The Broken String

By Diakwain Diakwain

Translated By Harold Farmer Read the translator's notes

Nuing-kuiten my father’s friend   
was a lion sorcerer   
and walked on feet of hair.   
People saw his spoor and said:   
“The sorcerer has visited us.   
He is the one who treads on hair.   
This big animal prowling   
was Nuing-kuiten.”   

He used to travel by night—
he did not want to be seen   
for people might shoot at him   
and he might maul someone.   
At night he could go unseen,   
after other lion sorcerers   
who slink into our dwellings   
and drag out men.   

The sorcerer lived with us   
hunting in a lion’s form   
until an ox fell prey to him.   
Then the Boers rode out   
and shot my father’s friend,   
but he fought those people off   
and came home to tell father   
how Boers had wounded him.   

He thought father did not know   
he was wounded in his lion form.   
Soon he would have to go   
for he lay in extreme pain.   
If only he could take father   
and teach him his magic and songs,   
father would walk in his craft,   
sing his songs, and remember him.
He died, and my father sang:   

“Men broke the string for me   
and made my dwelling like this.   
Men broke the string for me   
and now   
my dwelling is strange to me.   

My dwelling stands empty   
because the string has broken,   
and now   
my dwelling is a hardship for me.”   

Source: Poetry (April 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009


Diakwain was a |xam Bushman who lived in the northern Cape Colony in the late nineteeth century.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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