When Breyten Breytenbach’s poem first appeared on the website in October 2016, this article grew into one of the most read articles on the website. After the introduction of the new website in 2020, this poem was missing from the website for some time. This is the beautiful poem “My sweet love, I send you a laughing dove”.
Image credits: Luigi Novi.
Who is Breyten Breytenbach?
Breyten Breytenbach was born on 16 September 1939 in Bonnievale (Western Cape, South Africa). Today is considered as one of the most important South African writers.
Breytenbach went to the Hoërskool Hugenote and afterwards to the Michaelis School of Fine Art – part of the University of Cape Town.
Due to his political beliefs, he was forced to leave the country. He stayed in Paris during the Sixties. He was not allowed to return to South Africa after his marriage with Yolande, since she was of Vietnamese ancestry. It was considered to be a criminal offence to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race. This all was part of the Apartheid system that existed between 1948 and 1991.
In 1975 Breytenbach was arrested because he illegally entered the country. He was convicted and was punished with nine years for high treason. Two years later, he again had to appear before a judge and had to respond to charges about planning an attack on the prison at Robben Island. The judge ruled that there was no real evidence for this case and dismissed it. He was however found guilty on charges about the smuggling of letters and poems from the prison where he was held. The fine for this was fifty dollars. He was not released until 1982, after international protests. He went back to France, where he became a French citizen. Until today Breytenbach holds two nationalities.
After Apartheid was abolished in the Nineties, he could go back to his home country. In 2000 he was appointed as a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town.
The work of Breytenbach is greatly inspired by his political beliefs. But, as you can see from the poem Rooiborsduif, he is also known for his other work.
Breytenbach is the brother of Jan Breytenbach, the co-founder of the 1st Reconnaissance Commando of the South African Special Forces, and Cloete Breytenbach, a war correspondent. He is the father of Daphnee Breytenbach, a French journalist.
About the poem
This poem is a love poem. That’s for sure. It’s about the attempts to get to the loved one, no matter what. Boundaries cannot stop the two of them from seeing each other. With the help of tricks, they ensure that they can see each other.
No one will shoot at something red. Red is the colour of love, but it’s also the colour that the sun can turn to on a specific moment. At daybreak or sunset. Those who don’t want these two lovers to be together will not do anything if it’s something normal, like the sun. A hunter will not shoot at the sun.
Breytenbach tells us, that it will take a lot to complete the journey, but along the way, the world would look better. Oceans will shine and trees will look even more green.
If the lovers aren’t together, it’s the thought of their love that will keep them going. No matter what. Like there’s a guardian angel on their shoulders. Giving them wings to fly.
(My sweet love, I send you a) Laughing dove
My sweet love, I send you a laughing dove
because no one would shoot a red message
I throw my robin dove high into the sky and I
know that all the hunters will think it’s the sun
See, my dove flies up and down
and he flies, oceans shine
and trees are green
He colours my messages brown on your skin
For my love travels with you
My love has to stay with an angel such as you
like wings, white as an angel.
You should know about my love
with wings you can’t fly with.
— Breyten Breytenbach
(Allerliefste, ek stuur vir jou ‘n) Rooiborsduif
Allerliefste, ek stuur vir jou ‘n rooiborsduif
want niemand sal ‘n boodskap wat rooi is skiet nie.
Ek gooi my rooiborsduif hoog in die lug en ek
weet al die jagters sal dink dis die son.
Kyk, my duif kom op en my duif gaan onder
en waar hy vlieg daar skitter oseane
en bome word groen
en hy kleur my boodskap so bruin oor jou vel
Want my liefde reis met jou mee,
my liefde moet soos ‘n engel by jou bly,
soos vlerke, wit soos ‘n engel.
Jy moet van my liefde bly weet
soos van vlerke waarmee jy nie kan vlieg nie.
— Breyten Breytenbach