Johann Lodewyk Marais – vertaling in Engels

Johann Lodewyk Marais – vertaal deur/translated by Charl JF Cilliers



Johann Lodewyk Marais

Johann Lodewyk Marais

Johann Lodewyk Marais was born in Johannesburg on 21 December 1956 and matriculated in 1975 as a pupil of Harrismith High School. He continued his studies at the University of Pretoria where, in 2001, he obtained a D.Litt degree for his thesis on Eugène N Marais’ scientific prose. His debut volume of poems was Die somer is ‘n dag oud (1983), a collection for which he was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize. He published six further volumes of poems, the latest being Diorama (2010), published by Protea Boekhuis. He also compiled three collections – Groen: Gedigte oor die omgewing (1990), Ons klein en silwerige planeet: Afrikaanse, Nederlandse en Vlaamse gedigte oor die omgewing (1997) and Honderd jaar later: Ter viering van die publikasie van Eugène N Marais se “Winternag” op 23 Junie 1905 (2006). In 2003 his first work of prose appeared, a travel book Lae wolke oor Mosambiek: ‘n Reisboek. Marais is a research associate at the University of Pretoria and chief editor of the magazine Ensovoort.




On this night my continent is a dark

unknown that is shifting past beneath us,

whilst above the crescent moon stands to one side.

Beneath me I see solitary lights,

far and remote, and how, at the top end,

a city near the Mediterranean burns

as it fades  into blurred undulations.

I look out solely at vast nothingness

and see my words tiny as an island

defenceless and dim in the pitch-dark night.


(Translation of “Reis oor Afrika” (Verweerde aardbol, 1992),

by Charl J.F. Cilliers)

Painting by Lynette ten Krooden

Painting by Lynette ten Krooden




In April the light moves from Metsana

across the red grass, dust-drab mealie fields,

past poplars and over the narrow stream


pursuing Jan Eagar and Maans Kritzinger’s

Ol motor over the long gradient

up to Rietspruit. Later the two listened


to John Bull’s story of a rabbit hunt,

how he saw one eye blink and took a shot.

The eye vanished, emerging closer by.


He fired again, and still the eye approached!

Buckshot, then! Malevolently it glowed

so close that he high-tailed it out of there!


In April, with my wife and child, I drove

to Metsana again in search of the light.

I told them of Grandpa John Bull’s story.


In the dusk a sudden bright reflected light!

Ahead a hare, zigzagging playfully,

swerved smartly. From the corner of my eye


in shoulder-high red grass beside the main road,

between the yellow poplars of Parkhurst,

I clearly saw a wavering unicorn.


(From: Palimpses, Cape Town and Pretoria, Human & Rousseau, 1987)

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)



Prayer for Africa


From all four points of the compass come we

who lift up our eyes towards the hills,

folding our hands together at the cross

to pray to You who are in everything:

in shrubbery; birds; small antelope; stones;

the termites who construct their termitaries;

in lush grass, and newly in its seeding;

in fountains bubbling up beside the road;

in people living on this continent

between birth and the moment of their death.

The sun rises and sets. At Your command

clouds shed their rain so rivers can run free.

The moon waxes and wanes; by revolving

stars above us we are moved to wonderment.

Kneeling here, we give praise and worship You,

with thanks for everything that You provide.

Our Father in heaven, watch over us

and also over Africa.



(From: By die dinge, Cape Town and Pretoria: Human & Rousseau, 1989)

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)



A Country


What is a country? All our talk reveals

that it is more than simply politics

or an area of our own in which to live;

although…this too, a circumscribed area,

often defined by strife, demarcated,

and with a flag, an anthem and a map.

Yes, and more than a small, square patch of earth

where, as a ploughshare turns the clay-dark sods,

stately white egrets follow in its wake;

more than fields of mealies or waving wheat

where weeds treacherously proliferate.

We bring each other the small wondrous gifts

of tours, though droughts, locusts, fires and riots

may be thought to have led to indifference,

alienating us from this country.

Fireflies shimmering over the Letaba,

the wintry colours of the mopani

in the north-east, swallow-tail butterflies,

the blue star-fire of a thistle one picks,

baobabs, a brown-hooded kingfisher

or duiker, are there to anchor ourselves to.

Over this land the pageant of a setting sun

and the southern stars tilting in the sky.

We ask for the survival of animals,

plants, birds, the preservation of their names,

for the humanness of our humanity,

as in this sombre age the circumference

of the country is falteringly mapped.


(From: Verweerde Aardbol, Cape Town & Johannesburg: Human & Rousseau, 1992)

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)




Leptoptilos crumeniferus


Long after it is dead the lead-wood tree

stands on the thorny and broad-leafed expanse

with branches like sketches of bent elbows:

a silhouette against a blood-red sky.

Black, large as life, in the late afternoon,

one sits, straight pencil-stripe legs, on a branch,

striated shading added later beyond

the carrion circle of the fading day;

but the finishing off of putrid remains,

so much that beggars the imagination,

remains unfathomable. Never documented.

Soon night will settle over all of it,

hiding from plain sight how both life and death

are endlessly reshaped by an eraser.


(From: Aves, Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis, 2002)

(Tr. by Charl JF Cilliers)





Charl JF Cilliers  was born in 1941 in Cape Town. Initially he went into the field of electronics and lectured for 4 years. He then joined Parliament as a translator in 1968 and retired in 1998 as Editor of Hansard. His first volume of poems West-Falling Light appeared in 1971, to be followed by Has Winter No Wisdom in 1978. His Collected Poems 1960 – 2008 appeared in 2008 and The Journey in 2010. His latest volume of poetry , A momentary stay.  was published in 2011. He also published a volume of children’s poems, Fireflies Facing The Moon, in 2008. He has retired to the Cape West Coast where he continues to write.


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