Original Research

Cavafy, Vos, Dangor: A belated reply to Phil van Schalkwyk

Roger M. Field
Literator | Vol 40, No 1 | a1552 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v40i1.1552 | © 2019 Roger M. Field | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 September 2018 | Published: 17 October 2019

About the author(s)

Roger M. Field, Department of English Literature, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


The influence of the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantin Cavafy on South African literature in English has received some attention, but his impact on Afrikaans letters merits further investigation. The present article partly fills that gap by examining a small body of poetry and fiction by Cas Vos and Achmat Dangor. It draws on an article by Phil van Schalkwyk to show what it might mean to write in the manner of Cavafy. Thereafter, it discusses Vos’s translations into Standard Afrikaans within his context. Achmat Dangor wrote his Cavafian poetry in a Vernacular Afrikaans. The article considers how writers and poets such as Mark Twain, David Dabydeen, Richard Rive and Adam Small have responded to the challenges and implications of writing in non-standard varieties of English and Afrikaans. Because irony and parody characterise Dangor’s initial debt to Cavafy, this piece also considers these devices. It then moves to a detailed analysis of the relevant poems by Dangor, including comparisons with the poems by Cavafy they evoke, and then to work by Dangor on Cavafy in Standard English in which he reflects on why Cavafy has influenced him. It argues that Dangor discarded a literary vernacular medium for Standard English because of the former’s implicit distinction between ‘ordinary’ (inarticulate, authentic) and ‘extra-ordinary’ (articulate, unauthentic) patois speakers. It concludes that Dangor’s switch to Standard English may have resolved a personal dilemma, but leaves unanswered many questions about the literary use of a patois.


Cavafy; Dangor; Vos; vernacular languages; translation; irony; parody.


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