Antjie Krog: New Alphabet (From Afrikaans)

Today we have my attempt to translate a poem from a language that I haven't studied very intensively (Afrikaans), but which is mutually intelligible with one I have (Dutch). The endeavor is possibly ill-advised, but I enjoyed the original poem so much that I wanted to try. I can't shake the sense that putting it into English misses a bit of the point, though, for I imagine it means something that Afrikaans is the language in which the poem's sentiment is being articulated. 

A New Alphabet
By Antjie Krog
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

If you say A you must say B
A is always against apartheid
B is color-blind

I want to write you brother but you're farther
Than the last century than a mother country
Than poem or document

If you say A you must say B
A is always against apartheid
B is color-blind

So many guides leave me high and dry
from so many sides I try getting close to
you to get closer - the more clothes I cast off
the colder I get the farther you appear

If you say A you must say B
A is always against apartheid
B is color-blind

My eyes can't get their fill of drowsing thorntrees
Between red grass and plovers with thin shins
My garden strewn with heaps of roses - only for my children
Will I lay down my life
Here I am learning to write - I have no choice.

Original:

Nuwe alfabet

As jy A sê moet jy B sê
A is altyd teen apartheid
B is blind vir kleur

ek wil jou skryf broer maar jy's verder
as die vorige eeu as 'n stamland
as gedig of dokument

As jy A sê moet jy B sê
A is altyd teen apartheid
B is blind vir kleur

soveel gidse laat my in die steek
van soveel kante probeer ek by benadering
jou benader - hoe meer klede ek afgooi
hoe kouer rondom my hoe verder blyk jy te wees

As jy A sê moet jy B sê
A is altyd teen apartheid
B is blind vir kleur

my oë kom nie uitgekyk aan doringbome dommelend
tussen rooigras en kiewiete met breidun bene
my tuin gevlek met vragte rose - net vir my kinders
le ek my lewe neer
hier leer ek skryf - ek kan nie anders

3 comments:

  1. “Blind vir kleur” seems to me to indicate a mental stance of a person, like the blindfolded Justitia. So no color-blindness, which is inborn. In Dutch we say: “hij is er blind voor…”, which is utterly negative: “he does not want to see it [the truth] (the fool!)”. Being in love clouds over the loved one’s shortcomings etc. Perhaps you can work on this Justitia who willingly lets herself being blindfolded.

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  2. I do not know the original language, but find the poem quite moving, especially the concluding stanza. I have worked with autistic children, for whom words/language can be either a momentous struggle, or a super-strength. The poem is timely, thinking of Mandiba's passing not long ago.

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  3. I have not come across the poem but Afrikaans is my mother tongue. Excellent translation - I would not be able to do it better. I understand every word of the poem, and her phrases taken individually are quite haunting, but I still find her overall message a little opaque.

    There is no "ik" in Afrikaans, only "ek". Two (further) random observations: the line "my tuin gevlek met vragte rose" literally means "my garden stained with loads of roses". This still does not convey a particular shade of meaning in the word, "vragte". "Vragte" ("loads") gives a sense of the huge, heavy, almost oppressive presence of roses; rather than "heaps" (= "hope" in Afr). "Blind vir kleur" = not discriminating, much like in the sense of being "color-deaf" (not discriminating according to the African accent when, e.g., listening to the radio in South Africa). P S I find your translations and blog very enriching.

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