Black Butterflies: selected poems by Ingrid Jonker

Ingrid Jonker and her daughterBlack Butterflies' is a new English translation of the work of Ingrid Jonker, the South African poet who died in 1965. It includes an introduction by André Brink and a more extensive selection of her poems than an earlier translation published by Human & Rousseau in 1988. The poems have been translated by André Brink in collaboration with Antjie Krog.

The title ‘Black Butterflies’, which refers to the last sentence of the poem ‘I drift in the wind’ (translation of ‘Ek dryf in die wind’), was also used for the Dutch feature film about Ingrid Jonker. The film was shot in South Africa and released in the Netherlands on 31 March 2011. Directed by Paula van der Oest, it sketches a portrait of Ingrid’s turbulent life in Cape Town in the 1960s, focusing on her problematic relationship with her father and her love life, notably her relationship with South African writer Jack Cope.

Born in 1933, Ingrid Jonker published her first collection of poems entitled 'Ontvlugting' (Escape) at the age of 22. With this slim volume, she placed herself among the foremost poets in Afrikaans and after her suicide in 1965, she acquired the status of an icon in South Africa, a symbol of martyred femininity, like Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. To this day, her work – and notably 'Rook en Oker' (Smoke and Ochre) – remains among the most popular set works in Afrikaans literature at various South African universities.

Internationally, Ingrid Jonker walked into the limelight thirty years after her death when Nelson Mandela read her poem 'Die Kind' (The Child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga) in his first address to the new South African Parliament in May 1994. On that occasion, Mandela said about Ingrid Jonker: “She was both a poet and a South African. She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both an artist and a human being. In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted by death, she asserted the beauty of life.”

A documentary about Ingrid Jonker’s life entitled Korreltjie niks is my dood: Een verdicht leven Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965) was made in the Netherlands by Saskia van Schaik in 2001. The film, whose title comes from the poem ‘Korreltjie sand’ in the Rook en Oker collection, was shown on Dutch television and awarded the Silver Rose at the Montreux Festival in 2002.

For titles in the ASC online catalogue by and on Ingrid Jonker see:,contains,136426182&vid=UBL_V1&search_scope=lib_asc

Text of the poem Die Kind on a Dutch wall, with translations in Dutch, English and German:

Black Butterflies trailer:


Katrien Polman
April 2011