For those who asked… and some who might’ve been curious but didn’t ask… here’s a translation of the Afrikaans poem Die Skoene Jag which I posted on November 16th (I’ve noticed that this particular poem keeps registering hits, presumably because it’s a bit of a curiosity as an Afrikaans poem on an English website. On the other hand, some searchers are simply looking for shoes!)

This poem is also odd because it’s the only one of my childhood poems that currently appears on the site. I wrote it when I was thirteen, for a school exercise. Like all my peers in South Africa at the time, I was forced to study Afrikaans for the entire twelve years of my schooling. My own private rebellion against the Nationalist government consisted in refusing to speak Afrikaans, even though I wrote it well. I eventually managed to matriculate with an “A” for the subject overall, but something close to zero for the final oral exam, as I had not articulated a single sentence. It was a classic case of shooting oneself in the foot, of course, because in a later writers’ group where a few of the members had Afrikaans as a first language, I discovered that it is in fact an earthy tongue that richly and directly evokes emotion and conviction. As with all languages, there are some things that can only be said in that language and translation is inevitably “lossy”.

This translation is not a work of art (not that the original could really make a greater claim!) To convey it relatively accurately I’ve made a stab at using similar rhythms and rhyme-types as those in the original, but I did resort to some half-rhyme cheating, I confess. Most of the words are literally translated, although there are some word order inversions. The final line of the first stanza should really read something like “completed his appearance nicely”. The changes in tense are in the original, and were fairly typical in the telling of this kind of joke, as I remember.

The Shoe Hunt

Van der Merwe sees old Doep
Strolling out next to his stoep.
Old Doep wears a nice new suit
Like an ostrich with his plume.
A pretty shoe upon his foot
Finishes his fine costume.

“Hi, old pal! There on your foot
“Never a nicer shoe I’ve met!
“Tell me true, where did you
“Obtain such a lovely shoe?”
“You can’t buy it in a shop,”
Is the answer of old Doep.
“You must hunt it, if you will,
Simply shoot a crocodile.”

So every night, Van went down
To the river at full moon.
Every morning, back at the house
“Saw nothing, not even a mouse!”
Then he decided one last time
To search the stream for crocodile.

And this time, to his great luck,
Crocodile on the bank turned up.
Van der Merwe shoots the creature,
Goes into the water, pulls him over.
But now Van’s luck is really out:
“The stupid crocodile is barefoot!”

{Thu 16 November 2006}   Die Skoene Jag
It’s doubtless no longer politically correct to make Van der Anyone the butt of any joke, but perhaps readers will forgive this poem on understanding that I wrote it at age 13. I’ve just rediscovered it on going through an ancient poetry notebook. Anyone who remembers my Dad will recognise him as my source for this – he had so much pleasure in the telling of this story and so I’m publishing the poem in memory of him. Thanks for the lighter side, Dr. Peter John Burman!

Die Skoene Jag

Van der Merwe sien ou Doep
Loop-loop langsaan by sy stoep.
Ou Doep dra ‘n mooi pak klere,
Soos ‘n volstruis met sy vere.
Op sy voet ‘n lekker skoen
Maak sy voorkoms mooi voldoen.

“Haai, ou pel! Daarop jou voet
“H’t ek nooit so ‘n lekker skoen ontmoet!
“Sê vir my, waar het jy
“So ‘n lekker skoen gekry?”
“Jy kan dit nie in winkels koop,”
Is die antwoord van ou Doep.
“Jy moet jag, indien jy wil,
Gaan skiet nou maar ‘n krokodil.”

Elke nag het Van gegaan
Na die rivier onder volle maan.
Ongelukkig, soggens tuis,
“Niks gesien, nie nog ‘n muis!”
Toe besluit hy laaste keer
Krokodil te soek by die rivier.

Hierdie keer, tot sy geluk,
Het krokodil op bank gebuk.
Van der Merwe skiet die dier,
Gaan in die water, trek hom neer.
Maar Van het ongeluk ontmoet:
“Die dom krokodil is mos kaalvoet!”

See my literal translation of this poem here: The Shoe Hunt. You can also enjoy the Americanized version by David Ennis in the Comment below.

et cetera