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The grave of Louis Leipoldt April 7, 2009

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, literature.
Tags: , , , ,

After visiting  “The Englishman’s Grave,” I continued along the dirt road that steadily uncurled and unscrolled toward Clanwilliam.  I was in the Cederberg region of South Africa, investigating about the Boer War.

The road between Calvinia and Clanwilliam

The road between Calvinia and Clanwilliam

I stopped several times to take pictures of the interesting rock formations.  None of the pictures turned out.  They are small and dull, while the actual places are huge and luminous.  That always seems to happen with my pictures.  As I drove along in my tiny car that had no air conditioning, on a day when the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius, or about 107 degrees Fahrenheit, I noticed another small sign along the way. This was something peculiar about my whole trip: I did not seem to read about things in advance—they just loomed up unexpectedly and caught my attention, like things encountered along the winding path of a dream.

This sign said, “The Grave of Louis Leipoldt.”  I had no clue who Louis Leipoldt was, and my ignorance remained perfect the day I stopped at his grave, for there was no explanatory marker.  But when I think back on it, I am glad that there were no words to disturb the ineffability of the place.

A metal gate stood at the beginning of a short path that led toward a rock overhang on the side of a bluff.  The gate seemed old-fashioned, like something one would find on a farm.  It was a clangy, swinging-on-the-wind kind of gate, and it displayed within a tidy metal square a name in block letters, on two lines:



The lettering style was different in some subtle way from any styles familiar to me as an American: the gate and the sign as a whole had a mysterious and talismanic appearance.

I walked to the overhang, passing close to some of the inventively shaped sandstone boulders that I had been admiring along the road.  The rock had a warm color, like living flesh.  I approached the grave.  It stood on a level rock floor beneath the overhang, which seemed like a cave when I reached it, a distinct space to be entered across a threshold.  Above the grave, on the wall of the cave, I made out faded paintings of animals: created by the San, the bushmen.  I knew that to be the case even though there was no label.

San art at Louis Leipoldt's grave

San art at Louis Leipoldt's grave

Now that I have finally learned a little bit about Louis Leipoldt, I can think of several reasons why it is a good thing that his grave at Pakhuis Pass has no explanatory marker.  It is a grave, not an exhibit in a museum; explanatory words would intrude on the perfect silence of the place: it would be hard to find the right words to describe such a complex person.

You can read a little about him here.  He has some things to say about the Boer War, as a person caught in the vicious crossfire of loyalties in the Cape Colony around 1901 and 1902, and I will write about his haunting poem “Oom Gert’s Story” in another post.


1. DaffodilPlanter - April 8, 2009

You really evoke the mood there. Curious to read about his poem.

2. Roon - April 19, 2009

This must be telepathy: I had forgotten about Leipoldt since my school/university days and was browsing through my old ‘varsity textbook to refresh my memory when I saw your lovely description of your visit to his grave. Having tended to dismiss him as a member of the relatively unsophisticated early generation of patriotic post-BoerWar versifiers, I was struck by his wide technical and subject range. His intimate, loving evocation of the Cape Peninsula’s Cape Malay traditions is unique in the introspectively whites-only world of early Afrikaner poets (except for Eugene Marais’s analogous empathy for the San of the Kalahari). Much of his stuff about young Afrikanerdom in the tragic post-war years is deliberately consciousness-raising and ranges from simple, folksy rhymes (there’s a poem called “Scheepers is dead!” which could be translated quite easily) to the Browning-style dramatic monologue format of “Oom Gert”. He has a grasp rare among early Afrikaner poets of the European mother culture (there’s a vivid, historically evocative portrayal of 15th century Lisbon in an epic poem about Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the Cape en route to India and the first circumnavigation of the globe). His evocations of nature are mother-lode Leipoldt, I think: consummately poetic, ranging from beautifully detailed descriptive to taut impressionism. If you want to write more about Leipoldt, as you indicate, there are probably some translations on the Net. Feel free to ask me to contribute a few translated stanzas, if you like.

3. Jenny - April 19, 2009

Thank you, Roon. I may take you up on your offer of a bit of translation. When I did start to read about his life, I realized that he had an extraordinarily unusual combination of interests and sympathies. Sometimes (not always) that seems to happen in South Africa better than anywhere else.

4. Anne-Marie Leipoldt - November 25, 2009

Very interesting to read about my forfather Louis Leipoldt. I could just picture his grave and the beautiful remote place where it is. I have to go there some day.

Jenny - November 25, 2009

Thanks for your comment. I hope you do have a chance to visit his grave.

5. Erik Leipoldt - November 25, 2009

Thanks for this Jenny! Is it possible to send me a copy of your evocative photo image of The road between Calvinia and Clanwilliam that could be printed, say, an A4 size, or larger? I’d love to hang it on my wall. C.Louis Leipoldt was not only a poet, involved in medicine, and moved by Boer suffering, but was also involved in politics, wrote about botany and cooking. Versatile par excellence!

Jenny - November 25, 2009

I will e-mail you a copy of the photo tomorrow. I am so pleased to connect with Leipoldt’s descendants. He was clearly an extraordinary individual who combined interests and sympathies not usually seen within a single person. I’d mentioned in my post that I would write something about his long poem “Oom Gert’s Story.” I had put that on the back burner, but now I think I will do that before long.

6. Erik Leipoldt - November 26, 2009

Thanks Jenny!

Looking forward to reading your post about Oom Gert’s Verhaal.

7. Richard Daneel - April 24, 2010

Hi jenny

I do not know how this whole system of blogging works, so hope this reaches you. I have never, ever, written to anybody on a blog or facebook etc before but, like the other poeple who reacted to your short write up on C.L. Leipoldt, I would like to jot down a few thoughts.

I don’t want this to come out wrong but are you sure you are American? I was so moved by your write up, it is so lovingly done and with so much sensitivity that I think you should consider writing yourself. I would, also, love a copy of your evocotive picture and please complete the Oom Gert bit you talked about. When you were here in SA were you just travelling in the Cape or are you living in SA?

Jenny - April 24, 2010

Richard, you’ve really made my day! So glad that my piece connected with you. Yes, I really am an American. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I was over in SA for two weeks in 2005, and that is the only time I’ve been there. But—hooray!—it looks as though I’ll be back over there in September. I will e-mail a few more details later on.

Desre Jenner - November 29, 2012

Desre Jenner (nee Leipoldt) November 29, 2012

Hello All, im Jeff Leipoldt’s youngest daughter, and Grandaughter of C.L.Leipoldt – Jeff was Louis adopted son. My Dad passed away 14 years ago, and my Mom passed away last year. I have two more sisters and we live in Johannesburg. I visit Louis Leipoldt’s grave once a year, and am about to take my trip this December as I write this. When i was a young girl my Dad “Jeff” would take Mom and I to visit Louis grave and at one stage there was a book at the grave under a glass case of sorts, whereby visitors could leave their thoughts, sadly it is no longer so there is no mention of his creativity etc – It is heartwarming to read all your comments. Thank you, take care. Des

Jenny - November 29, 2012

So glad you visited. It is interesting to learn about the book at the grave. I wish I could have seen that. Thank you for your comments.

8. Anne -Marie Leipoldt - August 5, 2015

Just reading the conversations here again. Onze week ago I came back from South Africa. I drove from Johannesburg to Kaapstad and visited some amazing places. Sadly enough I was’nt able to visit Leipoldtville or even the grave.
My brother Erik passed away sadly enough . I never saw the photograph in his house actually. He was an extraordinary man himself being a great thinker, writer, gardener, poet, and had a phd in human resource. He influenced many lifes. Borne in 1953 it seems the spirit of Louis Leipoldt was
with him. The face of Louis is very familiar to me. He resembles my father and his brothers very much. My father was called Frederik and so is my youngest s ons second name!
Could you please send me the picture of the grave and the road to it? It would mean so much to me.
Thank you again for writing so beautifully in your article. Look forward to hear from you.
Anne -Marie

Desre (nee Leipoldt) Jenner - August 6, 2015

Hello Anne-Marie, I thought I would attach some photographs of our last two visits to Louis grave…it is the most beautifully special place on this Earth. You will see my late Mom “Alice Leipoldt” sitting with me at the grave, you will also see my daughter sitting at the grave with my Mom. There are some very old photographs of my late father Jeffrey Barnett Leipoldt as a young child and his “step brother” (now Dr) Peter Shields. There is a photo of me wearing a pink t-shirt standing next to a wonderful old man who’s name is Hotto, and Hotto looks after the little museum dedicated to Christian Frederik Louis Leipoldt’s work and pieces of his furniture and paintings. The little museum is at the end of the main street in Clanwilliam….hope you enjoy the photos and maybe one day you will send me photo’s of you visiting my late grandfathers grave in the majestic Cederburg mountains up Pakhuis pass. Take care of yourself… Fondest regards Des.

Anne -Marie Leipoldt - October 25, 2015

Thank you so much for ans wering. I Can’t see any attachment though! My email is : a.leipoldt@hotmail.com
Looking forward to see the pictures you talked about.
Take care

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