die kruis bo die kloof
en die ander
soos brande oor ‘n swartgebrande veld
ons het die bietjie rook in die maanlig gewaar
en gehoor hoe kou die paddas tyd
al op die een tand
en hoe die boomsingertjies nog lof betuig
aan die son van gister-en-môre,
en ons was bly

ons ken die sterre se aainame nie
die bome is lieflik maar onvoorstelbaar
in die donker sien mens die vergesigte nie
in die donker
het ons verneem dat plase hier
na hartsugte vernoem word
so swaar en so koel;
Misgund, Dieptes-van-Ellende, Ongeleë,
tot bo in Verdoemeniskloof
maar dis nie te sê nie,
en dis goed so,
en ons was bly
om by u te wees

mag daar altyd lig brand in u huis
mag die paddas u onthou
mag u appels aljaar soeter word
en u druiweprieel groener
mag u vriende wyn saambring vir die kuier
mag die huis wat u gebou het deurtrek bly
van die geur van sederhout en malvablare
mag die walle van u slote nie te gou inkalwe
en in hulle moer stort nie
sodat die water nog helderder daarin kan vloei
mag die sterre en die berge en die stilte
oor u en u gesin bly waak
nou en môre en elke môre en aand
en elkeen van daardie dae se nag

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