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Van Heerden, Ernst 1916-1997

VAN HEERDEN, Ernst 1916-1997


PERSONAL: Born March 20, 1916, Pearston, Eastern Cape, South Africa; died 1997, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Education: Grey College; University of Stellenbosch, M.A., 1936; Gemeentelijke Universiteit Amsterdam; University of Gent, D.Lit., 1953.


CAREER: Poet and teacher. University of Stellenbosch, Education Department, lecturer in English, 1943-45, lecturer in Afrikaans, 1945-60; University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, lecturer-senior lecturer, 1960-67, professor of Afrikaans and Dutch, 1967-81.


AWARDS, HONORS: Silver medal, Olympic Games International Poetry Competition, 1948, for Ses Gedigte; SAUK prize, 1949, for poem "Die Bevrydig ing"; Herzog Prize for poetry, 1962 for Die Klop, and 1975, for Teenstrydige Liedere; WA Hofmeyer Prize and CAN Prize, 1987, for Amulet Teen die Vuur; Gustav Preller Prize, 1991, for literary criticism. Honorary degrees from University of Witwatersrand, 1982; Rhodes University, 1985; University of Orange Free State, 1991; and University of Stellenbosch, 1995.


WRITINGS:


Ses Gedigte (title means "Six Poems"), Pro Ecclesia-Drukkery (Stellenbosh, South Africa), 1940.

Die Sewe Vrese, Constantia (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1941.

Weerlose Uur, Nasionale pers Beperk (Cape Town, South Africa), 1943.

Verklaarde Nag, Nasionale pers Beperk (Cape Town, South Africa), 1946.

Diw Sewe Vrese, Constantia (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1951.

Die Bevryding, A. A. Balkema (Cape Town, South Africa), 1952.

Reisiger, 1953, reprinted, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1977.

Koral van die Dood, A. A. Balkema (Cape Town, South Africa), 1956.

Etikette op My Koffer; Bladsye uit'n Amerikaase Reisjoernal (travel book), Human & Roussea (Cape Town, South Africa), 1961.

Die Klop (title means "The Knock"), Nasionale Boekhandel (Cape Town, South Africa), 1961.

Op Die Mespunt (revised poems), Nasionale Boekhandele (Cape Town, South Africa), 1963.

Wolk van die Mooi Weer: 'n Suid-Amerikaanse Reisjoernaal (travel), Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1964.

Anderkant Besit, Nasionale Boekhandel (Cape Town, South Africa), 1966.

Die Aamborstige Klok. Herinneringe ann 'n Karoojeug (autobiography), Nasionale Boekhandel (Cape Town, South Africa), 1966.

Teenstrydige Liedere, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1972.

Tyd van Verhuising, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1975.

Die Ysterwoud (facsimile edition), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1976.

Kleur van Donkerte: verse 1942-1956, Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1981.

Kanse op 'n Wrak (title means "Chance of a Wreck"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1982.

Die Swart Skip (title means "The Black Ship"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1985.

The Runner and the Shadow (collection), translated by Jean Branford and Ernst Van Heerden, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1986.

Amulet Teen die Vuur, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1987.

Die Ligtende Trein: Outobiografiese Vertellings (autobiography), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1982.


essays


N. P. van Wyk Louw, Nasou (Cape Town, South Africa), 1963.

Rekenskap, Nasionale Boekhandele (Cape Town, South Africa), 1963.

Nasionalisme en Literatuur, Inteerede, Witwatersrand University Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1969.

Digterlike Diagnose, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1977.

Die Digter as Chromatometer: Aspekte van kleurgebruik in die Poesie van NP van Wyk Louw, Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1978.

F. F. Malherbe: 'n bibliografie van Daniël François Malherbe, E. van Heerden (South Africa), 1980.

Huis van Stemme: Aantekeninge oor die Poësie, Tafelburg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1984.

Kwadratuur van die Sirkel, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1990.

Najaarswys, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1993.

Die Herfstelike Lig (title means "The Autumn-like Light"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1996.


SIDELIGHTS: Ernst van Heerden was a prolific poet known for the self-consciousness of his work and his keen perceptions and descriptions of nature. He also wrote two travel books, two autobiographies, and numerous literary essays published in book form. Writing in World Literature Today, Henry Kratz said van Heerden's first volume of poetry, Weerlose Uur, shows "Strong evidence of the elegance of diction and wealth of metaphor which mark his later poems." His second volume of poetry, Verklaarde Nag, contains, as pointed out by Kratz, many of van Heerden's best-known and most-often-quoted poems, including "Die Bokser" or "The Visitor," about an extraterrestrial from Mars who can't speak any of Earth's languages. Martinus A. Bakker, writing in World Literature Today, noted, "The contrast between the visitor's 'otherwordliness' and his banal needs for, say, an extra blanket against the cold—reflect the poet's lighthearted humor and his understanding of man's existential loneliness."

As van Heerden continued to write poetry, he branched out from focusing primarily on nature to, as Kratz described, "ugestaltevers, a poem in which the persona is an unusual person such as an athlete or a blind man, or often not a person at all, but an animal . . . or an inanimate object such as a helicopter or a kennel." A one-time weightlifter who captained South Africa's weightlifting team during the 1952 Helsinki Olympic games, van Heerden had his legs amputated in 1974 due to a circulation disease. The following year his volume of poems related to this experience, Tyd van Verhuising, was published. As noted by B. J. Toerien in World Literature Today, van Heerden deals with the subject "without bitterness but with some pathos." In the 1982 collection titled Kanse op'n Wrak, or "Chances of a Wreck," van Heerden's poems are more refined and "stripped of ornamentation," adding: "All in all, the volume is satisfying largely because of its modesty and reticence."

Subsequent publications, explained Kratz, reflect "a greater calmness and acceptance of life"; van Heerden would eventually become "more ironic, even mocking" and "considerably freer in form." Toerien wrote in his World Literature Today review of Die Swart Skip, or "The Black Ship," that van Heerden "has actually become stronger and more secure in voice and diction." The newer poems deal largely with the impossibility of perfection and the joys of creation. "It is poetry by an intellectual which makes a constant demand on the reader," said Toerien. The Runner and the Shadow is a collection of van Heerden's poems translated by Jean Branford and the poet and published to honor the poet's seventieth birthday in 1986. The book, a copy of which was presented to van Heerden, includes a selection of poems with English translations on the facing pages.

Van Heerden also wrote numerous literary essays. Digterlike Diagnose is a collection of his addresses and public readings, covering such topics as how his poems come about and the relationship between society and literature. In a review of the book in World Literature Today, Toerien noted that although van Heerden may shed little new light on the topics, it is a volume "worth reading" because of its views that are "calm, balanced, civilized and those of esthete."


Die Herfstelike Lig was published in 1996, and represents the last collection of new poems by van Heerden, who died the following year. Bakker, in his review of the book in World Literature Today, said the volume "constitutes a significant development" in terms of "greater sensitivity for and emphasis on man's mortality." Bakker also noted, "Here we observe a man standing in front of a mirror, not closing his eyes to the signs of deterioration and the approaching end."


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


books


Van Heerden, Ernst, Die Aamborstige Klok. Herinneringe ann 'n Karoojeug (autobiography), Nasionale Boekhandel (Cape Town, South Africa), 1966.

Van Heerden, Ernst, Die Ligtende Trein: Outobiografiese Vertellings (autobiography), Tafelberg, (Cape Town, South Africa), 1982.


periodicals


Standpunte, March, 1981, special edition dedicated to van Heerden.

Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, Volume 8, number 2, 1970, C. F. Rudolph, interview with van Heerden, pp. 1-13.

World Literature Today, spring, 1978, B. J. Toerien, review of Digterlike Diagnose, p. 333; autumn, 1982, Henry Kratz, review of Kleur van Donkerte, p. 741; summer, 1986, B. J. Toerien, review of Die Swart Skip, p. 512; autumn, 1983, B. J. Toerien, review of Kanse Op'n Wrak, p. 681; autumn, 1997, Martinus A. Bakker, review of Die Herfstelike Lig, p. 855.*

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