Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

I spend my professional life as a novelist and as a curator of anthologies. So I work, on the one hand, with fictitious persons and, on the other, with poets.
Both groups entrust me with the travails and triumphs of the human heart.
In the poems that find their way to my desk, bereavement and loss are frequently expressed, not necessarily brought about through death, but more often through the breaking of trust, the uncovering of infidelity, the loss of innocence and the despair of refugee and diasporic communities.
This month, I myself feel bereaved as I bid farewell to the cast of characters in my soon-to-be published new novel. We’ve worked together for nearly ten years, longer than I’ve spent with any other cast of players, on a formidable landscape that my heart will ache for.
In the real world, I bid farewell to the poet, Charl JF Cilliers, a wonderful, generous, extraordinary person, honoured in poetry quarterly, STANZAS 17.
This issue carries a beautiful translation into Afrikaans by Johann De Lange of WH Auden’s STOP ALL THE CLOCKS, CUT OFF THE TELEPHONE, which I copy here, in both languages.
“Farewell, Charl. Indeed, we switch off the clocks, and silence the pianos, for there is moaning overhead, as the mourners come to pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”
WH Auden (1907–73)
Translated from the English by Johann de Lange
Stop alle horlosies, trek uit die telefoon,
maak die hond stil met ’n sappige been,
bedek die klaviere en met gedempte trom
bring die kis uit, en laat die roubeklaers kom.

Laat vliegtuie oorhoofs kerm en sirkel in hul nood
en teen die lug die boodskap skryf Hy Is Dood,
sit ’n papierstrikkie om die nek van elke stadsduif,
laat verkeersbeamptes met swart handskoene wuif.

Hy was my Noord, my Suid, my Wes en Oos,
my werksweek en my Sondagstroos,
my middag, my middernag, my gesels, my lied;
ek dag die liefde duur vir ewig: dit het nié.

Die sterre het geen nut meer: doof iedereen;
pak weg die maan en sloop die son;
gooi uit die oseaan en vee op die woud.
Alles wat goed en eg was, is nou klatergoud.

By WH Auden (1907–73)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

CHARL JF CILLIERS (1941-2019) was born in Cape Town. His poetry has been published in seven collections and numerous anthologies and magazines, and been broadcast on the SABC. He has translated the works
of many Afrikaans poets into English. He retired in 1998 as Editor of Hansard, shortly after which, on the death of his wife, he settled in the fishing village of Yzerfontein.
JOHANN DE LANGE is the recipient of the Ingrid Jonker Prize 1983; the Rapport Prize for Poetry 1990; and the Hertzog Prize for Poetry 2011. His poetry has been published in numerous collections, anthologies and journals. He has published two short story collections and has translated Wilma Stockenström into English and Herman Charles Bosman into Afrikaans. He lives in Cape Town.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *