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Sunday, June 10, 2007

JM Coetzee translates Ina Rousseau's Eden

Company Gardens, circa 1965
Originally uploaded by mallix.

JM Coetzee's Notes on Eden published in Poetry magazine:

Ina Rousseau's poem "Eden" was published in 1954, at a time when white Afrikaner nationalists were riding the crest of a wave: internally they were on the way to crushing opposition to the apartheid state they were building; externally their strident anti-Communism had ensured the support or at least connivance of the West. The future they promised their adherents was prosperous and secure. "Eden" is thus a surprising and disturbing text to emerge at this moment, from the hand of a young Afrikaans poet not known for politically divergent views.

Traditional in its form and imagery, "Eden" is nevertheless a cryptic poem. Internally it bears no trace of South Africa—no trace, that is, save the language in which it was written. But once the key phrase "South Africa" is breathed, the poem opens like a flower. The first European settlers were planted at the southern tip of Africa to supply the Dutch merchantmen sailing to the East Indies with fresh fruit and vegetables. The garden they laid out—the so-called Company Garden, still standing in the heart of modern Cape Town—is linked by Rousseau with the paradisal garden of Judeo-Christian myth, and hence with the promise of a new start, a return to an unfallen state, that operated so powerfully in the European colonization of the Americas.

by Ina Rousseau

Somewhere in Eden, after all this time,
does there still stand, abandoned, like
a ruined city, gates sealed with grisly nails,
the luckless garden?

Is sultry day still followed there
by sultry dusk, sultry night,
where on the branches sallow and purple
the fruit hangs rotting?

Is there still, underground,
spreading like lace among the rocks
a network of unexploited lodes,
onyx and gold?

Through the lush greenery
their wash echoing afar
do there still flow the four glassy streams
of which no mortal drinks?

Somewhere in Eden, after all this time,
does there still stand, like a city in ruins,
forsaken, doomed to slow decay,
the failed garden?

Translated from the Afrikaans by J.M. Coetzee

Read more notes by Coetzee on Eden.

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