Posts Tagged ‘Petra Muller translations in English’

Petra Müller – vertaling in Engels

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Petra Müller – vertaal deur/translated by Charl-Pierre Naudé & the author


Petra Müller

Petra Müller

Petra Müller was born in 1935 in the small enclave of Botrivier, where her father was the village policeman. One of five children, the family moved to Swellendam when she was ten years old, and her father turned to farming, on the farm Eenzaamheid. A hugely prolific and fully bilingual writer of short stories, novels, children’s books and poetry, Petra Müller’s book of love poems, Die Aandag Van Jou Oë (2002) was voted one of the ‘top 30 African reads’ according to an informal poll run by the Centre for the Book in collaboration with the Cape Town Book Fair in 2007.In 2005, Müller was awarded the Herzog Prize by the South African Academy for Science and Art, the highest honour for Afrikaans poetry in the country. Although the bulk of her output has been written in Afrikaans, with four grandchildren living in North America who don’t speak Afrikaans, she decided to write a collection of poems for them.”I set out with a good heart to write a book for them in English,” she explains. The result was Night Crossing (2006), which, Müller acknowledges, “is not suitable for children. Maybe when they’re older. In the mean time, I’m still trying to write a collection of poems for my grandchildren.” Nonetheless, Night Crossing was the first English-language poetry collection to be published by publishing house Tafelberg. The manuscript was sent to poets Ingrid de Kok and Patrick Cullinan (previously featured on Poetry International Web, South Africa), and they made a glowing recommendation. In fact, her first published poetry, featured about 40 years ago in Contrast magazine, was a series in English and Afrikaans on the death by drowning of her younger brother. Reflecting on her choice of language when writing, she says, “It makes no difference. I don’t always remember which language I’ve written in.” Among her poems featured here on Poetry International Web is ‘David’s Hands’, a poem about a visit to Florence. Müller explains, “I was transfixed by the statue. My husband took a photo of me, staring at David. I stood with my fingers in my mouth, like a child. Later, looking at the photo, I imagined David discovering speech.” ‘Michelangelo’s Marksman’ picks up on themes in that first poem. “If you want to make poetry,” Müller tells us, “you need to do it with the simplicity and self-sufficiency of a pebble, or a drop of water – an object as perfected by nature.”  


Go, lovely rose



The white rose has been shouting calamity

all afternoon


as it opened itself

to the night


And its lingering perfume

of musk and remembrance


is this old tale, this hesitant poem

which would have saved you

if it could, rose


you should go back to your poet

and tell him:


all has not been lost.



(Tr. by the author)



His lunch


She wipes her tears from her lower lip

and eats her bread with salt.


What do you want from me,

she demands, as the crust of the ciabatta

goes into the bad wine

and the virgin oil.


There is a bubble of air that escapes upwards

as slowly as an answer

in cartoons.


This also she eats, devouring

its complicated flavour of rosemary

and rue,


And from her fingertips

she licks the




(Tr. by the author)



Three travellers in Anatolia: a letter


“The local Christ is undestroyed

in crucifixion; his blood is rich,

and the starry world is present:

green, green, green.


We saw Him in passing. Black mud stuck

to our sandals – creation at work, all right.

By night, at the fire, we prised it loose,

using hard local thorns. Around us,

a shadowy circle, sat Anatolian children,

amazed at our coming. Their dogs bayed

at our spicy smells.


Basil had been harvested that day,

by bigger boys with sickles. It scented

the valley as far as we went.

We saw a crop of bulging, bloodred pomegranates

being cracked open, by a clutch of crones

with whittled sticks; they snapped

as they split. They offered us a dish

of garnet pips, and a new-born pup.


Music fell from our camper at evening,

cloaking the ancient apple trees with Bach.

We slept all night in the fertile crescent,

hushed and holy; the mother dog

stayed with us till dawn.”



(Tr. by the author)



High noon, Manenberg


the supercool sniper takes the street

for his aim

his sight slides straight down the barrel


he eats life in gulps: his mouth is snickered,

like cat to bird


dead silence greets him,

a flaring noonday hush


one by one the houses relinquish

their pitiful shadows to him

they look deserted; but they’re not


their corrugated roofs pant with heat

they do not know precisely how to bear

bright-burnished death; it is something

like birth gone wrong


inside, on the hard linoleum,

people are prostrated

in attitudes of prayer, while


the thin, white dog crosses lines,

quite unharmed,

for the moment alone



(Tr. by the author)




Other poems with the kind permission of the Poetry International website.


Caliban’s Island


I remember what this island looked like, before, with its pliant lianas
from which I swung with my whole weight,
strong green ropes looping green trees, one after the other,
                                                  and far below, behind the intricate shadows,
                                                  my hut in the sun, as blond as a young
                                                                weaver’s nest
and how I could drink from all the waters
and could devour all fragrances,
and above me, always, dappled birds who called me by my name,
where I fed their nestlings – and they ate from my hand,
because, remember, they are blind till they see.
And I had a mother then, encompassing and kind.

There was nothing that was clumsy about Caliban, then.
I was an apish emperor, hairy, yes, but filled with an explosive speech,
my lips curved around everything that I had found to say for myself.

Then came that day when the little toy-boat came ghosting into the bay.
From it emerged a string of beings clad in mottled velvets and lace –
textures, colours, and occasions – I was taught these very words in time
by that lisping magister who performed his play here, using spacious
gestures, and then left without a trace for better audiences in other places.
I remember what this island looked like before I became solitary here,
I who flow now like pale water from monkeyrope to monkeyrope
longing for those precious primates who left me prattling
of their tempests and books . . .
                                                       The wooden skeleton of their theatre still
stands upright in the levelled dell. I visit it every day. I sniff around it.
             I enter it.
At night I roll myself up in the remnants of its plushy curtains

to keep warm.



© Translation: 2005, Petra Müller
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2008






You have the hugest hands and feet,
artefacts from spacious times.
Fire must have made you in a hectic moment
and along a swift trajectory.

You stand upright in museums, almost
at rest, veins bulging all over.
The Goliath’s boast
            – which called your wrath into being –
has fled, but you listen still, your lids
drawn up from the bulbs of your eyes
while you fathom your reach.

When you were still locked
in that abandoned marble behind the Duomo
you were called giant.
Now you walk the city, compact and resolute,
looking for your next task.
When night falls, you emerge under streetlights
humming with your own strength,
flicking the little thong in your right hand.

And always the pebble goes round and round in your mouth,
like a man at the point of discovering speech.

I saw you there.

I ran home and rewrote
what I had written before.



© 2006, Tafelberg
From: Night Crossing
Publisher: Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2006
ISBN: 9780624044642






Everything turns to flame so suddenly – I can
hardly keep up with the reds, the burnt browns,
the various terracottas. Siënna. Ecstatic green flares
rising from the red . . . a green that bleeds
but also blooms. And the trees, in the background,
the trees at first appear abstracted like icons,
then twined again, and braided together.
Into what? With whom? For days I’ve seen
a cripple and an angel wrestle each other down into
the browns of an earth. In the far invisibility
something shimmers – there must be water nearby,
I can smell it, one could use it to sanctify.
But the hunched nuns tighten their wimples
around their withdrawn faces. They lower the lids
on their eyes. And I had wanted to look into the hoods.
Scrutinise the unseen. There must be browns there, even
possibly, blue. Visions, maybe . . .



© Translation: 2008, Charl-Pierre Naudé
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2008






Those were fully worked words
which you held in your hand; in your hand you weighed
them for their density. All pebbles are round.

When you lugged them
they broke the skull which caught them
neatly in two.

Out poured the soft grey stuff
from its fragile web
which had contained that century’s best boast
up to that moment.

No, you said to the giant, I had not intended
to kill you, merely to make things
perfectly clear. What a lad you were!

Now I keep remembering how you worked
that spillage, and you a poet, at that.
I should have noticed how your eyes bulged
in their sockets.

When I get up in the morning, in my century,
I am translucent like alabaster
with what you would call notforgetting,

I am porous where the light strikes me –
a milky interrogation.
I begin to see through myself. I know
that word, that piëta.
Very close to my own – are you
my sculptor or my stone?



© 2008, Petra Müller
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2008






Harald tells me: We were lads then, Shrumf and I, we
lived in burnt-out tanks outside Hamburg. We
each had our own tank. By day we clambered about, by night
we slept in pitch-dark bunkers, with no thought of home.
My mother was already dead and dad was a soldier on a front.
We ate with our hands what we could find on the fields,
potatoes we dug from the ground, and doves we’d grill
on an open fire just like your farm boys here, and with our teeth
tore the meat from the bones. It was tough, and good.

There were more of us, underfed, agile and sly.
Authority was no more – we were altogether almighty
where we were. And mechanised – coated
in a rusty scabbiness, from the old metal.

We ate war. We knew: whose aeroplanes were overhead,
what type of bomb . . . we had code names for ourselves
gleaned from a half-burnt history book. There was a Jewish
amongst us – who understood Russian. Verbissen we called him
but his code name was Titan. After the war
he became a metalsmith. One day
with a whitehot iron he burnt
the Star of David into his arm,
lest he ever forget.



© Translation: 2008, Petra Müller and Charl-Pierre Naudé
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2008






You await me always at the end of my sentences.
You are like death: I am
always moving towards you,
an infinity of inches.

Surfaces count. I will get to know you
in blindness and slime, like a slug
when it knows the earth at last,
that is, from belly up.

There is a moment, not due yet,
when I shall turn you into me
with a gentle, inward gesture.

Now that I have taught my eyes to read
my own meandering script
I see that I carried your name in legible letters
from the bloody slew of birth.
It was a long time coming.

There is something about time
which I must describe here with my hand
clutched round a pen: It can happen to one
in the shape of a man.


© 2006, Tafelberg
From: Night Crossing
Publisher: Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2006
ISBN: 9780624044642