‘n Klein seleksie uit my gunsteling verse oor slakke.
To A Snail
If “compression is the first grace of style”,
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles”,
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.
(Uit: Observations, 1924)
Considering the Snail
The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,
pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later
I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.
(Uit: My Sad Captains and Other Poems, 1961)
The Snail in the Marigold
I watched, when planting marigolds,
Their colors all afire,
A gorged snail suck amid the folds,
Unfurling with desire –
Its slick and gleaming trail of pleasure
Oozing out behind;
Its rapturous head in worldly leisure,
The broken bud looked jubilant,
Enravished, vibrant, real,
Infusing animal and plant
With sybaritic zeal.
This seeming drive to be consumed
As wood lit in a stove,
Must be the lavishest, most doomed,
And pure of earthly love.
Come, celebrate the appetite
No science can control,
The wild, ingenious, slippery blight
That incarnates the soul.
The Haughty Snail-King
Twelve snails went walking after night.
They’d creep an inch or so,
Then stop and bug their eyes
Some folks… are… deadly… slow.
Twelve snails went walking yestereve,
Led by their fat old king.
They were so dull their princeling had
No sceptre, robe or ring –
Only a paper cap to wear
When nightly journeying.
This king-snail said: “I feel a thought
Within… It blossoms soon…
O little courtiers of mine, …
I crave a pretty boon…
Oh, yes… (High thoughts with effort come
And well-bred snails are ALMOST dumb.)
“wish I had a yellow crown
As glistering… as… the moon.”
(Uit: Congo and Other Poems, 1919)
The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all
night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body – foot,
that is – is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is
white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a
certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there.
Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze
the ground, I am heavy, heavy, heavy. My white muscles are
already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is
only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the
smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be dis-
tracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw
back. Withdrawal is always best.
The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (And
what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such
clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides.
When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have
come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarp-
ments, much less dream of climbing them.
That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my
love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors.
Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like
a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell?
Nothing. Let’s go on.
My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from
front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly
melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s
head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that
can’t attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They
press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is
beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well,
although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest
enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection.
My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely
opalescent ribbon: I know this.
But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me.
If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack
there for the night. The waterfall below will vibrate through
my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can
rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.
Die mens is ‘n delikate fabel
wat hy vir homself vertel
wanneer hy hom onder die afsydige sterre
in die stomme skulpie van sy skedel
en weet nie dat die Gloed
waarvoor die weke plasma van sy oog
vir die blindende oordeel van sy feit.
(Uit: Die swart kombuis, 1978)