Ordering and healing in the becoming universe: The Biblical intertext in die poetry of Ina Rousseau

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Abstract

Ina Rousseau’s relatively small oeuvre of six collections occupies an important place in Afrikaans poetry as a whole. The title of her debut collection, Die verlate tuin (The deserted garden) (1954), refers to the Fall of the first human couple in the Garden of Eden and their consequent eviction by God into the inhospitable world, as depicted in the first three chapters of Genesis. The Biblical intertext explores Rousseau in human context both personally and suprapersonally, and this becomes the theme woven continuously throughout her oeuvre. The exception is her last collection, ’n onbekende jaartal (An unknown year) (1995) – apart from the title poem’s expressing the yearning for the eventual recreation of earth on which people have been waiting for centuries. Besides Die verlate tuin I concentrate in my article on Taxa (1978) and Grotwater (Cave water) (1989), her second and fifth collections respectively, which to me represent the highlights of her poetry. I owe my interpretation of the story of creation, as poetically expressed by Rousseau, to religion scientist Karen Armstrong’s study In the beginning: A new interpretation of Genesis, which radically broadened my perception of the Genesis text. This is comprehensively explored in my introduction.

The continuous theme in Die verlate tuin is unfulfilled man and woman’s futile desire for the fulfilment of their deepest needs, for an unscathed earth and a relationship of trust with God. By giving Biblical women poetic form, Rousseau specifically expresses female unfulfilment. In “Tabita” (Tabitha) the revived Tabita, resurrected by the apostle Peter (Acts 9:36–42), yearns for death. In “Joppe” (Joppa), the poem tied in with it, Rousseau’s “I” narrator waits as Tabita on the beloved to fully revive her to life. The expectation is fulfilled in Rousseau’s second collection, Taxa, where the man’s love for her restores reality in its paradise-like nature, maintaining the order in which God created. In the togetherness of man and woman lies their power to live and to survive. The series of four poems “Die natuurbewaarder se vrou” (The nature conservationist’s wife) embodies the relationship of man and woman to nature as opposed to the relationship of the first couple to the Garden of Eden. It is by exploring the Genesis intertext in the first and fourth poems that I confine myself to a discussion of these two poems.

From Taxa the thread of my argument can be traced to Rousseau’s fifth collection, Grotwater. The two important poems in this collection on which I dwell, “Die eerste mensepaar” (The first human couple) and “Eva” (Eve), must be read in context of each other as an expression of the theme lying at the root of Rousseau’s whole oeuvre: Man and woman have discovered their sexuality, jolting Creation from its perfection, although not destroying it. By preserving male and female in all its forms of appearance, reproduction of life on earth has been made possible. I also discuss the elegiac poems in which Rousseau, by concentrating on the finality of death’s separation of body and spirit, does not directly confess sorrow, but does awaken it. The left-behind is embodied by the person of the Biblical Tabita who – unlike her predecessor in “Joppe” – “adopts” her name all over again in the poem “Grotwater” and claims life as her domain.

Keywords: becoming; creation; destruction; eviction of man woman; Garden; recovery

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Ordening en heling in die wordende heelal: die Bybelse interteks van Ina Rousseau se poësie

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