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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.49 n.4 Pretoria  2009

 

Charles Darwin, die natuurwetenskappe en die verwondering in T T Cloete se poësie

 

Charles Darwin, the natural sciences and wonderment in the poetry of T T Cloete

 

 

Johann Lodewyk Marais

Eenheid vir Akademiese Geletterdheid, Universiteit van Pretoria, E-pos: hlomisa@mweb.co.za

 

 


OPSOMMING

In T T Cloete se digbundels is sy belangstelling in die natuur en die natuurwetenskappe dominante temas. Die digter is besonder belese in veral die eksakte en biologiese wetenskappe. 'n Studie van Cloete se poësie toon hoedat hy sy wye kennis vernuftig met die hulpmiddels van die poësie orden en verrassende verbande aantoon. Opvallend is ook die wyse waarop hy 'n religieuse en spesifiek Christelike perspektief in sy poësie aan die orde stel en onbeskaamd as belydende Christen skryf. Studies het reeds aangetoon dat Cloete se religieuse perspektief veel minder tradisioneel as dié van 'n digter soos Totius is en selfs sommige aanvaarde religieuse opvattings uitdaag en die leser tot nadenke stem. Die evolusieleer het die afgelope 150 jaar tot hewige debatvoering gelei en die mens se wêreldbeeld ingrypend beïnvloed en/of gewysig. Debatvoering oor hierdie radikale en invloedryke wetenskaplike perspektief duur voort en lei steeds tot hewige polemiek (bv. oor die kreasionisme). Cloete skram nie weg van hierdie onderwerpe nie en in heelparty gedigte besin hy oor die ontstaan van die skepping en die ontwikkeling van lewe op aarde.

Trefwoorde: Charles Darwin, HMS Beagle, Galápagos-eilande, The origin of species, Alfred Russel Wallace, evolusie, paradysvoëls, T T Cloete, Afrikaanse poësie, verwondering


ABSTRACT

As a result of his keen (although lay) interest in natural science, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) agreed to serve as "unpaid gentleman's companion" to the captain of the HMS Beagle during its voyage from 1831 to 1836. Darwin's observations during the journey (especially those made on the Galápagos Islands across from the coast of Ecuador) inspired him to formulate a controversial theory on the evolution of species, which he published as The origin of species in 1859. Two hundred years after Darwin's birth and a hundred and fifty years after the publication of his epoch-making work, Darwin is still being widely discussed, revered and denigrated.
Evolution theory elicits divergent reactions world-wide. It has led to a major shift in scientific beliefs and it has impacted strongly on various aspects of scientific and religious thought, making a decisive contribution in the field of the natural sciences. The consequences of the application of evolution theory are felt to this day, even in fields as "unrelated" to natural science as the field of literature. This article will therefore relate how evolution theory came into being and subsequently investigate how it is reflected in a number of texts in Afrikaans literature. However, the poetry of an eminent Afrikaans poet, T T Cloete (1924-), who celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday in 2009, will be the main focus of this contribution.
In Cloete's poetry, nature and natural science are dominant themes. The poet is so well-read in these that a poet, Daniel Hugo, once remarked that "[t]e veel van sy verse lyk na berymde artikels uit die National Geographic " [too much of his poetry looks like rhymed articles from the National Geographic]. However, a careful study of Cloete's poetry shows how he skilfully uses the tools of poetry to establish surprising connections. Also striking is the way in which he introduces religious and specific Christian perspectives in his poetry, unashamedly confessing to his Christian beliefs and verbalising the "Godsopenbarende kwaliteit van die dinge eksplisiet of implisiet" [God-revealing quality of the objects explicitly or implicitly] (Bernard Odendaal). H Ohlhoff summarises this skill by saying that Cloete does not shy away from the exact sciences, "maar hy het die gawe om dit literêr om te skep, te verwerk en uiteindelik ook in 'n veel wyer verband, dié van God se werksaamheid in die skepping, te plaas" [but he has the gift to recreate it in literature, to adapt it and eventually also place it in a much wider context, that of God's activity in creation].
Studies by M E Bosman and Bernard Odendaal have already shown that Cloete's religious perspective is much less traditional than that of a poet such as Totius (pseudonym for J D du Toit), even challenging some religious premises and prompting the reader to think anew. Some of the important themes in the natural sciences that have led to vehement debates and influenced and/or changed people's world-views dramatically over the last 150 years, are evolution theory and theories about the origin of the cosmos and life on earth. Debates about these radical and influential scientific perspectives are continuing and have resulted in vigorous polemics (e.g. about creationism) as was reflected in the Afrikaans media during the Darwin celebrations in 2009.
Cloete's poetry does not shy away from inter alia "controversial scientific subjects" in a number of poems, and he contemplates the origin of creation and the development of life on earth. The reader is led to consider Cloete's views on creation and evolution. In this article the emphasis will be on the role of evolution in Cloete's poetry and how he uses a well-known observation by one of the main exponents of evolution theory in one of his poems, "toegedig aan Alfred R. Wallace", to present a text that expresses wonderment at a natural phenomenon.

Key words: Charles Darwin, HMS Beagle, Galápagos Islands, The origin of species, Alfred Russel Wallace, evolution, birds of paradise, T T Cloete, Afrikaans poetry, amazement


 

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1 Kyk George (1964) en Williams-Ellis (1966).
2 Kyk Desmond (1998).
3 Kyk Du Toit (1945); Nienaber (1962); en Rousseau (1974).

 

 

Johann Lodewyk Marais studeer aan die Universiteit van Pretoria waar hy in 2001 'n DLitt-graad vir sy proefskrif oor Eugène N Marais se wetenskaplike prosa verwerf. Hy het vroeër onder meer 'n MA-graad (cum laude) oor opleiding in skeppende skryfwerk aan dieselfde Universiteit behaal. Tans is hy ingeskryf vir 'n DPhil (Geskiedenis)-graad oor internasionle reise-literatuur oor Kenia sedert 1963. Marais debuteer as skeppende skrywer met die digbundel Die somer is 'n dag oud (1983), waarvoor hy die Ingrid Jonker-prys kry. Hy skryf nog ses bundels, naamlik Palimpses (1987), By die dinge (1989), Verweerde aardbol (1992), Aves (2002), Plaaslike kennis (2004) en Diorama (2010). Hy stel ook drie digbundels saam, naamlik Groen: Gedigte oor die omgewing (1990), Ons klein en silwerige planeet: Afrikaanse, Nederlandse en Vlaamse gedigte oor die omgewing (1997, saam met die Amsterdamse digter en letterkundige Ad Zuiderent) en Honderd jaar later: Ter viering van die publikasie van Eugène N. Marais se "Winternag" op 23 Junie 1905 (2006). In 2003 verskyn sy eerste prosawerk, naamlik Lae wolke oor Mosambiek: 'n Reisboek. Marais het ook talle artikels oor sosiae navorsing en die literatuur geskryf en is hoofredakteur van die tydskrif Ensovoort.

Johann Lodewyk Marais studied at the University of Pretoria where he obtained a DLitt degree for his thesis on the scientific prose of Eugène N Marais. Earlier he had also obtained an MA degree (cum laude) on training in creative writing at the same University. He is currently enrolled for a DPhil (History) degree on international travel literature on Kenya since 1963. Marais made his debut as a creative writer with his volume of poetry Die somer is 'n dag oud (1983), for which he received the Ingrid Jonker Prize. He wrote six more volumes of poetry, namely Palimpses (1987), By die dinge (1989), Verweerde aardbol (1992), Aves (2002), Plaaslike kennis (2004) and Diorama (2010). He also compiled three volumes of poetry, namely Groen: Gedigte oor die omgewing (1990), Ons klein en silwerige planeet: Afrikaanse, Nederlandse en Vlaamse gedigte oor die omgewing (1997, in collaboration with the Amsterdam poet and literary critic Ad Zuiderent) and Honderd jaar later: Ter viering van die publikasie van Eugène N. Marais se "Winternag" op 23 Junie 1905 (2006). His first work of prose, Lae wolke oor Mosambiek: 'n Reisboek, was published in 2003. Marais is also the author of numerous articles on social research and Afrikaans literature and at present he is the editor-in-chief of the journal Ensovoort.

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