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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

14-and-under, 1st prize

Read the judges’ comments
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Johanna Reimann-Dubbers

The Cricket and the Ant
by Jean de la Fontaine

The cricket having sung her song
all summer long
found her provisions too few
when the icy winds blew.
Nowhere could she spy
a single morsel of worm or fly.

Her neighbour, the ant, might,
she thought, help her in her plight,
and so she begged her for a little grain,
promised to repay her when summer came again.

‘By next summer I’ll repay you both
interest and loan; animal’s oath.’

Now the ant may have a fault or two
But lending is not something she will do.
She asked what the cricket did all summer.

‘By day and night, to any comer
I sang whenever I had the chance.’
‘You sang, did you? That’s nice. Now dance.’

Translated from the French by Johanna Reimann-Dubbers

La Cigale et la Fourmi

La Cigale, ayant chanté
Tout l’été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue:
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la Fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle.
’Je vous paierai,’ lui dit-elle,
‘Avant l’Août, foi d’animal,
Intérêt et principal.’
La Fourmi n’est pas prêteuse:
C’est là son moindre défaut.
‘Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?’
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
‘– Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.’
‘– Vous chantiez? J’en suis fort aise.
Eh bien ! Dansez maintenant.’

Jean de la Fontaine

Translation commentary

This poem caught my eye when I first read it because it was an interesting and flowing poem. I was also very excited at the concept of translating it into English, as I love studying poems in depth. Although some of the words were hard to translate so that they would fit in with the poem, it was nice to set a challenge for myself. I enjoyed reading and thinking about this poem; it really did make me think and consider some things in life. It showed me that there is little more important in this world than sharing with others and helping those who are less fortunate than us.

The most difficult part of the translation was, I think, the ends of the lines that rhymed. As I translated from French into English, it became clear that I would not only have to find words that fitted the storyline of the poem, but also words that rhymed in the correct places.

The dialogue was also quite challenging in some parts, but once I had the basics of it sorted out, it flowed quite nicely. In conclusion, I really did love reading and translating this poem and it taught me a lot.

Johanna Reimann-Dubbers