Original Research

Meditations in a churchyard: An exploration of Afrikaans graveyard poets and graveyard poetry

Gerda H. Taljaard-Gilson
Literator | Vol 38, No 1 | a1315 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i1.1315 | © 2017 Gerda H. Taljaard-Gilson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 June 2016 | Published: 27 March 2017

About the author(s)

Gerda H. Taljaard-Gilson, Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, University of South Africa, South Africa


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Abstract

The term ‘kerkhofgedig’ (‘churchyard poem’) does not feature in academic discussions on Afrikaans poetry, neither does it appear in Cloete’s authoritative work of reference, Literêre terme en teorieë (1992). There are mainly three reasons for this omission in Afrikaans literature. In the first place the Afrikaans word ‘elegie’ (elegy) has become a superordinate for most poems dealing with grief or melancholy about a certain event or condition, for example, a lamentation, obituary poem, dirge, requiem, et cetera. Secondly, graveyard poetry is associated with (English) poems and poets from the 18th century, not with more contemporary Afrikaans poets. In the third place, the elegy and the churchyard poem are related poetic forms which share many characteristics, making it difficult to distinguish between the two genres. In Afrikaans literature the churchyard poem is therefore not regarded as an independent poetic form with unique features, as is the case with churchyard poetry in English, French, German and Dutch. Nevertheless, a number of Afrikaans poets have written churchyard poetry over the decades. In this article it will be determined whether Afrikaans graveyard poetry does in fact exist. This will be accomplished by providing a historical background to graveyard poetry and by comparing traditional graveyard poems to modern poems. Then churchyard poetry will be compared to the elegy. In conclusion a clear definition for graveyard poetry will be formulated. The following questions will consequently be answered: What is graveyard poetry and does it exist in Afrikaans?

Keywords

Afrikaans graveyard poets; the churchyard poem as genre; traditional graveyard poetry; contemporary graveyard poetry; the churchyard poem as an elegy

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