The Story of Military Dog Tags

the story of military dog tags

The story of Military Dog Tags spans millennia, and is fascinating to see how keeping our silent heroes accounted for during war times was first a priority, to later fade away only to return out of a basic human desire of being known, even in death, and not to become one of (too many) unknown soldiers.

What makes an army? The number of its soldiers? The thirst of its leaders or their pathos and charisma . As far back as 2000 BC the Xia Dynasty of China kept a 12 000 men army, the ancient Egypt saw a 100 000 men army during the reign of Ramesses II, the next massive army was that of the Persians under Cyrus the Great, with half a million men, equaled in number only by Mauryan Empire of India around 300 BCE.

Yet, did they mattered, the warriors? Were they seen an human beings, as individuals with dreams and aspirations, or as mere soldiers, the parts of a whole? Who missed them when they were gone, left to fertilize a foreign land? Who cried and uttered their names one last time? Who knew each one of them by their name?

A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife
Wrote his name, carved it in wood
To remind him their love,
To keep him safe from death
A spell of love
The first ever dog tag.

(Patricia Furstenberg)

The first dog tags we know of in history belonged to the Spartans who wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists – because the left arm was holding the shield when in battle and the shield was a precious family heirloom. Spartans were bot only literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and poetry.

Could they have looked like these?

Story Military Dog Tags - split wood tally sticks
Split Wood Tally Sticks, Courtesy of the National Archives UK

They might have looked fearless, the Spartans, in their crimson tunics and battered shields with the letter lambda painted on, and long hair – which they considered the symbol of a free man.

It is of no surprise that Roman legionaries also carried dog tags. But so did the poor Roman slaves… Less personalized than those of the Spartans, the Roman dog tags were received by each soldier on the moment of joining he Roman legion, the Roman Army Recruits, and were called signaculum, the seal. A signaculum, made of lead, carried the soldier’s name, “Unit” of assignment and, in some cases, home record etched on the front as well as a stamp to authenticate it, on the reverse. In the beginning the signaculum was kept in a small leather or cloth pouch and worn around the neck.

Until the permanent Soldier’s Mark was instated for Roman legionaries, a brand imprinted on the hands of the soldiers with a hot iron, possibly to discourage desertion, but only after he was proved fit for service. A tattoo, if you please.

Luckily, this custom was later abolished by the relaxation introduced by a long peace.

I couldn’t find any records or mentions of any form of identification for soldiers that fought in Europe or elsewhere for the next fifteen hundred years or so…

I thought of the Janissaries, this incredible heroes of the Ottoman Empire that tormented southeastern Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia for over six centuries, between the 14th and early 20th centuries… But Janissaries, despite their military status and recognizable hat (that tall bork fitted a stunning jeweled ornament in the middle of the forehead), were an army of slaves to the Ottoman Sultan. Their identity didn’t matter, only their force through training and numbers…

Story Military Dog Tags - Janissaries
No dog tags for Ottoman Sultan’s Janissaries, just a jeweled tall hat, a bork.

It was only in 1712 France that soldiers were recorded again, and issued a cartouche (cartouche de congé or feuilles de rutes) to prove their legal leave… but nothing about an identification tags.

This lack of identification tags for soldiers comes at no surprise if we consider that in 16th and 17th century France personal identity (of a civilian) was based on interpersonal relations, shared experiences and social bonds between the members of a community, from family to the parish and so on. Thus, a stranger leaving this cocoon, this sphere of interpersonal relations became unknown, no longer recognized – and identified.

It was in 1792 when births and deaths in France had to be legally registered and passports were issued for every traveler during the French revolution. Although some primitive forms of passport did exist, being inherited from the Middle Ages and being more of a privilege than a form of identification…

We do know that Napoleon mustered an army of 2.5 million people at the beginning of the 19th century…. nearly 400 000 were killed in action not counting the invasion of Russia where around one million French and allied soldiers perished.

Across the Pond, someone was killing President Thomas Jefferson’s sheep. His neighbor’s dogs. So the President wrote the first dog licensing law for his home state of Virginia wishing to identify the owners of the naughty dogs owners and make them pay for his loss. By the 1850’s most cities had such laws requiring dog owners to attach a collar with their name and license number around their doggo’s neck.

Because no one expected the American Civil War to last so long, 1861 – 1865, most soldiers marched off to fight in a wide variety of uniforms, most of them homemade. Their own clothes. Later the uniforms became blue for Unions, Bluebellies, and light brownish for the Confederates, Butternuts.

Do you remember the ‘sash’ Scarlett made for Ashley? No dog tags, still… made to tell him apart.

Yet no soldier’s uniform of the American Civil War included a set of dog tags, although in May 1962 John Kennedy from New York proposed that each Union soldier is issued with an ID tag. And the soldiers cared that, when they die, their families back home know to mourn them. There is a sea of graves with headstones marked ‘Unknown Soldier’. So soon, as soon as the men saw that this war will never end, the soldiers (perhaps their wives too, their mothers, sisters, sweethearts, from South and from the North) began to sew their names on the uniform, before leaving for battle, before kissing them good bye, hugging them one last time, before praying together for a happy reunion. One more…

Those in a hurry just wrote their name on a piece of paper or a handkerchief, pinned it to their blouses and hoped they won’t bleed on it, when wounded. Some even carved their names on small wooden discs , pierced a hole through it and hung it from their neck with a piece of string. Others stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle. Most of them were 16 – 23 years old.

Still, about 50% of soldiers killed in action were positively identified.

Eventually, merchants saw a booming business and began producing metal disks shaped to suggest a branch of service. These were soon called name discs or soldier pins. Some sold soldier pins made of silver or gold and etched with the soldier’s name and unit. But not everyone could afford one so most soldiers made their own ID tags by grinding off one side of a coin and then etching their names on it.

Cheaper, machine-stamped tags appeared, made of brass or lead with a hole. They had an eagle or shield and a motivational phrase such as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality” on one side. The other side showed the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated. By the 1890s, the U.S. Army and Navy began experimenting with issuing metal identification tags to recruits.

It didn’t took long until the wooden and metal discs used for dogs were referred to as dog tags and that name carried over to their human counterparts.

But such dog tags were also provided to the Chinese soldiers during the Taiping revolt, 1851 – 1866, when both the Chinese Imperial Army soldiers and the Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt with their name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment inscribed.

1866 Europe, the Prussian soldiers began wearing dog tags during the Austro – Prussian War but on a volunteer basis only as many considered them a bad omen. Sad, as in the aftermath of the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa), when the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire which led to the German unification, the Little Germany (Germany without Austria), out of 8900 Prussian casualties only 429 of them could be identified. It was three years later the Recognitionsmarke, recognition mark, became obligatory, but the soldier called them Hundermarken, since they looked like ID tags used for the canines of Berlin… Story goes that King Wilhelm flew into a rage about the common naming of the tag saying that his soldiers are not dogs – so the nickname was forbidden in the following years…which only encouraged it’s use by the soldiers.

You can see below an Austro – Hungarian Empire‘s Officer Legitimization Case, a pre-design of a dog tag. On the obverse the case is engraved with the Imperial Cypher of King Frans Joseph I of Austria, while on the reverse is the Austro – Hungarian Coat of arms (double headed crowned eagle). The case opened and inside were included personal ID, service records, list of decorations awarded.

Meanwhile, in 1907 the British Army replaced the identity cards with aluminum discs, each soldier receiving two. An octagonal green tag was attached to a cord around the neck, intended to remain on the body for future identification. The second tag, a red circular disc, was suspended from the first and could be removed to record the soldier’s death. The British forces serving in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand received similar dog tags during the Great War, exception making the sailors who preferred an ID bracelet.

It was in 1906 when the U.S. government decided by a general order that a circular aluminum disc be worn as an identification tag by all soldiers, and by 1913 all military service members were required to wear such an identification disc. The aluminum disc was the size of a silver half dollar and imprinted with the name, rank, company, regiment or corps, and worn suspended around the neck.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1 German dog tag
A World War I German army dog tag indicating Name, place of birth, battalion, unit and serial number

When U.S. entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917 all its service members, killed or wounded, were therefor identified and accounted for. It was now when military service members began wearing two such identification tags hand-stamped with their name, rank, serial number, unit and religion. One tag was meant to remain attached to the body of the deceased while the other would mark the coffin or the grave site, be it home or away.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1
Source: Ian Houghton’s amazing blog

Canadian, USA, British WW1 dog tags and a custom stamping set:

At the same time back in Europe the French soldiers were fitted with a bracelet displaying a metal disk engraved with the their name, rank and other pertinent formation. And here’s a Scottish one:

In Russia, after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and the necessity to increase the newly mobilized force exponentially, up to 75% of the Russian troops entered WW1 with no form of personal identification…
Below, a Russian tag from 1902, a 1909 wooden cylinder used to protect a piece of paper with the soldier’s details (although it was also used to store matches), and a 1917 dog tag:

Of course, I should show you some Romanian dog tags from WW1 and WW2:

During WWII, 1939-1945, most dog tags used looked like the ones we’ve seen often – at least in the movies: rectangular shaped with rounded ends and machine stamped. First made of brass, then from a corrosion-resistant alloy, nickel – copper, and eventually from stainless steel.

Story Military Dog Tags - South African
One of the two identity discs issued by the South African Navy during World War II with rank, surname, initials, force number and religious affiliation

Below: a British RAF dog tag of a soldier named Astman and Australian dog tags (notice the rubber rim meant to silence them)

Still, the human’s wars were not over…

Two Finish dog tags, first one from the Winter War (the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, 30 Nov 1939 – 13 Mar 1940), the second one is modern, it has the letters SF, Suomi Finland, stamped within a tower.

During the 1950s some rules regarding dog tags changed, one identification tag was placed on a long chain, while the second was hung on a shorter chain. In case of death the identification tag on the shorter chain was meant to be placed around the toe of the deceased, toe tag. The other dog tag was meant to remain with the deceased or used to report back the name of the deceased soldier.

For those who experienced the Communist Block, Eastern Block, and the Cold War this army pass book for a Corporal in die NVA – Die Nationale Volksarmee der DDR (The National People’s Army) will bring back a wave of memories. Next DDR and Germany dog tags (notice the differences between the two):

During the long Vietnam War, 1955-1975, the soldiers, exasperated by the noise the dog tags made while banging each other, something that endangered their safety during the long, humid moths of unending battles and hiding in the Asian jungles… began taping the dog tags together. Thus rubber covers came in use so the tags remain silent. But the Vietnam War was a different war and bodies often became dismembered to an extent they were often unidentifiable… so the soldiers would often wear one dog tag in one boot, tied with the bootlace in case in might, just might help with the recovery of their remains.

I discovered two P.O.W. (Prisoner Of War) dog tags, fashioned by prisoners while locked away, awaiting. What? … While hoping, thinking of what they left behind, of what they have back home (their only wealth), dreaming, not as in hoping, but as night visions, the only way they could escape an uncertain present built out of nightmares. I believe these dog tags are the most valuable ones, both a letter and a will, a cry for life and a farewell.

Below is a dog tag fashioned by a prisoner of war, P.O.W., held captive perhaps somewhere in Asia (by the deign of the tower) during WW2. Notice the machine gun in the tower and the barbed wire fence.
And a dog tag made by a P.O.W. during the Boer War with a medallion made from a horn. You cab read ‘Boer Camp’ inscribed at the bottom.

This is the story of Military Dog Tags, coming such a long way from a name engraved on a stick of wood to stainless steel plates holding military and medical records and even microchips and, most importantly, the soldier’s name.

Below: dog tags from the Iraq/Afghanistan Dog Tag Memorial at the Museum of the Forgotten Warrior outside of Beale Air Force Base, California. The memorial honors all the men and women killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as of October 30, 2011, containing 6296 individual dog tags. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)-source.

A dog tag,
A soldier’s surviving touch,
His last handshake,
His last word,
His last breath
Spared for those back home.
(Patricia Furstenberg)

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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Green Are… Poem and Photography from my Garden

Green Are... Poem and Photography from my Garden - Thoughts on green and why green is good, but only if it comes in a bunch

Green Are, Poem and Photography from my Garden

Green are the leaves that grow between birds
Outside my window, playing hide and seek with the sky.
And green are the last of my vineyard’s hopes too,
Among rusty leaves, the last of a summer of grapes.

Green are my thoughts, the ones you see through my eyes –
Is my soul green? I surely hope it still is.
And green are the thoughts I keep in my heart,
For they are not ripe-green yet.

For green is good, I think,
As long as aplenty green things there are.
The singular green frightens me, envious and cold,
Therefore green is good in a bunch.

For green were the seas of my childhood tales
Of maidens who could and princes who dared, a tad.
And green were my teen years,
When I thought I could do it all, like them.

Green are the spines on my bookshelves now,
And a magic green pencil lays on my desk
For the times inspiration fails me,
I pick it and its energy handwrites me new tales.

Green Are Poem Photography

Green are my hopes that end one more decade,
And I think that’s pretty cool too.
For green speaks of more springs to come,
Of harvests of hopes, and a future in green.

Green Are Poem Photography

If you enjoyed ‘Green Are… Poem and Photography from my Garden’ you might also like to read:

Poets, Poetry and a Pandemic
As Good as Gold – Why, Hedgehog?

You can discover all my books with Amazon and even read them for free with Kindle Unlimited.

A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

History Furstenberg

Tracing the history of name Furstenberg I discovered some coins, perhaps part of a treasure found in a castle, as well as porcelain fit for a King residing on a Parisian Street.

First there was the Fürstenberg castle

Fürstenberg Castle was a medieval fortress located on Fürstenberg hill, in Baden-Württemberg region of south-west Germany, near the source of the Danube river.

Fürstenberg Castle -A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
Fürstenberg Castle – A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

The name actually means Prince Mountain, or Prince of the Mountain.

The castle was first mentioned in a deed of 1175. Around 1250 Count Henry of Urach (a land nearby) made it his residence and was the first to call himself a Count of Fürstenberg.

Fürstenberg Castle
Fürstenberg Castle

Sadly, the original castle was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War (at the beginning of the 17th century) and never rebuilt. But the Fürstenberg county and the Fürstenberg clan survived history.

Fürstenberg  county - A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
Fürstenberg county

Over the years, as it often happened with any big family, holdings were partitioned between different branches of the clan, then unified again as family lines went extinct.
One such memorable member was Count Henry VII von Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg mentioned in 1408.

One of the oldest Fürstenberg coins

A Theodore von Furstenberg silver coin from 1614

A Theodore von Furstenberg silver coin from 1614 -A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
A Theodore von Furstenberg silver coin from 1614 – A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

In 1664, Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and his brothers, the bishops Franz Egon of Strasbourg and Cardinal William Egon of Fürstenberg, became Princes of the Holy Roman Empire and the first to be raised to imperial princely status by emperor Leopold I. Therefor Hermann Egon is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.

Furstenberg coins from 16th and 17th centuries

Minted under Dietrich von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn, 1585-1618 (left) and under Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn and Münster, 1661-1683 (right):

A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

In 1716, Count Joseph Wilhelm Ernst becomes (again) Prince of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg (due to various partitions followed by unification of the small counties). It was he who changed his residency to Donaueschingen, a small settlement near the confluence of the Brigach and Breg rivers, the source of the Danube river. There he built a residence fit for a prince, he organized the administration of the county and is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.

A Furstenberg-Stuhlingen Taler from 1729

A coin that should not exist in such a fine state.
The obverse: we see the bust of Josef Wilhelm Ernst Furstenberg-Stuhlingen in armored suit. Do notice the fine details: the edge of each curl fully defined, and his facial features easily pronounced. Also, notice the flan (or planchet, the round metal disk that is ready to be struck as a coin): in russets and golden hues just like a painter’s brush strokes.
The reverse: figures at work, with a view of the mines and valley in the background. Do notice the excellent proportions of the details and the 3D perspective created with the use of repoussoir (an object along the right or left foreground that directs the viewer’s eye into the composition by framing the edge).

A Furstenberg-Stuhlingen Taler from 1729
A Furstenberg-Stuhlingen Taler from 1729

The Fürstenberg porcelain

Duke Charles I of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who reigned as Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1735 until his death, requested that a porcelain factory be built in 1747 in Fürstenberg.

Below is one of the oldest drawing used by Fürstenberg porcelain factory dating from 1760: the castle and the factory, and painted by Pascha Johann Weitsch. The plate is from the Duke Carl I of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel set.

Furstenberg porcelain factory and a plate from 1741
One of the oldest drawing used by Fürstenberg porcelain factory dating from 1760: the castle and the factory. Source.

It is interesting to know that the Fürstenberg porcelain trademark, the blue “F”, dates since 1740 and the ALT FÜRSTENBERG range is still produced today in its original Rococo style.

The blue 'F' Furstenberg trade mark and Alt Furstenberg porcelain collection, Rococo since 1740
The blue “F” Fürstenberg trademark and the ALT FÜRSTENBERG range, since 1740. Source

Moving on with the history of the Fürstenberg family…

At the end of the 18th century, Prince Joseph Maria Benedikt, the third Prince of the House of Fürstenberg-Stühlingen, is known to have studied at the University of Salzburg and was a passionate musician and a patron of the arts. For this, the Prince upgraded the riding school in Donaueschingen into a 500 seat theater to play the works of great composers of the day. He is also remembered to have regulated the lives of his subjects with moral severity…

In 1766 and age 10, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the Fürstenberg home in Donaueschingen for twelve days and performed for the Prince, his family, and guests. Both Mozart and his sister received diamond rings as a sign of gratitude for their performance.

Later, Mozart proposed that the Prince of Fürstenberg pay him a regular annual salary in return for new compositions for exclusive use at the court in Donaueschingen. The Prince purchased three symphonies and three piano concertos but, sadly, decided not to pay Mozart the salary the musician hoped for. If only he would have.

Fürstenberg castle - A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
The Fürstenberg castle – A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

The Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin of 1767 worth nearly 40 000 USD

A Josef Wenzel Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin, struck as part of the Mining Taler series featuring St. Wenceslas standing in front of the Wenceslas Mine:

The nearly 40 000 USD worth Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin from 1767
The nearly 40 000 USD worth Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin from 1767

In November 15, 1772 the Prince of Fürstenberg was contracted to marry Princess Maria Theresa of Thurn and Taxis but it didn’t work out as the princess changed her mind. He married instead Maria Antonia of Hohenzollern-Hechingen in 1778. An alliance that did not work out wither, although they shared a passion for music and she was an “excellent soprano”, courageous, determined and ingenious although unusually small.

Over the centuries members of Fürstenberg family have risen to prominence as soldiers, churchmen, diplomats, and academics. Sometimes the name was gallicized as de Furstenberg or anglicized as Furstenberg. 🙂

The Principality of Fürstenberg was one of 16 principalities dissolved by the treaty of the Rhine In 1806. Most part was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Baden, smaller parts were given to the Kingdom of Württemberg, the principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and the Kingdom of Bavaria.

The Fürstenberg noble title was retired.

The Fürstenberg family no longer rules as princes, yet it still resides at Donaueschingen (with its gardens, grounds and an extensive library), at Heiligenberg and Weitra.

And a Furstenberg street in chic Paris

Rue de Furstemberg is located in one of the most charming squares in Paris.

Rue de Furstemberg is one of the most charming squares in Paris. A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
Rue de Furstemberg named after Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Fürstenberg – A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

The street was named after Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Fürstenberg (1629-1704), ordained Abbot of Saint-Germain-des -Prés in 1697. He was the same Guillaume-Egon which, in 1664 and together with his brothers Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and bishop Franz Egon of Strasbourg, were raised to the status of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire by emperor Leopold I.

Rue de Furstemberg, Paris - view of the Abbatial Palace. A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street
Rue de Furstemberg – Place de Furstemberg. The circular island in the middle of the square is framed by four Paulownia trees. A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

Place de Furstenberg or Rue de Furstemberg is in the heart of the wealthy 6th arrondissement, tucked between the web of streets found between the left bank of the Seine and Boulevard Saint-Germain.

The square is the foreground to the entrance of the Abbatial Palace constructed in 1586 by Cardinal Charles I de Bourbon and named after the Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Furstenberg.

Notice below Rue de Cardinal perpendicularly to Rue de Furstenberg?

Rue de Furstemberg, 75006 Paris, France

The surrounding buildings here are placed around a central island and form a charming courtyard. Noticeable here is the Haussmannian architecture that defines Paris, a subtle hint of the romantic and traditional Parisian charm.

A hotspot for intellectuals and artists, Rue de Furstenberg is also famous for having been home to Eugène Delacroix who moved there to be nearer to the Eglise Saint-Sulpice which he had been commissioned to decorate.

Furstenberg, the History of a Name: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street

Not any know, but an unfinished Medieval statue of the Virgin with Child was reassembled from three pieces of rock discovered in an archeological dig on the Rue de Furstenberg in 1999. The Statue can be admired in the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés nearby, the oldest church in Paris.

An unfinished statue of the Virgin with Child discovered on Rue de Furstenberg, Paris
An unfinished 13th century statue of the Virgin with Child discovered on Rue de Furstenberg, Paris

Discovering the history behind a family name is a fascinating journey, one I hope you enjoyed taking with me. Thank you for reading ‘A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street.’ Until next time.

As always, you can discover my book on Amazon or Loot (if you reside in South Africa).

Patrici Furstenberg on Amazon
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Winternag – Winter Night by Eugene Marais

winter night winternag poem

Enjoy Winternag, Winter Night by Eugene Marais here in both Afrikaans and English.
Eugene Marais was a South African lawyer, naturalist, poet and writer. He wrote this poem in 1905.

Winternag, Eugene Marais

‘O koud is die windjie
en skraal.
En blink in die dof-lig
en kaal,
so wyd as die Heer se genade,
lê die velde in sterlig en skade
En hoog in die rande,
versprei in die brande,
is die grassaad aan roere
soos winkende hande.

O treurig die wysie
op die ooswind se maat,
soos die lied van ‘n meisie
in haar liefde verlaat.
In elk’ grashalm se vou
blink ‘n druppel van dou,
en vinnig verbleek dit
tot ryp in die kou!’

Winter Night, Eugene Marais

‘Cold is the slight wind and sere.
And gleaming in dim light and bare,
as vast as the mercy of God,
lie the plains in starlight and shade.
And high on the ridges,
among the burnt patches,
the seed grass is stirring
like beckoning fingers.

O tune grief-laden
on the east wind’s pulse
like the song of a maiden
whose lover proves false.
In each grass blade’s fold
a dew drop gleams bold,
but quickly it bleaches
to frost in the cold!’

English translation by Guy Butler)

Originally published in Afrikaans Poems with English Translations edited by A. P. Grove and C. J. Harvey, Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 1962

winternag winter night afrikaans english
Winternag, Winter Night by Eugene Marais – a poem in Afrikaans and English

Eugène Marais (1871-1936) had twelve brothers and sisters and grew up between Pretoria, Boshof and Paarl, South Africa. Whatever Eugène learnt at home he learnt from his mother, Catharina. Much of his early education was in English, as were his earliest poems. In 1890, at only 19 years of age, Eugène became editor of the weekly Land en Volk, the only Dutch-Afrikaans opposition newspaper in the Transvaal. The following year he became the paper’s co-owner and by 1892 the newspaper’s readership doubled. He was responsible for writing the entire paper and selling advertising space. He is remembered as the father of Afrikaans poetry.

You might also enjoy reading:
32 original Afrikaans idioms sure to make you smile once translated into English

A Poem You Can Read in English and Afrikaans

~~~

tales by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon
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If you live in South Africa you can also purchase my books through Loot.

Cecilia (Simon & Garfunkel) with Lily & Bear @lilyandbearmusic

Lily Bear Cecilia

Enjoy an uplifting tune, Cecilia (Simon and Garfunkel) performed here by Lily and Bear (Bianca & Heinrich) from South Africa!

Enjoy!

We were lucky to have met Heinrich and Bianca a (long) while ago and I can’t think of more talented musicians to present to you and to urge you to follow.

Heinrich is an accomplished musician and a painter and you can find more about him in this interview we did, oh my, over two years ago.

About Lily and Bear:

Husband and Wife team from South Africa. Guitar and Synth driven mix of Adult Contemporary Alternative Indie Pop with heartfelt Female vocals in English and Afrikaans.

Band Members
Heinrich Pelser
Bianca Pelser

Press contact
Heinrich Pelser

Quick links to contact Heinrich Pelser:

You can buy Lily and Bear music here (CD baby, ITunes, Spotify)

Lily and Bear on Facebook @lilyandbearmusic

Lily and Bear on Instagram

Heinrich Pelser on YouTube

I hope you enjoyed Cecilia (Simon & Garfunkel) with Lily and Bear.

Pink Moon and Coronavirus Pandemic

pink moon

Looking at the Pink Moon during the wee hours of another day under the lockdown of Coronavirus Pandemic 2020 I wrote these two poems. I hope you will enjoy them.

Pink Moon under the Coronavirus Pandemic

She watched the world
Through a veil of clouds.
Why are you so big?
Why are you so bright?

Asked the child.
Why, for all to come out.

Under the shield of the night
They looked up
From their windows and porches
And the roofs of their homes.
And they smiled
And they sighed.

For, once in a pink moon,
All was all right with the world.

Pink Moon and Coronavirus Pandemic
Pink Moon under the Coronavirus Pandemic

A Sonnet to the Moon

She called my name, the moon, she called it loud
And from my dreams I rose and watched the cloud
She pulled around her shoulders t’fight the chill,
Of wind? Night’s spells? Bad dreams or owl’s shrill?

Come out, she called. Do see me now, be mine,
The world we’ll share, the sky’s for us to own.
I’ve ‘dorned my bridal gown of silk so fine,
Come, from celestal heights we’ll share my throne.

The earth is by my feet, the world loves me,
With one sole glance of mine, one smile, a wink
I shift their oceans, spirits, birds and trees.
Come by my side. Your heat, my powers, think!

I smiled at her cold passion! Her karma.
Dreams pour from my quill on terra firma.

Sonnet to the moon,  Pink Moon and Coronavirus Pandemic

As always, you can find all my books on Amazon worldwide.

These pictures were taken with my cell phone’s camera. Will post more later from my daughter’s real camera *smile*

A Poem You Can Read in English and Afrikaans

A poem you can readin English and Afrikaans

Seen sometimes as barriers, languages are the tools we use to communicate and understand each other or the information at hand, such as this poem we can read in both English and Afrikaans.

MY STORIES BEGIN AS LETTERS 

My pen is my wonderland. 
Word water in my hand. 
In my pen is wonder ink. 
Stories sing. Stories sink. 

My stories loop. 
My Stories stop. 
My pen is my wonder mop. 
Drink letters. 
Drink my ink. 

My pen is blind. 
My stories blink. 

by Joe Public, South African-based ad agency – source

What the poem means to me as I read it in English

To me, My Stories Begin as Letters is a writer’s confession. Whatever he writes is nascent as an inner thought, as an intimate letter to oneself.

There are so many ideas swimming through a writer’s mind, yet not all of them will come to life in ink on paper and even fewer will reach a conclusion.

But when this happens a part of the writer’s life, of his energy, of his pen, will remain trapped inside that story forever. A bitter-sweet conclusion.

What the poem means when read in Afrikaans

Most of the poem has a similar meaning to what one would get when reading it in English, perhaps with these two minute exceptions:

  • The pen’s ink is fluid and so are the words it puts on paper, like a fluid that runs through the writer’s hand.
  • The pen and its ink can, in the hands of a writer, create a wonderful story.

Lost in translation or not?

Between the English and Afrikaans readings of the poem above all the words have the same meaning except for the following three:

  • The English meaning of the Afrikaans words:
  • word = become, transform
  • loop = flow, walk
  • blink = shiny, sparkly

As we switch between two languages and read through the prism of each one’s cultural background that we basked in when exposed to it, when assimilating it, is our ideology changing as well?

Let’s imagine the poem as a painting we regard in a museum. The culture is the room in which the painting is hanging and the ideology is the way we take the painting in as we first see it.

Change its location, its language in this instance, and we see the painting in a different light.

Are the Afrikaans and English languages related?

Yes, they are both Indo-European languages.
The Afrikaans language, also called Cape Dutch, is a West Germanic language developed from 17th-century Dutch by the descendants of European colonists (Dutch, German, and French), of indigenous Khoisan peoples, and of African and Asian slaves living in the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope (today Cape Town, South Africa).
Modern Afrikaans language, or informal Afrikaans, is the result of many other language influences, both foreign and indigenous, on the original Afrikaans dialect.
The English language is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family and is closely related to Frisian, German, and Dutch (in Belgium called Flemish) languages.

Since 1994 Afrikaans is one of eleven official languages of South Africa.