Here is my Christmast gift to the world for Christmas 2007! A translation of the song Somerkersfees, by our most famous South-African songwriter and poet, the late Koos du Plessis:
A Summer’s Christmas
Originally by Koos du Plessis
translated by Chris van der Westhuizen
1. Welcome the silent night of peace here
under our Southern Cross
with voices from the ancient his’try
whisp’ring through fields of stars
Christmas comes, in our hearts
praise the Lord our God
give us the brightest summer’s Christmas
in our warm land, O Lord
2. O hear the church bells speaking softly
a language ages old
and hear the quiet fields that nightly
repeat the age old tale
Koos du Plessis started having success with his songs being recorded by other artists suring the 1970’s. He then made three albums before he died in a car accident in 1984, with a fourth album released after his death. By now, most of his songs are standards, recorded by many other artists.
I first got to know this song from the album “Liedjies van vroeër” by Jannie du Toit, as far as I know he is the person who popularized this song after Koos’ death. According to the liner notes of his album, Koos wrote this song for a competition asking for new Christmas Carols, but “of course a song about little bell won”. (Something along those lines.) The original has only two verses, Jannie added a third verse, which I did not try to translate. I have had the pleasure of meeting Jannie once in person when I ran into him in the international airport in Johannesburg in October 1998, he was on his way to Belgium for appearances I think, and myself to San Jose in California.
The song was written especially for children of the southern hemisphere, for whom a Christmas with snow is simply not a reality.
Please note that my native language is Afrikaans, all of my blog so far is in Afrikaans, which is the original language of the song. My English not being that good, I have asked two of my fellow bloggers for advice, they are Chessalee and Boer In Ballingskap. Thank you very much for your advice. I decided to post the words just as I first translated it, as my English is not good enough to know if the suggestions are better. I will discuss a few points though:
In the original, the first line is “Welcome oh silent night of peace”. To fit it into the melody, I had to add the word “here” a the end, so it seemed to me better to address the people of the southern hemisphere than the night. The word “oh” as BiB suggested works as well. He also suggested “an ancient his’try”, which is maybe better for singing, as well as “Christmas comes with sweet accord” for the first line of the chorus, which I like, because it rhymes with the last line of the chorus. Chessalee suggested “church bells pealing”, which also sounds good, but the metaphor of “speaking” is better for me as it is in keeping with “language” in then next line. Chessalee had many other good suggestions as well. The rhyme of the original was abab in the verses and abcb in the chorus. I just was not possible for me to keep that, while trying to stay as close as possible to the original meaning. Maybe a native English-speaking lyricist would like to improve it now.
I do not know if sheet music for the song is available anywhere on line, but you can find the original lyrics and an mp3 recording at http://www.liedboek.co.za/keurbundel.htm.
Scroll down and look for “Lied 358”. (Direct download here.) Should anybody wish to use my translation commercially, they would have to contact myself and the heirs of Koos du Plessis, see the web site url in the first paragraph.
May this song ring out somewhere else than in South Africa during this festive season, and may you all have a blessed Chrismas in 2007!