Friday, December 4, 2015

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Ladybird
a memory of my mother


By Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965)

Gleaming ochre
and a light breaks
from the sea.

         In the back yard
         somewhere between the washing
         and a pomegranate tree
         your laugh and the morning
         sudden and small
         like a ladybird
         fallen on my hand


Beautiful, isn't it? Kerry O'Connor introduced me and others to Ingrid Jonker online at 'imaginary garden with real toads'. Perhaps others already knew her work, or at least knew of it and her, but I didn't. This one particularly appealed to me, for its delicate beauty and for reminders of domestic details of my own childhood.

I learn from Wikipedia (see link on her name, above) and other sources that she is often referred to as the Sylvia Plath of South Africa, 'owing to the intensity of her work and the tragic course of her turbulent life'. Like Plath, she suicided early.

I gather she was more political than Plath, and with more reason, living in South Africa at that particular time.

She wrote in Afrikaans, but her work was translated posthumously by some of her poet friends working in collaboration. Unfortunately her books seem to be hard to get now, listed on Amazon as unavailable in English or prohibitively expensive. 

So I'll share with you also the one poem that is very easy to find, as Nelson Mandela read it (Wikipedia tells me) 'during his address at the opening of the first democratically elected parliament on 24 May 1994' – in Afrikaans on that occasion, but there is a YouTube of him reading it in (heavily accented) English.






The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga

The child is not dead 
The child lifts his fists against his mother 
Who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath 
Of freedom and the veld 
In the locations of the cordoned heart

The child lifts his fists against his father 
in the march of the generations 
who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath 
of righteousness and blood 
in the streets of his embattled pride

The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga 
not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville 
nor at the police station at Philippi 
where he lies with a bullet through his brain

The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers 
on guard with rifles Saracens and batons 
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings 
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the 
hearts of mothers 
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is 
everywhere 
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world 
Without a pass



Poems and photos posted to 'The Living Dead' for purposes of study and review remain the property of the copyright holders.

11 comments:

  1. Tis beautiful indeed...delicate and charming ....reminds me of childhood as well.

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  2. Thanks Rosemary for introducing Ingrid Jonker to us...she combined beauty, grit and hope in her lines...such a powerful writer...

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  3. Tears. I'd like to imagine her words sustaining Nelson Mandela in prison. I will apply them now to my own memory, to senseless death of children and adults in the way of terror. Thank you

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  4. I love the contrast between the beauty of the first poem and the emotion of the second. Thankk you Rosemary for honoring such a talented poet here.

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  5. I have never encountered her before! I love the second one about the little boy!

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  6. And to think she died before she was 30. The second poem brought me to tears - so moving and such a banner cry against senseless killing. It reminds me more than many of this type of poem how much our words mean, how we as poets can be such a force in this world. Thank you for this post.

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  7. That is quite a moving poem, Rosemary. So sad that she committed suicide... Such a talented woman.

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  8. Rosemary, so sorry to be late - I somehow forgot what day it is....LOL.........it has been that kind of week. I somehow missed meeting this amazing poet at Toads so am happy to find her here - I adore the first poem, and am much moved by the second......how tragic that she had an unhappy end, with such a sensitive and caring heart.

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  9. Thank you, Rosemary! I do remember her work over at IG. She is an unique talent-thank you for sharing her voice~ We lost her too soon-so, sad!

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  10. It takes a toll on those people who care so deeply, who see and feel all the injustices of the world, and yet we need their voices so much. Thanks Rosemary, this was wonderful.

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  11. I really liked to use here poetry to write my own.. there is always a reason for compassion.

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