"Do you remember still?"– some unknown juvenilia of Vincent Swart

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1. An enigma

The poet Vincent Swart is an enigma.

While studying at the University of Cambridge around 1940 – pursuing a doctorate on John Donne at Magdalene College – he was considered an important and promising new poetic voice. Yet, his literary legacy is a slim volume of poems that were scattered across magazines and that the scholar Marcia Leveson collected and edited, and which was published by Ad Donker in 1981.

Yet, despite Leveson’s valuable project, even in South Africa – Swart’s home – few know his name, let alone his work.

The cover of Leveson’s collection of Vincent Swart’s scattered poems (Picture: Jean Meiring)

At the front of Collected poems appears a short yet colourful essay on Swart’s life. Piqued by his anonymity, by how well his poetry survived the passage of years, and by an error – which I learned only later was an error – I started looking for whatever I could lay my hands on concerning Vincent Swart, perhaps South Africa’s best forgotten poet. This quest led me to seven boyhood poems of his – well-nigh unread juvenilia.

In her account of his life, Leveson observes that Vincent Swart “was born in 1911 in Heilbron, a small Free State town, where his father kept a general store”. She adds that he and CR Swart, South Africa’s last governor-general (1959–61) and first state president (1961–67), were first cousins:1

One of his first cousins was CR (Blackie) Swart, later to become the first State President of South Africa, but there was little contact between the families and their lives took very different directions.

This claim delivers a jolt. After all, during Blackie Swart’s tenure as head of state, Vincent’s involvement in the struggle against apartheid saw him serve time in prison. Such a record on the part of the state president’s first cousin – their fathers would have been brothers – would surely have been reported. It has a biblical ring to it.


2. Who was Vincent Swart?

This is no occasion for even a potted biography. Despite certain errors, Leveson’s short account of Vincent Swart’s life helpfully presents its various stages in broad brushstrokes. Here, I simply test some of what seem to have become received truths about him.

The erroneous connection between Vincent and Blackie Swart is repeated by the activist Roseinnes Phahle, who knew Vincent well. However odd an affirmative answer would be, the question arises whether it was something that Vincent Swart himself laid claim to – did he put it about casually, perhaps to sharpen the tinge of transgression that he was wont to cultivate? Certainly, it would have been a rare claim for an anti-apartheid activist to make. But Swart’s fondness for provocation is wel documented.

In Phahle’s illuminating essay “The 1957 Alexandra bus boycott and its unsung heroes”, dated 2019, he discusses his “experiences and recollections of the 1957 bus boycott in Alexandra”, the township next to Sandton in Johannesburg, where he had grown up.

In a section headed “Vincent and Lillian Swart”, Phahle observes as follows, about Vincent and his second wife, Lillian (née Kleinman), to whom he was married for about 20 years, (c 1940–60):

Swart could be deliberately obnoxious and facetious. He and his wife recounted that when they were courting Lillian asked her parents why they opposed her marrying Swart. Her parents replied that when he was cross he would call her a “bloody Jew”. She told this to Swart and thereafter invited him to dinner with her parents. At the table he asked Lillian to pass him the salt. When Lillian asked, “I beg your pardon, what is it you want?” he replied, “Can you pass me the salt, you bloody Jew.” That was vintage Swart! Leveson says of him that he had “an exciting provocative manner of speaking”. But as Peter Horn correctly avers, he was “a man completely free of racial prejudices” which he mocked relentlessly throughout his life.

Yet, Phahle construes the claim of a close tie with Blackie Swart – assuming it was indeed a claim that Vincent himself made – as an act neither of provocation nor of conversational theatre. He recounts Swart’s background in these terms (repeating, as I say, the “first cousin” error):

An Afrikaner, Vincent Swart was a former English lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. … He came from a staunch National Party family. He was a first cousin of well-known fascist sympathizer and National Party politician CR Swart, who would serve as the Union of South Africa’s last Governor-General and the Republic of South Africa’s first State President, once the country left the British Commonwealth in March 1961. Another relative, Colonel Att Spengler, was head of the Special (Security) Police in Johannesburg.

Indeed, ATT Spengler was the senior security policeman at Sharpeville on 21 March 1960.2 I have not yet been able to trace the closeness of this alleged tie. One might perhaps accept that this was also something that Vincent himself put into circulation.

Phahle continues:

Despite his extreme right-wing family background, Swart devoted his life to political agitation for a left-wing cause and practically lived by day in Alexandra. He and his wife Lillian entered the township every day, organising and recruiting for the MDC.

Swart had formed the Movement for a Democracy of Content (MDC), Trotskyite in its leanings, in the wake of a visit to the USA, where he had encountered an organisation with the same name.

Yet, this account that both Phahle and Leveson adopt, does not seem entirely accurate.

First, as the ubiquitous genealogical websites show, Vincent and the state president were not first cousins. They were both scions of the Swart family, but on branches quite far apart. Also, Vincent was not especially Afrikaans. His mother was born in South Africa of Scottish Catholic parents. Leveson says that “[i]t was a bilingual home” – yet Vincent “grew up speaking English with an Afrikaans intonation” – and that Vincent, who was very close to his mother, “was raised in the Catholic faith”.3

What is more, it would seem from the language of his boyhood poems, reproduced here, that Vincent likely attended the English class at the parallel-medium Heilbron Secondary School.

For all these reasons, it is not clear that it can fairly be said that his family background was an “extreme right-wing” (read: Afrikaner) one.


3. Phahle’s recollections

Phahle recounts several vignettes that give a sense of the person Vincent Swart:

Swart’s wife Lillian came from a very wealthy Jewish family and had inherited money on her father’s death. But when they went abroad they squandered this by financing Contemporary Issues, the MDC’s organ. For marrying a non-Jew, Lillian’s wealthy widowed mother withheld financial support from her until quite late in her life when she broke from Swart to marry a Jewish man with whom she had had a relationship in her youth and of whom her mother approved.


On returning to South Africa [sc, from England] so broke that they couldn’t pay rent, [Vincent and Lillian] lived by pawning some of their possessions. It was not unusual while visiting them for an art dealer to knock at the door to inspect some art and offer to purchase it. And so they lived by selling off works of art or rare books that they had collected when they were in the money. At this time they lived in a rented flat in Observatory, where – much to the annoyance of the neighbours and the landlord – they frequently entertained their black friends from Alexandra. They were always in arrears with their rent because of their poverty, and to appease the neighbours, the landlord asked them to vacate the flat without notice and to forget the rent arrears. So they learnt how to live without paying rent in a white racist world: find another flat, annoy the neighbours by partying with their black friends, and the landlord would be so quick to evict them that the rent owing would be overlooked! At this time, they were too poor to live otherwise.


Trying to earn money Swart wrote a radio play which he submitted to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). When called for an interview, he was so sure that the SABC had accepted his script that instead of using public transport – of which there was ample for whites in those days – to go to the interview, poor as he was, he went in style by taxi. But SABC never took his play, and he got no money for it!


During one state of emergency Swart was picked up and detained without trial. The white detainees were held at Pretoria Central Prison. Aside from Swart, all were members of the all-white ANC-aligned Congress of Democrats (COD), an organisation that included Communists and Liberal Party members. When the COD members went on a hunger strike Swart did not join them. He maintained such distance from persons he regarded as diehard Stalinists that he would not make common cause with them. Rather than cook for the one detainee not on hunger strike, the Afrikaner prison warders, with whom Swart would banter in Afrikaans and who to some extent saw him as one of their own, would procure a meal of his choice from a restaurant or hotel. On his release from detention, Swart would with a great deal of relish tell us how well he ate in prison while his compatriots were on a hunger strike. In order to annoy them in his usual provocative manner, he probably licked his fingers and smacked his lips in enjoyment as they watched him eating.


Historians such as Baruch Hirson and Francis Nenik have written about Swart’s and his followers’ propensity for alcohol. They revelled in their drinking, claiming that Karl Marx used to pub crawl from Soho in Central London to Hampstead Heath. If Marx could do so, why not them? “Show me,” Swart would ask, “any man greater than Marx?” So it was that on the days he spent politicking in Alexandra he would frequent a shebeen and when he had no money to pay for his drink he would be given a drink on credit, as used to be possible in shebeens. But once, when he owed a large sum, the shebeen “queen” (as they were known in those days) refused to extend his credit. “So you don’t trust a white man?” Swart asked her, here too making a bawdy mockery of racism.


A gloss is required. Baruch Hirson (1921–99) was indeed a historian who wrote on the history of the left in South Africa and on the struggle against apartheid. Earlier, he had been a physicist.

Yet, Nenik (born 1981) is no historian in the narrow sense. His article “Burning bright, burning out” (with the subtitle: “The story of poet and anti-apartheid activist Edward Vincent Swart”), which, in 2016, appeared in English translation in the journal Transition,4 is a riff on the story of Vincent rather than a scholarly work. Indeed, Nenik draws heavily upon Leveson’s biographical account, including making much of the alleged connection to Blackie Swart.

Nenik, of course, is himself a source of mystery and intrigue. He is a farmer who writes in his spare time. His real identity is hidden. His German Wikipedia entry says this: “Francis Nenik … ist das Pseudonym eines deutschen Schriftstellers und Essayisten. Er gilt als ‘einer der großen Unbekannten in der deutschsprachigen Literatur’.

There is, therefore, a certain irony in the opening salvo of his article: “Heilbron is a godforsaken cattle farming town in South Africa ….”


4. The 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott

As Phahle observes,5 Swart played a central role in the bus boycott that took place in the suburb of Alexandra in 1957. That township by then had a history of bus boycotts, triggered by a rise in the bus fare. In late 1944, there was a boycott that lasted for several weeks, in which Vincent Swart had been involved.

Until 1944, a range of small bus operators had provided transport between the township and the centre of Johannesburg. The boycott of 1944 came to an end when a licence was given to the Public Utility Transport Company (PUTCO) to replace all the small operators. Since it was to all intents and purposes a monopoly, with the backing of a government subsidy, it could keep the old fare of four pence. However, when, in 1956, the government refused to increase its subsidy, PUTCO had to raise the fare. It proposed a one penny increase – from 4d to 5d – from what the subsidy had allowed the price to be since 1944.

The increase was due to be implemented on Monday 7 January 1957. Forthwith, the 1957 Alexandra bus boycott unfurled. Commuters’ war cry was “Azikhwelwa!” (“We shall not ride!”) as they elected rather to walk the distance of 22 miles from Alexandra to Johannesburg.

Phahle observes that by the time of the boycott, Vincent and Lillian had moved to a farm in Jackson’s Drift, a rural area near Vereeniging, a long distance from Alexandra. Since their car was habitually breaking down, Vincent hitchhiked to Alexandra to attend public meetings.

The photo that appeared in Die Vaderland on 18 February 1957 (Picture of the original: Christiaan Burger)


In its edition of 18 February 1957, the newspaper Die Vaderland published a photograph of Vincent and Lillian, sitting among boycotters at a public meeting. The caption reads:

Die busboikot geniet nog steeds ondersteuning van blankes. Ook by naturelle-vergaderings kom blanke persone nog gereeld om hulle toe te spreek. Op hierdie foto sit mnr. en mev. Vincent Swart. Mnr. Swart het gister die naturelle op Alexandra toegespreek.6

It is an evocative, ambiguous picture.


5. Casey Jones

One of the most memorable and affecting of Vincent’s poems is “Casey Jones”, a ballad that first appeared in 1936 in the Wits student magazine Umpa,7 about John Luther “Casey” Jones, an American locomotive driver who was killed on 30 April 1900 when the passenger train he was running from Memphis in Tennessee to Jackson in Mississippi, collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi. He managed to save all the passengers. He was the only one killed. Soon, a legend grew up around him.

“The ballad of Casey Jones” was a song first sung to the tune of a popular song, “Jimmie Jones”, shortly after Jones’s death, by his friend Wallace Saunders, a black engineer wiper in the railroad shop at Canton. Railroaders picked it up and passed the song along. It became a folk song and a staple on the vaudeville circuit.

The song’s opening and closing verses go like this:

Come all you rounders if you want to hear
A story ’bout a brave engineer, 
Casey Jones was the rounder’s name 
’Twas on the Illinois Central that he won his fame.

Casey Jones, he loved a locomotive. 
Casey Jones, a mighty man was he. 
Casey Jones run his final locomotive 
With the Cannonball Special on the old I.C.

Casey’s body lies buried in Jackson, Tennessee 
Close beside the tracks of the old I.C. 
May his spirit live forever throughout the land 
As the greatest of all heroes of a railroad man.

Casey Jones, he died at the throttle, 
Casey Jones, with the whistle in his hand. 
Casey Jones, he died at the throttle, 
But we’ll all see Casey in the promised land.

In Swart’s hand, the story of Casey Jones is told as follows:

Casey Jones has left today,
The decision was made in a desperate way,
Short as a wire and quick as a plane
And he isn’t going to see any of you again.
There was no kind of good in staying on
When the delight was gone.

His hand at the welding was unsteady for months,
And the boss came very near sacking him once.
No rain for weeks: the old mower in pawn,
It was an impossible pastime cutting the lawn.
There was no kind of good in staying on
When the delight was gone.

Cries in the head were making him light,
He found it difficult sleeping at night,
The warmth of the women was a shocking reward,
And their unfortunate wishes were growing weird.
There was no kind of good in staying on
When the delight was gone.

O where did he head for? The wind in the wood,
And the goat on the tether was coughing up blood,
The clock on the church was pointing at ten
As he passed by the women and left the men.
There was no kind of good in staying on
When the delight was gone.

O where was he going? He didn’t quite know,
For vague as a bandage the infected go,
And the mind must follow the deceived decision
Of the night before and the dream’s inclusion.
There was no kind of good in staying on
When the delight was gone.

The poem has a striking elegance and a forceful rhythmic thrust. While its narrative is more coherent than most of Swart’s poems, it, too, is clothed in ambiguity.


6. Heilbron

In January 2022, I send a Facebook message to the Riemland Museum in Heilbron. Piet Lombard, who assists in running it, writes back. One Saturday morning in January 2022, we speak on the telephone.

The name Vincent Swart doesn’t ring a bell to him. Nor, immediately, does Richard Johannes Swart, the name of Vincent’s father. I say that Swart père had had a general dealership of sorts. I wonder aloud whether there was perhaps a town newspaper. Piet mentions a fire that razed to the ground the office of the local paper, which means that early copies went up in smoke.

Editions of the annual magazine of Heilbron’s school before the fire at the offices of the Heilbron Herald during 1930 (Pictures: Piet Lombard)

Yet, after a bit of scouring, he sends me a photograph of the town council of Heilbron of the year 1919–20, somewhat lording it over a flattened leopard. In the front row, wearing what appears to be a dress suit of a type – complete with a white waistcoat, a dark bow tie and a white carnation in the left buttonhole – RJ Swart, the deputy mayor, sits bolt upright. From beneath bushy eyebrows, he peers squarely into the camera, his generous moustache aquiver.

Richard Johannes Swart and his family moved to Heilbron from the southern Cape, where he soon became deputy mayor. Here he is in the front row second from right. (Picture of the original: Piet Lombard)

In 1920, Vincent Swart turned nine.

He had three elder siblings – Richard Hamilton (born 1903), Dulcie Mary (1905) and Daphne Ann (1910) – and one younger, Patricia Monica (1913). (Leveson says, it seems in error, that Vincent was the youngest of five siblings.) While Richard Johannes was born in Heidelberg in the Western Cape, the Swart family also had strong ties with Swellendam.

Indeed, it bears mention that the Overberg Swarts were at one time pillars of the world of Afrikaans letters. The maiden name of the essayist Audrey Blignault, born in Bredasdorp, was Swart. The mother of zoologist and short story writer CGS (Con) de Villiers was also a Bredasdorp Swart.

Richard Johannes married Mary Deary, whose parents had moved from Scotland to South Africa, first to Grahamstown and then to Cradock.

The contents page of the 1926 annual (Picture: Piet Lombard)

Mary Deary was born in 1870. She had two older brothers, John (born 1866) and James Nathaniel (1868). Vincent’s uncle, John Deary, with a strong military background, would become a towering figure in Cradock, where he held sway as mayor in the periods 1920–21 and 1922–28.


Like Leveson, Francis Nenik says that the shop of RJ Swart burned down:

[O]n a beautiful August day in 1926, his father’s general store burns to the ground. Vincent Swart’s fate is at this point more or less sealed. Any child could tell you that no one ever paid for their university fees with the charred remains of a general store.

Quite where Nenik derives the date of the fateful event is not at this point clear to me. Nevertheless, he echoes Leveson, who observes that, owing to that unhappy event, there was no money for Swart’s education and that he had to earn his keep by working in a bank (presumably, I add, in Heilbron).

Nenik writes:

A job in a bank is, therefore, the best thing available to young Vincent. But then hope arrives in the form of a woman from Switzerland. She is married to a local doctor. And she is rich. What’s more, she thinks Vincent Swart has great talent. She gives him the money he needs to finance his studies. And so Vincent, whose last name means “black”, enrols as a student at Wits, the white university.

To the original German audience, the latter play on words would presumably be witty. Yet, it is unclear whether this is an entirely accurate picture. Some time after our first contact, out of the blue, Piet Lombard WhatsApps me some pictures of old copies of the annual magazine of the Heilbron Secondary School.

In the edition of the magazine of that bilingual school that appeared in December 1927, there is an advertisement placed by Swart & Co. If the shop had indeed burned down 15 months before, Swart père seems to have found his commercial feet quite quickly again.

An advertisement of Vincent Swart’s father’s general dealership (Picture: Piet Lombard)

In the edition of the school annual of December 1930, the year after Vincent Swart’s matriculation, mention is made of the difficult conditions. Owing to “the prevailing depression”, “this year the mercantile community has been having an uphill fight in common with all other sections of the community” – it had been hard to recruit many advertisers. What is more, the “printing of this number also gave difficulties. … [T]he ‘Heilbron Herald’ Printing Works was burnt down during the year. The block of our cover was also lost in the fire. But one of the employees of the old works, namely Mr O Wentworth, has again showed us that where there’s a will there’s a way.” Thus, despite many hurdles, the “fifth number” of the school’s annual could see the light of day.

The cover of the annual of 1930, after the block used for the cover in the previous years went up in flames. This was presumably the handiwork of Mr O Wentworth. (Picture: Piet Lombard)

The editorial proceeds to say:

Our School has had a period of prosperity. There are now 632 pupils on the roll, and the Secondary Department showed such an increase at the commencement of the year that an additional teacher had to be appointed. Under the new system of grouping proposed by the Administration, it may be necessary for us to give up one teacher but we all sincerely hope that this step may yet be avoided.

In the University examinations the School reached high-water mark. Out of 28 candidates for Matriculation 23 passed, of whom four were in the first and four in the second class. Of our 40 Junior Certificate candidates 38 passed, two of them (Sannie Grove and Cornelis Louwrens) gaining highest honours and a scholarship, five others being in the first class, and fourteen in the second. Bravo, Heilbron! The four Matriculation candidates who obtained honours were George Cohen, Lyra Liebenberg, Max Segal and Vincent Swart.

Just before going to press we received the news from the University authorities that Max Segal, the Dux Medalist of 1929, has been awarded the Frank Blake Memorial Prize for obtaining the highest marks in English A in the O.F.S. Although the announcement comes rather late from the University, we wish to congratulate him on this excellent achievement. He is at present studying medicine at the Rand University.

By contrast, if the popular account is true, Vincent was toiling then at a local bank.


7. Detention and death

Phahle writes that Vincent Swart was subjected to detention without trial “each time the regime locked up the liberation movement leaders, usually during the states of emergency”. He was also banned under the Suppression of Communism Act, 1950, and confined to his home, “at the time a smallholding in Linbro Park, alongside Alexandra”.

Phahle continues:

When he fell chronically ill, he wrote to BJ Vorster, the Minister of Justice, to ease the banning order he was under so that he might receive medical treatment in Hillbrow. In Linbro Park, there were no medical facilities.

When he received no response, he wrote to Minister Vorster, saying that he would flout his banning order by moving to Hillbrow to be close to sources of medical treatment, which he went on to do. Although by then divorced from him, Lillian paid for his move and for his medical expenses. Phahle says that Vincent gave the minister his new address in a spirit of “come and arrest me if you want”.

Vincent Swart died on 15 December 1962.

His dying wish was that his ashes be strewn over Alexandra.


8. Poems

Leveson observes:8

Swart seldom makes reference in his poetry to his homeland. There is almost no sense of an “Africa beyond” … and very little sense of an “Africa within”. Significantly, “Casey Jones”, which is one of the only poems with a coherent objective narrative structure, is based on an American legend. There will no doubt be those who argue that this deliberate turning away from his national roots, and an almost perverse reliance on an English or at any rate a foreign tradition, must inevitably weaken Swart’s achievement. However, … his involvement took a different direction. He may not have written overtly “protest” poetry, or even “local” poetry, but his commitment to his country took the form of active, radical political participation, while his lyrical thrust remained true to his individual imaginative vision and to the mainstream tradition of English poetry.

This essence that Leveson ascribes to Swart’s work is already visible in the following seven juvenile poems, which are, as far as I could gauge, unknown beyond the readership of the annual magazine of Heilbron Secondary School, in the years 1926–30.

They, too, reached me in a telephone message from Piet Lombard.

Vincent had been born “with two club feet and as a child spent many months in hospital undergoing treatment”; “he was acutely self-conscious about his limp”.9 Whether this ailment and all that accompanied it led him to become a teenage poet is a matter for speculation. Yet, the poems that appear in the Heilbron school annual demonstrate a precocious talent, an advanced understanding of rhythm and metre and a markedly English view of the world.

In standard seven, Vincent aspires to be “[a] noble British sailor” and muses upon the sad fate of a bird caught in the classroom over the school holidays. In standard eight, he plays on John Masefield’s schoolboy staple, “Sea fever” (which appeared in 1902). In standard nine, he composes an in-joke take on the teachers at the school. He paid a visit to Mr L, presumably Mr B Laubser, the Afrikaans editor of the annual, and discussed Leipoldt.

The last three poems – the two that date from his matric year and the one from the year thereafter – are indeed the most fully realised of the seven poems – harbingers of what was yet to come.

These seven poems have had fewer readers even than Swart’s mature oeuvre. What did the Heilbron readership of the years 1926–30 make of them?

At least we know that his Swiss benefactor Mrs Werdmüller approved.

A sailor

I often watch the ships at sea,
As they go sailing past,
And wonder if it is nice to be,
A tar before the mast.

I see the sailors on the deck,
I watch them hoist the sail,
And then I often wish to be, 
A’leaning o’er the rail.

I couldn’t really bear to be,
A humble little Tailor,
I’d love to rove the angry sea,
A noble British sailor.

Std VII (1926)

About the death of a dead bird found in our class room

She came into our class room,
Twittering and full of fun,
It was a fatal day for her,
The holiday had begun.

While still crouching on the cupboard,
The room was closed up tight,
And there she spent that dismal day,
And many a dreary night.

She fluttered on the window panes,
And flew against the door,
And then exhausted from the toil,
She fell upon the floor.

She crept into a corner dark,
And sobbed with all her might,
But no one heard her feeble cries,
Or helped her in her flight.

No crumb of bread was there to eat,
And weakness soon came,
And oh! the days they passed and passed,
Until a week was gone.

One day a teacher found that corpse,
And never dreaming of its fate,
Took it from the cupboard top,
And threw it in the grate.

Std VII (1926)

The sea

“Why weep you so, my tiny lad,
As though your heart would break.
Why weep you so, my tiny lad?”
A gruff old sailor spake.

“Weep you then to go to sea
And hoist a snow white sail,
And glide along so merrily,
A’leaning o’er the rail?

The sea is hard to rove, my boy,
The sail is hard to furl,
To walk along the deck’s no joy,
When there is wind and whirl.

When stormy winds sweep o’er the brine,
When scudding fore the breeze,
There’s many a time you would incline,
To quit the angry seas.

Such is the sailor’s lot, my lad,
And hard it is to bear,
So stay at home with M and Dad,
You’ll find it better to be there.”

Std VIII (1927)

A visit round the school

A rugby coach gives Chemistry,
He is the principal you know,
His boys are always filled with glee,
When rugby he announces.

I tried to enter his domain
I had to knock for hours on end.
I will not venture there again,
In case next time I may offend.

Our German teach drills the boys,
He gives the movements in fine style,
And swears that drilling holds but joys,
For those who take it with a smile.

When chasing x in standard eight,
And solving Logs and Trig,
I’ve often sang the “Hymn of Hate,”
And “Pikfine” I’ve annoyed.

I paid a visit to Mr L
And Leipoldt I discussed.
I entered feeling fit and well, 
But left there in disgust.

I entered then the History class,
It is a health resort.
I left it feeling bold as brass,
Though history I was taught.

And now I meet our English mistress,
To give her these few lines I’ve penned.
I know they’ll cause her much distress,
Although I hope I won’t offend.

Std IX (1928)

Do you remember still?

Now that you have heartlessly gone,
I’m filled with despair,
But recollection lingers on
To paint those days so fair.
We wandered oft beneath that tree,
Where all is peace and still,
I spoke to you, you spoke to me …
Do you remember still?
We watched the brindled dawn arrive
And fill the world with light;
We gazed into those clearing skies,
With rapture and delight.
The cunning wind was still abed,
The clouds had gone to play,
The moon had half her brightness shed,
A smile o’er Heaven lay.
The lazy whispering of the sea
But emphasized that calm.
I spoke to you, you spoke to me …
Do you remember still?
A firmament of bright blue light
Above those dreaming trees,
The mountain still half clothed in night;
Oh what sweet memories!
I broke a blossom off a bough 
To beautify your hair.
What sacrilege I think it now
To pluck a thing so fair!
That silence there, susceptible
And my own love for you.
Dearest, did that never fill
You with a love as true?
Though you are cruel as you are fair,
You cannot rob, though you may scorn
Me for this needless despair,
The memory of that peaceful dawn.

Std X (1929)

To spring

Greetings to thee, blessed spring,
Season of awakening!
Where hast thou been lingering,
Thro’ the winter day?
Come at last to greet us all,
Now that winter’s dreadful pall
Has passed away.
Come to strew with eager band
Flowers o’er a wintry land,
From where lofty mountains stand
To the dreamy sea.
Bending from heaven with childlike mirth
Come to kiss the wintry earth
With felicity.

Radiant daughter, ever dear,
Whom Venus bore to Bacchus fair,
Thou mak’st the wintry world appear
With Elysian glow,
Come to set from bondage, free
The cooling breeze and lazy sea,
A quiet day below.
Hasten Faun with all this bliss!
Hasten! Bring us happiness!
Let the powers soon dismiss
This cold winter day.

Std X (1929)


No streamlet keeps a second’s span
A volume constant,
It changes as the thoughts of man
At every instant.
No tree secure can boast a leaf
‘Gainst season’s blighting:
The ripe corn reaches oft the sheaf
With corn a-rip’ning.

That dream that robb’d us of our rest
May please to-morrow:
That joy that oft our hearts has blest
May yet bring sorrow.
All things entire that life may lure
Retain an exit free.
Sure naught the minute may endure
But Mutability.

                             Ex-scholar (1930)



1 At page 10

2 Spengler’s initials, ATT, came to be rendered, it appears, as a stand-in, acronymous forename, Att.

3 See page 10.

4 119, 2016, pp 155–67.

5 The discussion of the 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott in this piece draws upon Phahle’s account.

6 Phahle gets the picture’s subscript wrong, intimating that it conveyed the Swarts’ place of abode.

7 At the back of Collected poems, Leveson provides a list of the publications and the years in which the various collected poems were first published.

8 At page 9

9 Collected poems, at page 10

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  • Ferdi Wheeler

    Interesting and valuable history. Did you visit the Free State Archives Repository during your research? They have archival collections pertaining to many Free State schools. I have arranged and described some of them myself.

  • Reageer

    Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.