It is of course complete coincidence, but a very satisfying one, that our winning poems in both categories offer versions — immeasurably different — of the Orpheus and Eurydice story. This is surely the most heartbreaking of Classical stories; James Potts's rendering of Virgil has all the original's dignity and pathos and startling transitions between the worlds of death and life, and retains something of its oddness, its 'otherness', too. (My fellow-judges, better qualified than I on this point, all remark on the generally high quality of Classical translation this year; but Potts's Virgil stood out clearly for all of us.) As I write this the identity of the he or she who has so convincingly translated Rilke's 'Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes' remains unknown, and his or her moving rendition of this much-translated poem wreathed in tantalising mystery. Is this, for example, the fruit of many years' patient application to Rilke, or an inspired first shot? The translator's commentary starts 'I think I like this the best of Rilke's poems', and I think I agree, amazing as so many of those poems are. Either way, this version seems, again, tremendously responsive to the absolutely unsentimental yet heartbreaking feel of the original, the figures utterly human ('She who was so much loved') and forever transcending the human, the manner grave, unfussy, timeless, full of touches that are preferable, to my ear, to J B Leishman, from whose version many will already know this beautiful work.
In both categories this year the translations ranged from the slavishly literal to the slightly unhinged — Horace redone as by Noel Coward sticks in the memory. A rash of Verlaine translations initially impressed but on closer inspection my feeling was that he remains — pace my fellow judge Danny Weissbort — secure in his untranslatableness. There was a special pleasure for me in the judges' unanimous appreciation of the 'The Schoolhouse', a sonnet from the Welsh — since it came from what is, however distantly in time, the land of my fathers too. It is lovely, unassuming, saving its mighty charge of unspoken grief for the final couplet. I hope its placing here encourages more translation from modern Welsh. I was knocked out by the play of reiteration and variation in Alistair Gale's 'Poem XX' from Pablo Neruda, a poet who has never hitherto had any appeal for me. And I was only sorry that I couldn't convince anyone that Okumora Yoshihiro's rendering of Tanigawa's 'Morning Relay' was more than charmingly quirky — it's an unforgettable little poem in English, whatever else it is or is not in the original Japanese.
It was indeed heartening that removing last year's upper age-limit brought a hugely increased volume of entries, and that we were reading the work of translators in their teens and their nineties. Principles? Rather, as last year, some rules of thumb: that total fidelity to both sense and shape is an impossible (and maybe undesirable) ideal, but a degree of fidelity isn't. That there is a thin line between inventiveness and travesty (and some of our translators walked it rather unsteadily). The competition would now seem to have established itself in the literary calendar. Long may it continue to encourage young and old alike to try their hands.