He was born in Sutherland in the Karroo on the 11th June 1906 and died in Johannesburg on the 18th June1970. Nicolaas was an Afrikaans poet, playwright, essayist, and litterateur, was second of the four sons of Bismarck von Moltke Louw (†1949), a wealthy attorney from Sutherland, and his wife, Martha Hendrina Johanna Frederika van Wyk (†1970), who was descended from a line of sheep farmers. Louw’s youngest brother, William Ewart Gladstone (1913-24.4.1980), is also well known as a poet and litterateur.
Louw had his first schooling, with English as first and Dutch as second language, in the small Karroo town of Sutherland. He made his ‘official’ acquaintance with Afrikaans sporadically and by chance. In an essay on Jan F.E. Celliers*, (Opstelle oor ons ouer digters (1972), p.17), the poet relates how the local schoolmaster shut the Bloemen uit de Nederlandsche tuin in sheer desperation one day, and began to read another type of poem, namely ‘Die Vlakte’ by Jan Celliers.
Although at that time the language of the Bible was also Dutch, that of the environment and of daily intercourse was Afrikaans through and through. Many years later L. was to recall this fact in Rondom eie werk (1970) with gratitude. According to him the area he lived in was one in which the Afrikaans language was still virtually untouched and pure, and the influence of English on the spoken language hardly noticeable. Many of the older people did not even understand English and were not ashamed of the fact.
In the local library, which L. began to visit as a very young boy, there were several Dutch books, including those of Cats, Hooft, Da Costa, and Bilderdijk. He also heard a considerable amount of Dutch at home but he was able to acquaint himself with Ons Klyntji at Tant Hillie Cloete’s house where some of the family occasionally went for coffee.
L. was very young when he showed an interest in language and its functioning. At social gatherings he came to know how to play with language, as in rhymes, riddles, puns, story-telling, teasing and banter, and the invention and apt use of nicknames, and recognised in them an excellent form of entertainment (Rondom eie werk).
His work clearly reveals the rich and lasting influence of the ‘half-farm and half-town’ environment of his youth, a varied world with all types of people: the wicked and the pious of the town, the strong and the weak (Rondom eie werk). Some of the names encountered in his prose and poetry give the impression that the poet had known such people, or types, in his youth: Ou Oom ‘Maer’ Willem, Bêrend die jong, Oupa-Haakbeen, Ouma-Heilig, Tant Hannie Plaasbaken, Oum-Appie-Slagkraal, and Tant’-Tolie-met-die-kanker … Place names, such as Dwars-in-die-weg and Gunsfontein, his grandfather’s farm, are also reminiscent of his early days. In fact, the whole world of Sutherland, with its plants and animals, its multifaceted life, contributed to the world depicted in his work. Explicit examples of this may be found in, among others, Nuwe verse (1954), as for example in the opening poem; here the poet expresses the wish to be in Sutherland once again and to stand beside the dam of the town at dusk: ‘Nog eenmaal wil ek in die skemeraand weer op ons dorp en by ons dorpsdam staan’. A further example occurs in the reminiscent poem, ‘Beeld van ‘n jeug: duif en perd’, where we encounter the boy-narrator on the gravel in the back-yard of his home, reading and reflecting amid familiar objects of his world (books, doves, a horse). Many years later W.E.G. Louw was to recall this same world in his poetry, for instance in ‘Verslag van ‘n winterreis’ (Vensters op die vrees, 1976), a poem which was presumably inspired by the poet’s ‘pilgrimage’ to Sutherland and the surrounding area. In this poem we read of the panes in the wooden stoep door; the garden with its cypress hedges; the dark passage-way leading up to the pergola of vines and the dam; the back-yard with its dove cage, tub, and the warmth of the blue gravel; the stable with the black stallion staring white-eyed in the dark; the mud dam and the pear tree with ‘Wyk se plankie’.
It is particularly in the section ‘Klipwerk’ in Nuwe verse that we find Sutherland and its world reflected in many ways (the language, images, situations, and customs). According to L., in Rondom eie werk, he intended to recreate the world of his youth in words; the poems contain everything he knew in this world which was, at times, crude, full of sexual allusions and insinuations, obscene things, cruelty, sadness and joy, superstition, love’s jealousies, hatred and ridicule … Even in his last collection of poems Tristia (1962) we find impressions of his youth reflected here and there, as in ‘Karoodorp: someraand’.
Further illuminating references to his childhood years emerge in places in his prose, as in ‘Kinderfantasie’ in Maskers van die erns (1955). The children’s game, with its destructiveness, sacrificial nature and element of mystery and secrecy depicted in this work, reveals some perception of a ‘dark undercurrent’, of the ‘hollow lime caves beneath the apparently solid ground’ (p.42). This concept later became a dominant theme in L.’s poetry. In his Digters van Dertig (infra), D.J. Opperman writes that the children of Sutherland often played Cowboys and Red Indians and later Rebels and Government supporters or Greeks and Trojans. But according to Opperman the poet preferred to play alone: ‘With tiny sticks he set up in the ground, he recreated the ancient battles of the Greeks and Romans, and by throwing small stones he decided anew which men were vanquished or victorious. As ‘unseen’ ruler, he controlled the fate of kingdoms and empires’ (p. 164). Certain elements, vaguely apparent in this game, were to reappear later in L.’s work, as in Germanicus (1956). In his long poem, ‘Naggesprek’ (1972), a monologue in which a younger brother is engaged in imaginary conversation with an elder brother who has died, W.E.G. Louw recounts with pleasure the road he and L. travelled together and tells of the joys of their youth in Sutherland: how they frolicked in the dam and danced to the music of the concertina, violin, and guitar on New Year’s eve till the morning star shone high in the heavens.
In 1920 the family moved to Cape Town where L. studied at the South African College School (SACS). Here the milieu was still predominantly English with Dutch as the second language. His first published poem, ‘By een sickbed’ (De Goede Hoop, 15.11.1921), written while he was in bed with mumps, showed traces of Dutch influence.
English writers who influenced L.’s work in the early twenties were Robert Burns, Shakespeare, and in particular Thomas Carlyle with his concept of hero-worship (On heroes, Heroworship). According to Opperman (Digters van Dertig) L.’s first conception of the ‘poet god’, the prophet … and an awareness of his calling as a poet originated under the influence of these writers. Carlyle was his guide, Shakespeare his hero; Carlyle, who aroused in him a conception of the heroic, prepared the way for German influences, for Nietzsche and national socialism; Shakespeare aroused the poet, the playwright, and the craftsman in him. At this time he also made increasing contact with Afrikaans books and periodicals.
From 1923 he studied at the University of Cape Town, where he became interested in German literature and obtained his M.A. in German. He also set about writing in earnest and published his work in the quarterly magazine of the University of Cape Town. In his prose drama Konrad, Prins van Elsas (October 1924) the heroic prince, Konrad, held captive by the Count of Lemberg, commits suicide when he hears that his father, the king, is prepared to relinquish part of his territory as ransom for his son. Although this play is an example of L.’s early work, the sense of the heroic, the conflict between human love and pride and the particular images and phrases used indicate his later trends of development.
After L. had partly completed his studies, he taught for a year (1924) at a school in Steynsburg. In 1928 he returned to Cape Town to read for the B.Ed. degree, after which he was appointed lecturer in education at the University of Cape Town (1929).
The thirties were of great importance to L. in many ways. It was then that he published his first collections of poetry and provocative essays, underwent an ardent, almost frenzied intellectual search in several fields (religion, politics, and philosophy), and made friends who became of importance to him.
His interest in education never really left him: he made a thorough study of the report on the Poor White question which was attracting exceptional attention in the early thirties, and because of his interest in ‘educating a nation’ he read books on a variety of subjects such as economics, sociology, political science, and in particular philosophy (Rondom eie werk).
Apart from his academic work, as a young lecturer L. gave direction to the literary and cultural life of Afrikaans. In 1935 he became co-founder and secretary of the Vereniging van die Vrye Boek, an association which intended to ‘free’ literature by, among other things, publishing manuscripts which publishers would possibly not regard as paying propositions. His actions here manifest his enthusiasm and resistance, his will to reform, and a spirit which would have been non est without the fruitful bonds of friendship forged during these years in Cape Town. In his ‘Naggesprek’ W.E.G. Louw mentions a few of these people: Anna (Neethling-Pohl); Izak (van der Merwe, Boerneef); Canis (J. du P. Scholtz); Hettie (Smit), author of Sy kom met die sekelmaan; Truida (Pohl), and Fred (le Roux). W.E.G. Louw himself should naturally also be added to this list. In fact a kind of movement originated around L. and his brother. The friends held penetrating discussions and at times differed vehemently. In addition they read widely: works of Bloem, Gossaert, Holst – English, Dutch, Afrikaans, German. According to W.E.G. Louw in his ‘Naggesprek’ ‘they saturated themselves with literature which they adapted and digested like food’. Later, when the Dutch poet and litterateur Jan Greshoff settled in Cape Town, his knowledge contributed to the enthusiasm which culminated (1945) in the important independent quarterly journal, Standpunte, edited by L., W.E.G. Louw and H.A. Mulder*. L. threw himself whole-heartedly into his work for this publication, particularly in the early years, and remained on the editorial staff until his death.
Many of the discussions held in the thirties also dealt with politics. L., a great admirer of Gen. J.B.M. Hertzog*, was like W.E.G. Louw sadly disappointed at the attitude this national leader adopted in 1934 towards the fusion. Although L.’s father was a devoted South African Party man, L. was an ardent Nationalist all his life, and during the thirties his nationalism was strengthened by his admiration for the emergent national socialism. In his ‘Naggesprek’ W.E.G. Louw writes: ‘We must confess … that we have been aroused by the hysterical cries of Hitler with his banners and swastikas’. In Die Jongspan L. wrote about communism, fascism, and national socialism and in 1936 he devoted an important essay to ‘Nasionalisme en die kuns’ (‘Nationalism and art’), In the section called ‘Gedagtes, liedere en gebede van ‘n soldaat’ in Die halwe kring (1937) his ardent nationalism and a type of militancy emerge. Although W.E.G. Louw turned his back on national socialism fairly soon, L. ‘exchanged the Left Book Club for the red, white and black for several years’ (‘Naggesprek’, p.16).
Another driving-force in the poet’s life and work was religion. For him the thirties marked a period of religious inquiry. It is of course impossible to relate a poet’s personal and religious view of life to his creative work without further examination, but it can be said that several of his poems are religious in nature and that prayer plays a prominent part in his writing. His earlier poetry contains signs of a rebelliousness against God, alternating with a feeling of disconsolation, as in the words of the prophet-figure in ‘Die profeet’. W.E.G. Louw wrote in ‘De nieuwere Afrikaanse poëzie’ that L. experienced a ‘struggle with God about God’. He also portrays God in different ways: at times He is restless, at other times merciful; at times He fills man with fear and then again with peace. In his ‘Naggesprek’ W.E.G. Louw wrote that the brothers also often spoke about God, though less often than about other matters. His presence may, nevertheless, be felt throughout their poetry in the form of reproaches, fear, anxiety, and fierce rebellion, since they regarded Him as their enemy and were not yet aware that all roads eventually lead to God, L.’s life did, in fact, lead him to God. The drama Dias (1951) concludes with a feeling approaching Christian humility, and in ‘Duif en perd’ (Nuwe verse), the meditative youth achieves a clearness of vision when he realises that the sacrifice of Christ implies a ‘voluntary death’ and that ‘every event on earth’ ‘is a reference to Him, and is part of His Name’, During the fifties L. reached a stage when he thought seriously of becoming a Roman Catholic. This was a crisis about which W.E.G. Louw and L. argued bitterly, as appears from ‘Naggesprek’. L. subsequently changed his mind and became an avowed Christian without becoming a Roman Catholic or, in all probability, accepting Calvinism. On Ascension Day, 1962, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the NG Church, Johannesburg, he wrote a festival poem, ‘Hoe Christus sy kerk op aarde (en in ons stad) gestig het’. It testifies to his faith and acceptance of the basic Christian doctrine. The last thing he wrote, which was found at his bedside the morning after his death, is a prayer filled with a sense of guilt; it closed with the words: ‘My Lord and God, I submit myself to Thy mercy. If I should die in my sleep, I rest solely in Thy merciful hands’ (‘Aand’, published in Standpunte, August, 1972).
The thirties formed a period of great importance in L.’s personal life as well. In 1930 he married Joan Isabeau Wessels, and several of the poems in his first collection were inspired by love. Two daughters, Maria Johanna (1.1.32-21.4.64) and Anna Cornelia (*2.12.33), were born of the marriage. In 1938 L. dedicated Die dieper reg to his daughters with the words: ‘For Maria and Anna, who will understand some day’ – an obvious reference to his divorce. This breach resulted in a crisis in family relationships. According to W.E.G. Louw in his ‘Naggesprek’ ‘my father wept bitterly for L. and his two daughters’. L. and his brother also became estranged and it was only years later that the old harmony was restored.
In 1941 L. married Gertruida Isabella Reinet Pohl (the producer, Truida Pohl), with whom he had been friendly for a long time. A daughter, Reinet (*12.12.46) and a son, Peter (*13.1.50) were born of this marriage, Another volume of poetry Tristia he dedicated to the children of his second marriage. It contains allusions to situations and relationships which had threatened his second marriage for some time in the fifties (the years (1950-57) during which this volume came into being). Truida supported and assisted her husband in many ways. She typed his manuscripts for him and produced his dramatic works, and when L. took ill she remained loyal to him to the end.
In 1948, to honour the values he represented, L. received an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht. This doctorate preceded other honorary degrees: from Rhodes University, April 1966, from Stellenbosch, October 1966. In 1950 he was appointed professor extraordinary of Afrikaans language, literature, culture, and history at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He took over this post with his inaugural address Die digter as intellektueel (1950) and remained at the university till 1958, when he was appointed head of the department of Afrikaans-Nederlands at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Here his inaugural address dealt with ‘reference difficulty’ in literature. He held this post till his death.
During his stay in Amsterdam, a number of students advanced in Afrikaans attended his lectures. Among them were P. du P. Grobler, who was already a university lecturer, T.T. Cloete, Elize Lindes (later Botha), and E. Lindenberg. L. presented Cloete (Trekkerswee en Joernaal van Jorik, 1953) and Lindes (Veelheid en binding, 1956) for their doctorates. In so doing he influenced Afrikaans academic life since these people later assumed important university posts in South Africa.
L.’s influence was also felt in other ways during these years. In the early fifties he wrote a long series of stimulating articles which were published under the title ‘Die oop gesprek’ in Die Huisgenoot. In addition his radio talks, broadcast from the Netherlands, indicated that he had maintained contact with Afrikaans literature and way of thinking. Because his academic duties encompassed more than literature, he was able to act in the Netherlands as a true ambassador for his country.
Though his sojourn in Europe clearly influenced his poetry in Tristia, this volume is distinctly Afrikaans in spirit and filled with longing and concern for South Africa.
L. is generally recognised as the central literary figure of the Thirties, not only for his poetry but for his provocative essays. Sometimes in these, light-hearted, satirical or deeply earnest but always in lucid prose (cf. Lojale verset and Berigte te velde, both 1939), he draws attention to the weaknesses he observed in the Afrikaans culture, and puts into juxtaposition lively thinking as opposed to rigid ideas, the dynamic individual next to the lethargic masses, venture against restful complacency.
His later collections of essays, such as Maskers van die erns and Liberale nasionalisme (1958), are characterised by a style more restful and milder in argument. Of particular importance here is the essay ‘Heerser en humanis’ in which a basic tension in L.’s work emerges in the form of a conversation between the man of intellect and the man of action. His important literary-theoretical works such as the inaugural address in Amsterdam, Die digter as intellektueel, and the volumes ‘n Wêreld deur glas (1958), Vernuwing in die prosa (1961), and in particular Die ‘mens’ agter die boek (1956) are quietly argumentative and fascinating. In the latter (later reprinted together with others in Swaarte- en ligpunte, 1958) L. deals discerningly and wittily with the psychologistic interpretation of literature. Three books published posthumously were: Rondom eie werk, consisting mainly of radio talks the poet gave shortly before his death; in these there are explanatory remarks on ‘Klipwerk’, and ‘Raka’, as well as his opinion on volkspoësie (poetry of his people). Opstelle oor ons ouer digters is made up of the poet’s earlier work for periodicals and the radio and deals mainly with the poetry of Celliers, C.L. Leipoldt*, and A.G. Visser*. Deurskouende verband (1977) consists of radio talks and lectures, most of which were held in the fifties, and both his inaugural addresses.
L. was not a critic in the usual sense of the word. Though he often voiced an opinion on a book or a poem, he rarely adopted an analytical or explanatory attitude. He was polemically inclined and in a variety of ways opposed what he regarded as misconceptions and fallacies. This attitude is especially evident from Lojale verset (cf. ‘Kritiese skole’ and ‘Mooi prosa’, originally written under the pseudonym, Pieter M. Steyn) down to Rondom eie werk, which chiefly comprises talks broadcast from February to September 1970. L. was a skilful polemic even though at times, as with Prof. M. de Villiers, he was forced to admit: ‘You have caught me out, I have not read as carefully as I should’ (Die ‘mens’ agter die boek, p.67). Occasionally in his enthusiasm he did not do justice to a point of view he was disputing. His preference for dialectic did not detract from the penetrating studies he wrote, as on Willem Kloos, Hendrik Marsman, and Leipoldt.
Many of his essays, like the now renowned Die ‘mens’ agter die boek, are concerned with the fundamentals of literature; another group may be described as reflections on culture, and others as stimulating new trends of thought. His essay, ‘Rigting van die Afrikaanse letterkunde’, contained in Berigte te velde, is one that indicates a new trend; reading like a manifesto, it was first published in Die Huisgenoot as early as 1936. Although he criticised certain aspects of the work and attitude of writers of the sixties, L. later provided the necessary impetus for the ‘movement’ of the sixties with his work, Vernuwing in die prosa. In this connection, see his article ‘Sestig, sestiger, sestigste’ which was published in Sestiger in May 1964 and in the same year, in an adapted form, as an introduction to Windroos (stories by ten writers of Sixty).
L. also gave some direction in interviews and in articles and memoranda to the press, for example on the question of censorship. This was a matter about which he was deeply concerned and to which he made frequent reference as in ‘Sensuur of pornografie’ (Standpunte, October 1947) and again ( in answer to O.C.) in the August edition of Standpunte in 1963: ‘En nog is die einde nie – verdere gedagtes oor sensuur’. Though L. was clearly aware of the dangers of censorship, he was also involved in it in a positive sense. In this regard he was known (1963) to have used his influence with certain literary men, when the Publications Control Board was about to be established, in persuading them to serve on the Board if they were approached to do so. When the members were selected, L. expressed his satisfaction and publicly acknowledged the Board. On the article previously mentioned, ‘Sestig, sestiger, sestigste’, he wrote: ‘What is there that prevents them (the writers of the sixties) from writing? Our publications act? In my opinion, certainly not, at this stage’.
For his critical prose and essays L. received the Hertzog Prize in 1958.
His real contribution lies in the field of poetry, and here two phases are clearly discernible in his development. The first is represented by his first five volumes: Alleenspraak (1935), containing poetry written between the age of seventeen and twenty-eight, for which he refused the jointly-awarded Hertzog Prize; Die halwe kring, for which he was awarded the (full) Hertzog Prize, and Die dieper reg, a drama with verse chorus inspired by the symbolical ox-waggon trek (1938). In this the poet reflects, in dramatic form, on a nation’s right to exist. It is a play which has frequently been produced at national festivals and it takes us to the ‘Hall of Eternal Justice, where all men eventually come to hear judgement pronounced on their deeds’. Here the Trekkers also present their Intercession. They are confronted by a Prosecutor who exposes their sins and in this manner the drama unfolds through charge, plea, and defence to the eventual verdict of Justice: ‘Go forth and know that there is justification for your existence and actions in the eyes of God because of your strength and simplicity’. His subsequent works, the modern epic Raka (1941) and the volume Gestaltes en diere (1942) are the two outstanding creations of the first phase.
A phenomenal development, which influenced several sides of his poetic make-up, is evident in these five creations, From the lyric poetry his work evolved to the koorspel, to the dramatic monologue, the epic and the modern ballad; from the lyrical confession to the objective portrayal; from the alleenspraak to the gestalte. The same motifs recur frequently: the poet’s awareness of his calling, his struggle with God, a realisation that good and evil are inseparable and that there is a dark sporangium of the subconscious out of which the spiritual life must emerge, These motifs are, however, interpreted and portrayed, very often differently, as the tensions are superseded by newly-conceived forms embodied in the prophet, the hunter, the drinker, and the inquisitor. And in the process, some of the most famous Afrikaans poems originated. They were ‘Die profeet’, the series ‘ballades’, ‘Die hond van God’, ‘Die swam luiperd’. Next came the prophetic and visionary ‘Drie diere’, in which the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Roman empires are evoked as the source that explains Western man in the cruel game he plays, and lastly the prophetic epic Raka where the downfall of a civilization is majestically and graphically portrayed, without moralising. Here, despite the warnings of the spiritual hero, Koki, the people respond unsuspectingly to the evil influence of the dark beast, Raka, to whom they open their hearts and their kraal.
The second phase is ushered in by the volume Nuwe verse introducing new forms as well as a new tone. An important motif running through this work is the evocation of the poet’s world of his youth, particularly prominent in the section ‘Klipwerk’; this is a collection of volkspoësie consisting of seventy-nine longer and shorter poems ‘about that part of our world which I knew most intimately’ (Rondom eie werk). The unsophisticated nature of this poetry is shown up in several ways, for example in the rhythm, the recurring patterns (as in ‘Skraler as ‘n riet O, skraler as ‘n riet’), the elementary treatment of motifs such as love, death, and superstition, the preoccupation with that which is purely physical or sexual as well as the wisdom of ordinary people. Reminiscent images also occur in ‘Beeld van ‘n jeug: duif en perd’, but the poem developed into a great structure in which L. shows himself to be an artist able to synthesise the most divergent experiences, ideas, and events.
In 1960 the volume Gedigte was published. It is an anthology compiled by Elize Botha and A.P. Grove at the poet’s request, and consists of poetry which had previously been published and of new poems later to constitute the nucleus of the comprehensive volume Trivia; for this the poet likewise received the Hertzog Prize. Besides lesser poems, the volume contains some of the most mature and profound poetry in Afrikaans, as for example ‘Groot ode’, which concludes the volume; with its majestic musical movements and its interwoven motifs of life, death, and eternity, it may be regarded as the central arch of his poetry. The volume bestrides an enormous field of human experience in its reference to rulers, saints, artists, and philosophers. Apart from its rich contents it heralds a daring innovation in his work. To mention but one aspect: where the writing of poetry was once regarded as experience caught in a specific word, the process is here often reversed and the word becomes the point of departure, the primeval source from which the poem evolves. Concomitant with this is frequent and careful consideration of words and their potential and a sustained struggle to capture the most subtle nuances of their meaning by using a variety of graphological and punctuation techniques.
This process of becoming objective necessarily led to drama. From the solo instrument the poet gradually moved to the full orchestra: the koorspel (Die dieper reg) became the radio play (Dias, 1951), which in turn grew to the full-fledged drama in verse (Germanicus). In Dias, which is written in a relatively free verse form, the explorer is a man poised between two epochs of existence, one born ahead of his time, doomed to failure, and humbled by realising that he aspired to unveil what was not within his power to unveil.
Germanicus may also be regarded as a figure suspended between two worlds: that of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., when it was corrupt and violent, and a new, more humane (Christian?) era which he vaguely sees in the future and towards which he reaches out. Once again the central character is an idealist, the sensitive young general who would rather die than take part in what he regards as the senseless violence of his time.
Besides Dias, L. wrote other work for the radio, but in prose, for example the powerful sketch on Paul Kruger (giving the title to the volume, Kruger breek die pad oop, 1964); it is written against the background of political uncertainty and tension in the Transvaal during the early sixties of the previous century. Three additional radio dramas written in prose, which link up with the poet’s other work are Dagboek van ‘n soldaat (1961), Lewenslyn (1962) and Die held (1962). Each of these experiments in its own way with the radio as medium. In Lewenslyn, the inevitable course of human life is reflected through the central figure, Esmé, a circus actress who selfishly plays with life and happiness and who, though given the opportunity of reliving her life, follows her predestined path. Dagboek van ‘n soldaat and Die held are more topical, and deal with problematical issues. In Dagboek, the unsuccessful invasion of Cuba faintly depicted in the background, the ideal of human purity and spirit of sacrifice opposes brute action – the ruler versus the humanist.
Die held is set in the German occupation of France during the Second World War (1939-45). The central figure, a professional burglar, is mistakenly captured by the Germans who believe he belongs to the resistance movement. Though he could save himself by revealing the true state of affairs, he refuses to do so and prefers to be remembered as a hero, accepting death for the sake of his family. What is he really? A coward? A rascal? This work is an interesting reflection on the essential nature of heroism. Asterion, a libretto for a radiophonic opera for which Henk Badings composed the music, was published in 1965. In this, at the instance of the world-weary man, the disturbingly beautiful figure of Asterion is brought into being as the embodiment of man’s longing for eternal youth. The work is dedicated to the memory of L.’s daughter, ‘Maria Johanna (‘Ria’) Muller, born Louw’ who died young.
Three occasional pieces of note written by L. are the comedy, Koning-Eenoog of Nie vir geleerdes which was produced by the National Theatre Organisation on the fiftieth anniversary of the Union of South Africa (1960); Die pluimsaad waai ver, put on by PACT in 1966 during the Republic Festival; and Berei in die woestyn (1968), a ‘Sinne- en Wa-spel’, written for the Water Year.
Although in places the condemnation in the play is perhaps too direct and the human verges on the facetious, Koning-Eenoog has moments of fine satire and ridicule, particularly about the pseudo-intellectual whom we find where we least expect him, at the university.
In Berei in die woestyn L. aims to expose the sins of the nation through the allegorical figures evoked in the play. With the background of the Old Testament and in the words of the Prophet, the nation’s punishment in the form of Drought and Famine is announced. The sub-title and framework of the play mark it as belonging to a very old form of art, but the prophet figure falls in line with the long row of prophet figures found in his work.
President M.T. Steyn* is the central character in Die pluimsaad waai ver, set in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the ‘bitter beginning’ in the painful process of forming a nation – a process filled with searching and mistakes, war and treachery. Technically the play presented several problems which were often ingeniously resolved, but as a festival play it unleashed a storm of protest since many felt the play was biased, overemphasising as it did the negative aspects of history. After several changes had been made the play was published posthumously in 1972, six years after it had been produced.
Two radio dramas broadcast earlier were also published posthumously. They were: Blomme vir die winter (1974), a love drama in which, among other things, the atmosphere of Paris is most effectively evoked; and the problem play, Die val van ‘n regvaardige man, ‘eerste ontwerp vir ‘n hoorspel’ (1976), which deals with the downfall of a man who, deluded by his own self-righteousness, commits a murder of revenge only to find that his victim was innocent; in other words, in his over-confidence he had taken upon himself what ‘God had reserved for Himself’.
Even as far afield as the Netherlands and Belgium L. was widely recognised and honoured early in life, receiving numerous commissions and prizes. His work constitutes an important field of research at all South African universities and several studies and theses have been devoted to it. A special edition of Standpunte, devoted to L.’s work, and an edition de luxe of Raka were published on his sixtieth birthday, when with the co-operation of prominent litterateurs two festival volumes were dedicated to him; they were: Smal swaard en blink (1966), containing essays of a divergent nature, and Beeld van ‘n digter (1966), a collection of the best critiques written on him.
After suffering from heart trouble for a long time, he died quietly, a week after his sixty-fourth birthday. His death was felt as a great loss, even by those who had little interest in literature, and tributes were paid to him in newspapers, journals, and on the radio. The memorial service was held on 22 June in the NG Kerk, Linden, where the Rev. W.F.H. Huyzers, brother-in-law of the poet, gave the sermon. Two artistic studies of L. are: a charcoal drawing by Jean Welz, owned by Prof. W.E.G. Louw, and a bronze bust by Moses Kottler, in the possession of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kans. Life-like photographs are reproduced in Skrywers in beeld: N.P. van Wyk Louw (1974), compiled by T.T. Cloete.
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