Roberta Writes: South African poetry – The Challenge by Herman Charles Bosman

The Challenge by Herman Charles Bosman

Written on 29 September 1927

Sometimes I hear, from dreaming awoken,

A faint sound which the night wind blows;

It brings me, what I’ve often heard spoken,

The Challenge – “Halt! Who goes!”

Nor knowing how, our hearts beat fleeter,

Our blood with fiercer fervor flows,

When on the way we chance to meet her,

And Life says, “Halt! Who goes!”

Nor knowing why, there softly lingers,

The fragrance of the perfumed rose,

When first we glimpse her beckoning fingers,

And Love says, “Halt! Who goes!”

But that dread hour – how will we take it?

When stripped of panoplies and shows,

We tongueless face him coldly naked,

And Death says, “Halt! Who goes!”

By Herman Charles Bosman

About Herman Charles Bosman

Picture credit and author bio:

Herman Charles Bosman (February 3, 1905–October 14, 1951) was born at Kuilsrivier, near Cape Town, and is considered the greatest short story writer from South Africa. Although he wrote in English, he became famous for capturing the rhythms of backveld Afrikaans speech, as evidenced in his Oom Schalk Lourens (oom means “uncle” in Afrikaans) stories and the Voorkamer sketches. Only three of his books were published during his lifetime: Mafeking Road, inspired by his trips to London; Jacaranda in the Night; and Cold Stone Jug, based on his years spent in jail for shooting his stepbrother during an argument.

This is a fun YouTube video I found about Herman Charles Bosman’s famous peach brandy or Mampoer as it is called locally:

Here is an extract from one of Herman Charles Bosman’s short stories: Starlight on the Veld:

IT WAS A COLD NIGHT (Oom Schalk Lourens said), the stars shone with that frosty sort of light that you see on the wet grass some mornings, when you forget that it is winter, and you get up early, by mistake. The wind was like a girl sobbing out her story of betrayal to the stars.

Jan Ockerse and I had been to Derdepoort by donkey-cart. We came back in the evening. And Jan Ockerse told me of a road round the foot of a koppie that would be a short cut back to Drogevlei. Thus it was that we were sitting on the veld, close to the fire, waiting for the morning. We would then be able to ask a [passerby] to tell us a short cut back to the foot of that koppie.

“But I know that it was the right road,” Jan Ockerse insisted, flinging another armful of wood on the fire.

“Then it must have been the wrong koppie,” I answered, “or the wrong donkey-cart. Unless you also want me to believe that I am at this moment sitting at home, in my voorkamer.”

The light from the flames danced frostily on the spokes of a cartwheel, and I was glad to think that Jan Ockerse must be feeling as cold as I was.

“It is a funny sort of night,” Jan Ockerse said, “and I am very miserable and hungry.”

I was glad of that, too. I had begun to fear that he was enjoying himself.

“Do you know how high up the stars are?” Jan asked me next.

“No, not from here,” I said, “but I worked it all out once, when I had a pencil. That was on the Highveld, though. But from where we are now, in the Lowveld, the stars are further away. You can see that they look smaller, too.”

“Yes, I expect so,” Jan Ockerse answered, “but a school-teacher told me a different thing in the bar at Zeerust. He said that the stargazers work out how far away a star is by the number of years that it takes them to find it in their telescopes. This school-teacher dipped his finger in the brandy and drew a lot of pictures and things on the bar counter, to show me how it was done. But one part of his drawings always dried up on the counter before he had finished doing the other part with his finger. He said that was the worst of that dry sort of brandy. Yet he didn’t finish his explanations, because the barmaid came and wiped it all off with a rag. Then the school-teacher told me to come with him and he would use the blackboard in the other classroom. But the barmaid wouldn’t allow us to take our glasses into the private bar, and the school-teacher fell down just about then, too.”

“He seems to be one of that new kind of school-teacher,” I said, “the kind that teaches the children that the earth turns round the sun. I am surprised they didn’t sack him.”

“Yes,” Jan Ockerse answered, “they did.”

I was glad to hear that also.

It seemed that there was a waterhole near where we were out-spanned. For a couple of jackals started howling mournfully. Jan Ockerse jumped up and piled more wood on the fire.”

I have read and enjoyed many of this authors short stories.

28 thoughts on “Roberta Writes: South African poetry – The Challenge by Herman Charles Bosman

  1. Great post, Robbie! I have a couple of Bosman’s books on my shelves, but I’ve yet to get around to them. You’ve encouraged me to move them up on my TBR list. Maybe I need to rent a cottage in the Karoo and take some of my SA author collection with me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, this is terrific that you share this wealth of talent. I could see and feel the imagery. Thank you. Are you creating a compilation of the works of the authors you present herein? I don’t even know if you can… AND it’s not as though you need one more thing added to your plate.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The poem reminded me a little of Poe, Robbie. I like the little bios you give with these. And the video and snippet were great. Thanks for sharing another South African poet and writer. 🙂 I’m enjoying this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to read loads of books when I was a teenager, but African books were really hard to come by, in fact the only two I remember were “King Solomon’s Mines” by Henry Rider Haggard and “A Story Like the Wind” by Laurens Van Der Post.
    I wasn’t 100% sure Van Der Post was actually South African by birth until I checked just now and found out his first language was Dutch! And also Afrikaans, which I suppose you could say is a dialect of Dutch… (I’m not sure about that. I know they’re similar though.) Anyway you’d never guess he wasn’t English born and bred except by his subject matter. His English was perfect This book A Story Like the Wind was about a white boy who totally immersed into the culture of the local tribespeople. I was rivetted by this book when I read it. But I never read another Laurens Van Der Post book again. Aparently there’s a follow-up book “A Far-Off Place” so I’m going to read that, if I can find it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. South African books are still hard to come by but there are some. Charles Herman Bosman has a number of books and they are available on Amazon as I have bought the ebooks from there. I have hardcover books of his too. Darlene Matthee also wrote some wonderful books, originally in Afrikaans but also available in English. My own recent writing also centres around South African history.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Robbie, what a marvelously crafted post. It’s a great introduction to Bosman, for me. Educational and fun. To me, many works from the 1920s feel profound. I think it was a time of transition, so maybe that brought out that quality in the creatives of that era. Well done. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 1 person

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