Elisabeth Eybers – vertaling in Engels

Elisabeth Eybers – vertaal deur Charl J.F. Cilliers en die outeur/translated by Charl J.F. Cilliers and the author




Ek het jou brief gelees terwyl ek eet,

die woordesoet het oor my tong gesprei.

Verby die aardse brood het ek gestaar

dwarsdeur die bome in die raam, dwarsdeur die grys

wolkeplafon tot in die paradys

waar alles lig en helder is. En net

soos in die Bybel was ons naak en het

ek, aangekla, gou hom die skuld gegee

wat skemerig sis . . . toe ek opeens gewaar

dat ek my halfgerookte sigaret aftik

in my twee-derde koppie tee.


Elisabeth Eybers,  Gedigte 1958-1973






I read your letter while I was eating,

sweetness of words spreading over my tongue.

Beyond this earthly bread I fixed my eyes

beyond trees in the window pane, the grey

cloud ceiling, to the everlasting play

of brightness and light in paradise. As

in the Bible when we were naked, and I was

accused, I quickly shifted blame from me

to one hissing in the dusk … then, to my surprise,

found I was flicking my half-smoked cigarette

into my two-thirds-full cup of tea.


Elisabeth Eybers,  Gedigte 1958-1973


(Translated by Charl JF Cilliers)



Whatever survives of the innermost me


Displaced Person


Whatever survives the innermost me

contains you too, unfailingly,

South Africa. But the traditional lore

seems less persuasive than before

they chose to bisect your proper name


by calling you Africa, where, on the whole,

disaster plays an alarming role

quite foreign to what I recollect

and cherish as a sancrosanct debt.


South Africa, while you disappear

I try to keep your status clear

by claiming that you’re exempt from blame.

[Translated by the author]




My hands and feet are all that came along,

the rest somehow got scuppered on the way:

the woozy heart, the whole foolhardy throng

of ductless glands raring to go astray.


Comparing what has disappeared with what

surrounds me here, I readily embrace

brand-new impressions, sound and light, the lot:

sense-organs occupying a rightful place.


My breast and belly also indicate

that something else existed previously.

Who knew that emptiness creates such weight

or what a burden non-constraint can be?

[Translated by the author]



In this strange land, unshielded by a mask…


Step by Step


You learn migration step by step, you see

strange and familiar objects, somehow stranded

on the artificial terrace where you landed

yet did not settle irrefutably.

[Translated by the author]




South Africa, when I abandoned you

because of personal hurt (not merely due

to random statements of stupidity)

my accent was enough to indicate

from where I came. Strange, how they welcomed me

while treating you to blind, official hate.

[Translated by the author]




In this strange land, unshielded by a mask…

the people here take everyone to task,

don’t tolerate nor flatter. What on earth

detains you here? There life was far more worth

and nothing now precludes your safe return.


You answer self-assured:

hate and suspicion can be borne

by all who share equivalent rights, who learn

not to make laws humiliating others

or challenge humanness by rubber stamp,

who look upon their fellow-men as brothers.


Why do I shrink from demanding:

my kinsmen, my co-incumbent,

just how will our children fare?

– Who’s paying for the past, its hapless care.


[Translated by Elisabeth Eybers (1915 – 2007)

Published in: The Low Countries. Arts and Society in Flanders and the Netherlands (2010, nr.18)

Published here with permission by the Chief Editor, Luc Devoldere.]




One of God’s holy seraphim

with joyful news came down to earth:

in humble praise you sang a hymn,

Mary, maid of Nazareth!

But when the neighbours looked askance

and Joseph thought he’d go away,

could you predict the dreary load

of shame your son would bear one day?

When, with a little secret smile,

you stroked your body – could you tell

the mingled love and dread with which

he’d have to brave the pit of hell?

And in the stable – as you lay

forsaken in your agony –

could you foresee the lonely way

that led into Gethsemany?

When gaudy monarchs journeyed far

their homage and their gifts to bring,

did you know with what boisterous shouts

the soldiers would proclaim him king?

When in your arms you held him so

as babes are cradled to be nursed

and watched his sucking, did you know

how helplessly he’d writhe with thirst?


When darkness flooded you, and John

came up and took you by the hand,

Woman of Sorrows, did you then

remember all and understand?

[Translated by the author]
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