Mabalel Poem

 
Mma-bolela" – "Mother - speak to me

This was the sad and unanswered call that echoed along the palm-strewn banks of the Limpopo River as dusk settled over the still, dark depths of the hippo pool into which Lalele, the father of all crocodiles, had slowly slithered.   African folklore relates how Mabalel, the carefree young daughter of the local chief, was seized by Lalele as she was drawing water from the Limpopo river.  This story has been immortalised by the famous poet and naturalist Eugéne Marais in his poem “Mabalel”.

 

Mabalel by Éugene Marais

 

Vinnig langs die paadjie trippel Mabalel;

Vrolik klink die leidjie

Wat die klingelinge van haar enkelringe vergesel

Op die voetpad sy alleen,

Met die skadus om haar heen;

Op haar kop die kruik gelig

In gedienstig ewewig.

Glowend kleur die hemelhoog,

Stadig sterf die laaste lig,

En van verre deur die skermmure

Wenkend blink die eerste vure.

  

Wydgestrek in eensaam vrede

Le Rakwen, die stille, brede;

Glansend in die westerpraal,

Met ‘n ceintuur in sy diepte van koraal.

En die wit gepluimde riet

Sing ‘n treurig wiegelied,

En buigend vleg ‘n silwerstroon al om

Die diepgespieelde hemelkom.

 

 

Wag, wag, Mabalel!

Is daar niks wat jou vertel-

Is daarniks wat deur die duister

Bang en dringend in jou ore fluister

Van die vreeslike gesel

Wat jou vrolik lied beluister,

Wat jou spoor hou Mabalel?

Word jy niks gewaar

Van dreigende gevaar?

Voel jy nog nie, kil en snood,

Om jou hart die handdruk van die dood?

 

Ver  benee die palmietstele

In die blou duister wag Lalele,

Kwintessens van alles boos,

Die wreedheid self, meedoenloos;

Met tydsaamheid wat alles kom ontbeer,

Wat tyd en toeval kan trotseer;

Wat seker as die noodlot van sy dag

Onslapend in die diepte op sy ure wag.

Deur winterkou en somergloed,

Deur blankend’ droogte en swelgend’ vloed,

 

  

Deur al die kerrende tafr’ele,

In sy diepte wag Lalele.

 

 

As die straaltjie in die sand

Deur ‘n vlam geskroeide land

Tussen walle dor en vaal

Skaars die rotse van Rakwena haal,

En die hulsels van die riet

‘n Rouband bind van swart verdriet

Om die groen bedekte kuil

Waar die laaste water skuil

En die sugtend’ wind versmag

deur ‘n woedend’ son verkrag-

Roerloos by die skeppleg hou Lalele wag!

 

 

En waneer in donker nagte

Rasend losbreek al die magte

Van geweld en storm en vloed,

En Rakwen’ omring van angsgeskreeu,

Smagtend sig nog eens te wreek,

Soos ‘n swaar geweste leeu

Swart en brullend deur die borre breek;-

Blindend uit die donker balk,-

Vlieg ‘n vlammend’ dolk,-

Wat deur strormbanke dig

‘n wereld van verwoeste loof verlig-

Ongeroer deur al die groot krakele

In sy diepte wag Lalele!

 

 

Droom sy op die kantjie, Mabalel,

Tot haar hart verlangend swel;

In haar peinse ongecleer,

Staar sy in die diepte neer,Staar sy in die blou gewelf

Met die donker reeds omsoom-

Tot sy, dromend, self

Deel word van ‘n salig’ droom;

Uit die wereld omgekeer

Lokkend lag haar beeldjie weer.

Stadig deur die rietpensele

Opwaarts uit die diepte rys Lalele.

 

Skud jou wakker Mabalel!

Sien jy nie die skadu opwaards wel?

Naar die hoogwal, Mabalel!

Hou jou mymering vir later-

Nooit had vyg of wilg in water

So’ n gespieelde metgesel!

Nooit ‘n skrikgebeeld uit die geholte van die nag,

Wat die dromer sug doen na die dag;

Nooit omheilige gedaante uit die diepte van die hel

Half so dringend , half so fel

As die’ skadu, Mabalel,

As die’ skadu wat benee jou

Uit die diepte opwaarts wel.

 

 

Voor jou voete, Mabale,

Deur die westergloor verhel,

Waar jy onbedagsaam staar,

Sonder ooit gedagte van gevaar,

Uit die stroomweg stadig

Dryf ‘n halfverdrinkte blaar.

 

 

Had jy spiere van ‘n tier,

Of die vlerke van ‘n gier,

Meidjie, niks so dit jou baat,

Want te lank het jy gewag – te laat!

Uit die spieelvlak omhoog

Baars ‘n skuimend waterboog;

Oor Rakwena, kalm en breed,

Galm ‘n enkel angsvol ‘kreet;

En dan saggies weer

Oor alles sak die stilte neer.

 

 

Winkend deur die skermmure

Helder blink die voornag vure

Uit die donker stilte skel,

Klink geroep na Mabalel

En die rotse antwoord weer;

Maar terugkom sal sy …nimmermeer

 

 

Stadig deur die rietpensele

Naar die diepte sak Lalele.

 

 

 

MABALEL

Translated from Eugene Marais by Jeanne Heywood

 


Swiftly down the footpath tripples Mabalel;

Gaily now her singing

Mingling with the ringing

Of her jingle-jangle ankle bangle.

All alone she goes,

As the shadows round her close;

A water jar of clay so red

Poised securely on her head.

Waves of colour surf the skies

As the daylight softly dies.

From behind a shelt’ring wall

Far-off winking fires call.

 

Wide and silent, still and cool

Lies  Rakwen, Lalele’s  pool.

Gleaming in the western glow

Coral depths reflections show.

And the reeds stirred by the wind

Sing lullaby of saddest sound.

                                                           

Wait, wait, oh Mabalel!

Is there nothing there to tell,

Is there nothing whisp’ring darkly

Through the dusk that falls so starkly –

Does nothing give you warning

That round your cheerful song is dawning

A danger coming coldly

A danger following boldly?

Don’t you feel with every breath

The cold threatening hand of death?

 

Deep  amongst the palmiet reed

In the blue depth waits Lalele.

Quintessential evil force,

Compassionless on cruel course

With patience that all want can suffer

Awaiting that which time or chance may offer,

He waits as surely as does Judgment Day.

Sleepless in his depths he marks his prey.

 

When water trickles through the sand

In a parched and barren land,

The dusty banks are dull and bleached:

Rakwena’s rocks are barely reached. 

Here the blackened sheaths of  reed

Weave a band of darkest grief

Round the green-encrusted shallows

Where the river lies in hollows

Here the water must be drawn.

Here Lalele bides his time.

 

When in deepest dark of night

At last the storm asserts its might.

With mighty roar like wounded lion

Thunder, lightning, raging wind,

Stripping trees of branch and leaf .

The swirling waters flood Rakwena.

Undeterred by Nature’s writhing

Lalele waits in darkness hiding

 

Through winter cold and summer heat,

Though drought and flood their themes repeat.

Through all the pageant of the seasons

In his deepness waits Lalele.

Though the flames may char the land,

The blackened earth a mourning band,

And the land is raped and bare,

Lalele lies within his lair.

 

On the banks with heart o’erflowing

See Mabalel now softly dreaming,

Her maiden thoughts so sweet and true,

Her eyes intent on depths of blue.

As the darkness now surrounds her

So her dreaming self enfolds her,

Breathing in the gentle silence

As her precious dream absorbs her.

Her image, mirrored in the water

Beckons yet with softest laughter.

 

Slowly from the reedbeds silent

Lalele through the dark depth rises.

 

Wake up, wake up, oh Mabalel!

Don’t you see the shadow upwards well?

To the high ground, Mabalel!

Keep your darling dream for later.

Never willow tree in water had

Reflections of such danger!

Never image of such terror from the darkest pit of night

Overcame the dreamer with such urgent need for light.

Never was unholier creature spawned,

Risen from the depths of hell;

None so threat’ning, none so fell.

As this shadow, Mabalel.

As the shadow that beneath you

From the darkness upwards wells.

 

Watch your footsteps, Mabalel!

Darkly glowing shades of hell

As you stand absorbed and staring,

No dark thought of danger rising,

That thing in the moving stream

Just a drowning leaf would seem.

 

Had you muscles of a tiger

Or the wing strength of an eagle,

Maiden, nothing saves you from your fate-

You’ve tarried here too long, too late!

From the mirror surface burst

A great foaming water spurt.

O’er Rakwena, calm and wide

Sounds a single anguished cry.

Then softly as a feather’s fall

Sinks the silence over all.

 

Light from beck'ning fire calls
Twinkling through the sheltering walls.

Through surrounding darkness fell

Hark the calls for Mabalel.

Hark the echo as before –

Return she will not, nevermore.

 

The water surface bears no mark

As Lalele sinks to silence dark.