Deon Knobel. Toeligting tot die gedig “Elegie” deur Wilhelm Knobel

Wilhelm Knobel

Wilhelm Knobel

Ek het op hierdie pragtige verklarende notas van Wilhelm Knobel afgekom waarin hy die simboliek en dieper betekenis van die gedig “Elegie”  vir  V Cuenod verduidelik. Ek het ook die Engelse vertaling, soos in 2005 gedoen vir die Liedsiklus deur Hendrik Hofmeyr, en nou so effens gewysig,  aangeheg.

 – Deon Knobel, Kaapstad, 24 Februarie 2011





Doctor Val Cuenod’s parents were Swiss missionaries in the Northern Transvaal.

During the war she served as nurse, mainly in Egypt, after which she went to Paris and, after seven years’ study, obtained her doctorate in French. After teaching French in Natal for some time she was appointed as lecturer in French at Stellenbosch in 1956 when I was in my second year.

After interrupting my studies of French in 1958 to do an Honours in Philosophy, I did an Honours in French in 1959. I only really got to know her intimately when, in 1962, I returned to Stellenbosch to continue my studies in French. It was on her advice that I took a teaching post, first at Bloemfontein [1963] and afterwards in Pretoria [1964].       

Towards the end of 1966 I learnt that earlier that year, while returning from long leave in Europe, she had died from a stroke on board ship and had been buried at sea.

I started working on the Elegy and completed it on the day after the Springbok [Rietbok] Boeing [Vickers Viscount] disaster [13 March 1967] near Port Elizabeth. [East London] *

Basically the poem tries to evoke the liberation brought about by death. It sketches the progression from the finite to the infinite. The absence of a constraining canvass, the image of the hair, clipped short in life, but flowing long and darkly in death, represent liberation from the limitations and restrictions of life.

The gradual stripping away of colour suggests the growing unimportance of sensory perception.

The twilight green of the shallow sea, the varied colours of the tropical fish, give way for the vague shapes of sharks and the darkness of the depths, until only the white bones remain, fusing with coral and thus becoming part of eternal, unchanging beauty.


Wilhelm Knobel

No date on document.


Scanned and corrected by Deon Knobel by means of OCR document  from original typed copy by Wilhelm Knobel .



  vir V. Cuenod


Êrens in die Atlantiese oseaan is jou liggaam ter see gelaat

In geen benouende seil gewikkel nie

het dit stadig deur die skemergroen lig gesak

tussen kleurige tropiese vissies wat vir ‘n oomblik

    verskrik is

om dan weer soos mossies nuuskierig byeen te drom

en die vreemde gebeure gretig maar geheim in die

    roering te bespreek

‘n besorgde dolfyn

het jou ‘n rukkie meer waardig op  jou tog vergesel

jou ledemate wat net effens

in suggestie van ‘n dans beweeg

het hom ‘n tydjie laat vermoed dat jy leef

en jou hare wat jy kort geknip gedra het in jou lewe

het lank en donker in die stroom geroer

Êrens op jou reis die diepte in

waar die skemerte oorgaan in donker

het die vae gestalte van ‘n haai

(of twee?)

geduldig, genadig


die beelde hier word minder duidelik

maar in drome sien ek reeds hoe ‘n hopie bene

ewig en wit begin vasgroei in koraal





For V Cuenod

Somewhere in the Atlantic ocean  your body was committee to sea

hemmed in by no constricting shroud of canvass

through the twilight green it slowly sank

among colourful tropical fish which for a moment

            were startled

and the again like little birds clustered together curiously

to discuss the strange happenings

            with furtive eagerness

in its wake

a concerned dolphin accompanied you for a while on your journey

the slight movement of your limbs

with suggestion of a dance

made him believe,  briefly,  that you were alive

and your hair, cropped short in life,

flowed long and dark in the stream

Somewhere on your journey into the depths

where dusk turns to darkness

the vague outline of a shark

(or two)

patiently, mercifully


. . .  the images her become less clear

but in dreams, already, i see how bone,

eternal and white,  fuse into coral


Translated by Deon Knobel, 2005 & 2011




The aircraft (named ‘Rietbok’) was approaching East London in bad weather. Last report from the aircraft was when the crew reported at 2000 feet with the coastline in sight. The aircraft crashed into the sea one minute later.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The available data is not sufficient for the originating cause of the accident to be determined with any degree of probability. In the opinion of the Board certain possibilities can be excluded as being consistent with the evidence and/or as being remote and improbable; among these possibilities are structural failure, failure of the controls, or control surfaces, multiple engine failure, instrument failure, explosion, fire, a ‘bad weather’ accident and pilot error.
However, on the evidence the Board cannot exclude as the originating cause of the accident a heart attack suffered by the captain in the air, with ensuing loss of control of the aircraft, and with the first officer being unable in the time available to regain sufficient control to prevent contact with the sea.”
It was later rumored that the aircraft crashed as a result of a structural failure, because comparable accidents happened during that time.


Bookmark and Share

Comments are closed.