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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VILJOEN, Hein. Creolization of Symbolism in T T Cloete's poetry. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.4, pp.568-589. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article is an investigation of T T Cloete's rewriting of international Symbolism, the assumption being that he has creolized this poetic system in three ways, namely by developing new forms by mixing, by increasing its expressive power and by making it local and South African, but also by appropriating and adapting it to his own poetical system. After pointing out two indications of creolization in Cloete's work, namely the creative mixing of words and concepts and the mixing of indigenous and colonial language, Symbolism is defined as a deliberate exploitation of ambiguity based on the notion of correspondences between all earthly things. Natural elements are used as metaphors, combined with all the resources of language to suggest a deeper or truer but unformulated second content in a poem. Creolization is here, in accordance with the views of É. Glissant, defined as a rhizomatic understanding of texts in complex webs of relations with three important core meanings, namely mixing of languages, cultures and traditions, a making-local that also entails appropriation and emulation and an expansion of the expressive power of the tradition. The analysis of the ways in which Cloete has transformed the symbolist tradition in poetry along these lines focuses on four aspects of Symbolism, namely the symbolist technique, Symbolism and music, the symbolist tone and the correspondences. Cloete's creolization of the symbolist method is explored in two poems, namely "oopooggebed aan ontbyttafel" (open-eyed prayer at the breakfast table) from Allotroop (1985) and "Insinjes" (Ensigns) from Met die aarde praat (Talking to the earth, 1992). In these poems Cloete evokes a second meaning without really giving it form in the way he uses natural things as metaphors and by subtle allusions to the Symbolists and their favourite colours. The latter poem also shows how Cloete enriches the symbolist tradition with words and concepts from natural science but also transforms it into a way of evoking the in-living of God. The next section links Cloete's symbolist use of bird imagery and bird song to the symbolist equation of music and poetry. In Cloete's poetry the ear is a favourite organ, since it brings disparate elements together. The sound of poetry is in his work a powerful instrument for the expression of the coherence of the whole cosmos and for evoking a second meaning, namely the presence of God in everything. The same goes for the way in which Cloete's poetry deals with the symbolist view of the imminence of death and the passing away of all things. His poetry presents an alternative to mortality by showing a universal interconnectedness and by developing new, modern metaphors for the synthetic power of poetry. One of them is the "laseraspaai" (laser I spy) - a modern instrument for spying out the rich interconnected diversity of creation. This universal interconnectedness, the idea that each thing contains a fine hidden essence of every other thing, is a central tenet of Symbolism and is creolized in Cloete's poetry in a variety of ways and, in his different collections, each time in a different metaphor that underlines this interconnectedness as well as the terrible state of being unconnected: juxtaposition, allotropy, entelegy, idiolect, curiosity. The all-inclusive whole is God, and His presence is evoked in Cloete's poetry in a myriad symbolist ways. Mixing languages and creating new compound words are but two of them. Though it focuses in the small and the local, in Cloete's poetry the unique time and place of every element is illuminated by the illimitable and the universal. Everything has its place in a great chain of being. On the whole, Cloete increases the expressive power of Symbolism not only by modernizing, but also by deologizing it, that is, by turning it into an instrument for the study of Deus, God.

Keywords : Symbolism; creolization; symbolist method; symbolism and music; symbolist tone; correspondences; deologizing.

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