Self-portrait of me as a teenager in 1972

Now she knows what it means to feel bewitched and lamed, just like that- as if a magic berry put to sleep everything that is sensible, anaesthetised it and brought with it a euphoric glow.

Where does a person start when you feel too happy, too mixed-up to find a start?

Let’s say that I sacrificed myself to nature today; tore myself open and exposed myself to its powers. I did not deceive him-for once I was totally honest.

I took my dog. He was in such a hurry to run- dash through the grass, up the mountain, down the mountain, that it made me feel good just to put his leash on.  Along the way in the wild whirlwind, I picked up stones, threw them up, caught them. Again and again. And it made me happy. The sun came from the front, struggled through the clouds to bewitch me and later, when only open heavens stretched above me, it sapped all my power and strength away. I was thankful for the luxurious wealth of green around me; grateful that it was so never-endingly quiet there on top of the hill—so, so happy that I could come and lie here and repair and re-think all those weary days.

Thank you, thank you so much that I exist.

(Written in 1972)

SIXTEEN   1972

One day I may die of sentimentality.  Try to catch images on canvass my sole demands, but my flesh longs for more- thus I write. But pen and ink do not satisfy as much as reality.  As I sit here by the table I look out on the countryside. The morning mists have disappeared. It is afternoon now and I look to the North. There you are somewhere as if my very life depended on you. I long for you my love, and I can but pray. Youth lends itself to that magical world of praying to an outside force.

To love is to run through your own heavenly green fields with or without the one you love.    When he is with you your laughter is his and you hate no one.  When he is gone, the countryside that you run through changes to grey mistiness.  Through the pines.  The whisperings of the tall pines become your beloved’s voice. You want to fly up into space-, maybe become an angel- and touch his fingers and then his lips.   You want – most of all – to hear his voice desperately- wait patiently- … but what is pa­tience?   Why is the world so cruel and dark?

By the way, you look so handsome by a flickering candle at night- so beautiful in the dark, especially when we speed through the night on the open road and the moon lights up your face.

Please live to be a man, then I will live to be a woman- but, when I’m gone…do not worship my soul.  Love someone else and love her more.


Here where I am, the willows are overfed with wealth. I live in a whitewashed house 103 long steps away.  I come here often to listen to the wind.  The wind is broken by a mass of swinging green. At each tree it has to stop.  This is always my chance to feel overfed too and the wealth of the willows is blown into my body. Its spirit stays here, forever.  I refuse to let it out. It is summer.  And summer is health and so much love that I am twice as much in love with you and in love with this spacious beautiful world.  Here where the willows grow and swell, where water and green plants and sky are one. Like my body, his, yours.  Take my arm away and it will be deformed and hurt.  So leave this world in its warm place.

Today it is autumn.  I walked the 103 long steps to come here…and to listen.  Today the wind has not stopped.  Like a child, it peeps through the empty branches, around them.  It clutches, but only for a second.  Turning again, it tumbles over the trees, over the loose, useful earth and its companions, the brown leaves, the mustard ones and green-yellow ones too; the brown that soothes me so. And then, as I say “hush”, it goes away through thin, sharp air, along tepid waters, over other brown leaves.  The brown leaves have partially eaten up the earth and the earth has pressed it to its bosom.  When night falls, they are so safe. The cosy summer blanket does not cover them during this half-empty, half-mature season. And where is my friend, the wind?  It goes through thin air, whistling quietly. It will come again in the winter.

When winter comes I take a blanket with me to cover myself.  I am human, after all. I hasten to the beloved place, but I am prepared for that desolate, deserted emotion.  The wind is more than empty now. It has become hollow and it blows through only a skull.  The wide fields around me: they were so full in summer… I love this place, but I would hate it at midnight.  If I had to come here at that hour, the darkest one, the graves would surely have appeared under the trees and the skeletons would be having their feast on rotten leaves in the midst of this pool of icy, grey water.  I am so utterly convinced.  You, my friend, cannot change what is human and what is me. The wind blows through a skull and it is afraid to touch it.  Sometimes, somewhere, in this wind, some hope is left.

For today it is Spring and the wind is in love, not only with the tender green but also with the willows themselves. Body and soul.  My friend, I never want to die.  This is too wonderful.  I woke up this morning and I walked the 103 long steps.  Now I will never turn back- this is where I belong. This is home.

As I sit here the dreams fleet by.  They never stop.  I have a handful of fresh brown earth between my hands.  When I press it, the water runs down my arms. And always, always, the music blows through my body, to make mature this feeling of absolute bliss. Tomorrow it will be summer again.

Sketch of a forest walk by Hermien Zwiers 1973


“Do you love me?”

NO!! The problem is that if I allow myself to love you properly, I will be vulnerable and you might hurt me.  And anyway, I cannot relate to you properly whilst I am dependent on you in my mind.  I need to feel free before I can love you and I need to be able to love myself first. I am in a state of chronic anxiety and I cannot love anyone until that passes.  And so, you see, I DO love you, but…I do not know… If I could lose connection with you for a while, I might be closer to you, if you see what I mean.  Anyway…well… It is not fair of you to keep asking me these difficult questions. 


We   Searched For You Agapi

It is the remembrance of the best things that sometimes make me feel nostalgic. Happy too, yes. Al­ways, but mostly in dreams.

Do you remember the little nest we lived in there on top of the rough cliff by the sea?  At night we lis­tened to the waves that were struggling to break the rocks at high tide.  We felt so secure then.  Some­times I stood up at midnight when you were awake too, and we made coffee.  Just coffee with cream and a spoon filled high with sugar. That was wonderful was it not?  During the cosy winters, it was only you and I.  In the early hours of morning, you went out in the fresh blue world and came back again with dry logs of wood for the fireplace. Just for the moment, as always, you would look up and smile at me.

On Sundays I made such nice thick tomato soup.  You loved it. The quiet tickle of laughter over the yellowwood table was a firm tie.  There in our playhouse kitchen.  In the summers, when it was sul­try, we climbed down the cliff as children do.  You always took your torch with you; do you remember?  What a devil you were when the crab catch started!  Many times we just walked to feel the temperate water flow over our sandy feet.  The light wind always blew my hair in circles to make it a crow’s nest. We also had to stand still and watch- in awe and wonder when the white foam wanted, just wanted to flash through the dark.  Do you still know that calmness? How beautiful the world was in winter!  If there is one thing that I, strangely enough, will remember and will want to keep, it will be the white and the melancholy of those days.  It was as if the universe wanted to cast back the white.  There from the top of the cliff, everything looked so far away, so very far.  The sea too.  However, it was near, very near beneath me.  I could touch nothing.  The haziness and the mist and the moan of the wind were always escaping.

And those days when you became mouldy together with the manuscripts in the attic? That voice was always chasing you, was it not?  I brought tart and coffee.  The coffee grew cold and you spoiled ink on the tart.  I had to escape to the sea.  At night I preferred walking on the beach.  Up there it was Agapi and the manuscripts and down below, my soul and me.  When we sang, we searched for you, Agapi.  The sadness inside grew higher as your bundle of manuscripts grew.  I was actually relieved when the weather grew bad and angry for then I had the chance to shout out above the wind and the thundering waves at the clouds, bidding them to stop all their fighting.  All along the shining black rock I ran and watched as the massive stone bunk became one with the night above.  My breath chased and my haste burned with the climb back along the cliff.

There at the top I was at least inside the mad merry-go-round.  My senses whisper that you and the house by the sea are only a dream.

Just a dream.  Are you?   I feel the page of the book soft between my thumb and my other finger.  I feel unbearable pain.  Without looking where I last read, I stand up to make the coffee.

Coloured ink drawing by Hermien Zwiers 1973

10 February 1973


The evening is clear.  All around me the warm yellow light soothes the inky blackness of the night.  I am on my rusty bicycle, moving through the old part of Amsterdam, dreaming my puzzling dreams.

I pass people and I smile at them.  I might not see them again. Then I stop and try to calm a crying little Dutch maid, someone I know. She cries and I caress her.  Then I leave her behind on a cosy corner of a street.  Am I not like her? I look behind me and the lonely look in her eyes disturbs me.

Wonderful old Amsterdam is so calm tonight.  I am mute; I have no words.  So like before a big storm.  At 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten I stop.  The light from the street lamps still plays on the water, on the rusty iron of my dated bicycle and on me.  I climb off my bicycle with neutral lifeless movements.  There are no more people around me.  The night seems to have become so silent as if it had become aware of me and was empathising with me.

Now I am walking across the bridge.  It seems strange that it is so quiet here on the bridge and how strange that it is dark here.  Nobody is rushing over the bridge as during the daytime or sauntering or running.  Nobody tonight, only the sharp sounds of a ghostlike figure’s feet can be heard.  Sharp sounds of restless feet.  Feet that belong to the restless mind of a glamorous young woman.  Then I bid the bridge farewell and my bicycle as well and left them behind in the dark.  I left them behind in the dark to go to a peaceful place, a glade in my mind.  Now my mind is calmer.  I have decided at last.  I enter 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten.  Then I ascend the first flight of steps and open the old wooden door.  It smells here.  it smells of rats and old food and death.  My footsteps sound hollow in the passage.  I open another door and then I walk to my dead mother’s bed.  Softly I pick up her lifeless hand.  Dearest mother.  At least we had each other.  Now I have only myself.  Wait for me. Then the door is closed by me again.

A little later I am in my draughty room.  The wind has returned to move away the calm of the night. I close the door there too.  I take the contents of a bottle and swallow it.  Hungrily, willingly, losing some of my dignity as water runs down my chin.  And wait for the storm to break with all its might.  It seems as if the thunder is louder in my ears.  In the cafeteria…laughter, life, love and atmosphere…

Warm, yellow light soothing the blackness of the dykes…

The black inky water…The bridge in the dark and on it the rusty dated bicycle.

How unfortunate the little Dutch girl was- she knew no way to return, to relieve her pain. …I leave eve­rything behind in the dark and go to the glade.

It is light.  It is day.

People pass an old bicycle on the bridge.  Children run over the bridge and laugh.  The wind plays with the leaves on the bridge, teases them.

In one of the rooms of 3999 Verhuizingen and Transporten, the warehouse an old grandfather clock is ticking the time away.

And outside the wind is teasing the leaves in the silence on the bridge.

Still-life painting from 1973 by Hermien Zwiers

 May 1974

I saw a film. Only god can inspire this much. I don’t forget the four days when he helped me. I don’t forget a single day of the past. I see now and know now where everything led to. I’m staying here in Europe because I’d choke if I ever went back to Africa  (before I became a person), I’ll drown in graves, from rain and rot from ants. I won’t be weak and minute like other people; lose my magnificence.  Oh, no, it’s not just imagination. Other big thinkers WERE born.  No apologies for blowing my own horn. I was alone until here but too weak. As of tomorrow, I’m starting to live. Even if it is just until the following inspiration. I’ll be a newborn and not a disgusting, hiding-away mouse.  God, please hold my hand as in the past.  I’ll bury my past and only open it for those whom I can help- not to look for sympathy- Oh how exhilarating the baring of the future is. Tonight, in my dreams, tomorrow, I’ll cement my dreams, fix my days solidly, bury them, black on white- until I may die.

Hermien near the dam my dad built, Grahamstown, South Africa

1 May 1974

“To bear with unbearable sorrow” Whittaker sings. I wish to be relieved of all this dreadful sadness.

The inability to create anything. Because I fear you and myself.  I am frightened of my hands and what they do to my face.  Also of my appearance- afraid of reality.  Fear is darkness. And I see a dark hole every moment. And yet I can hide at night. I then rest peacefully with no one watching; blanket comfortingly up to my chin. I have actually become a joke, to myself, through these years. It’s all so ridiculous what I am doing to myself.

I stand now, in front of god, and know not how to approach him.

First time with my Dutch family in Drenthe, Netherlands after flying overseas in April 1974

The above is continued from my blog “FROM AGE FIFTEEN…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. All written by me, some as school essays, others just from the heart in journaling at ages 15, 16 and 17, in my teenage years, and quite ‘dramatic’ as one can get in those years. The blog will be continued withThe 1970s, THE AMSTERDAM YEARS“. I will continue to change names to protect people in the stories. As I do not adhere to organised religion and am spiritual but not religious, I use the diminutive “god” rather than “God”.

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