“Found in Translation”

I come from a country

with eleven official languages,

where the first speech

was painted on cave walls

with the red ochre of our soil

and the charcoal of our fires.


A country of the Old People,

of Shaka, Cetswayo and Dingaan,

Smuts, Verwoed, Botha

Rolihlahla, Tambo and Sisulu.

The land of Saartjie Baartman

and spitfire sunsets.


I come from a country where

names were used to divide,

to oppress,

carrying a history of

separate development

that echoes in guttural growls


and clicks no colonial mouth

could ever find its way around.

I know the power of names

because I understand so few

in a country where many take

one name for the modern


One name for the traditional,

far removed from me.

I know the power of names

because I do not know so many,

cut off by barricades placed

in the townships of our past.


But I also know that

what we are called

matters less than what we choose

to call others we don’t understand.

Listening is a universal language,

just ask the artists of our caves.


This post is response to the Weekly Writing Challenge on names.


63 thoughts on ““Found in Translation”

    • Hi Sudha, thank you so much! I am wildly in love with Manikarnika Ghat:
      “I gather that happier time from a photograph
      Suddenly glad to have been there together before
      Another place, another age
      Full of youth and hope
      And a feisty river ready to mature!” -What a poem!

      • Many thanks in return… I flow in & out of many styles & genres of poetry and creative writing; I just did a little spring cleaning (even though it’s autumn in OZ ) and deleted most of my old blogs… I posted a few fantasy poems just for the now, while I decide what of my writings I’ll share.
        I have been posting some on Facebook, but I don’t actually like Facebook very much at all and hope too connect with like-minded here on wordpress.

        Peace & Inspiration to You



  1. Love it, South Africa could have been and still can be so many things. So many different languages and yet a human’s natural body language is universal. That should mean something, I think anyway.

    • Thanks Geoff – absolutely agreed about SA, although I’d put the ‘could be’ first. We have two ears and one mouth – even our body suggests we should listen twice as much as we speak.

  2. But I also know that

    what we are called

    matters less than what we choose

    to call others we don’t understand.

    Listening is a universal language,

    just ask the artists of our caves.

    Powerful well done. Art is a universal language, never thought of it that way before and me an artist, obviously not a very good one.

    • Thanks. To not have thought something does not mean you are a sub-standard artist, just that different things occur to you at different times. I often feel that the capacity to find, and then use, inspiration is all one truly needs to be an artist. Good luck and thank you so much for sharing here.

  3. Your article brought me happiness, as we use words and names to separate ourselves, breaking the strength of unity found in a shared identity. As word meanings change over time out of depth of understanding, or to control the next generations perceptions for the preservation of power, it was refreshing to experience my frustrations as a lover of words, in the lines of your beautiful poem. Peace.

    • Thank you mate. Words are too often used to separate, or emphasise individuality. But, if they can exclude, they can also be constructed to include, to allow the space for possibility, otherness. This idea is at the heart of what I do and why I write. Thank you so much for the meaningful engagement. Peace brother.

      • Your welcome. I value the strength found in sharing a purpose with other like minded artists. Your words painted that feeling well. Here’s the best quote I heard on the radio to inspire that perception, in honor of Pete Seeger’s recent passing: “If the pen is mightier than the sword, I hope the guitar is mightier than the bomb” 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Media I Love and commented:
    Here’s a poem that burns with my frustrations of English definitions being more valuable than synonyms, and satisfies what I hold most dear, in meaning. “Someone’s name is the most beautiful word in their native language…..to them.”

  5. “Ahh…this is the poem I wished to write,” she sighed with just a hint of envy. I identified with you as soon as I read “eleven languages”.
    Beautiful! Congratulations on appearing on freshly pressed.

    • Haha Margie, I’ve felt a lot of envy myself reading through some blogs, but it’s only reading them that’s really improving my own work, so thanks so much for coming to share the knowledge!

    • Thank you Robert, both for the incredible compliment and taking the time to write it – I look forward to following your blog and own, fiery utterances – love the piece on Jai Masih!!!

    • Thanks Jungo, I plan to. I love your ‘About’ section – reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Otto Rank: ‘For the time being, I stopped writing – there already being so much truth in the world – an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed’.

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