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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

14-and-under, commended

Read the judges’ comments
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Robert Longman

If My Voice Dies on Land
by Rafael Alberti

If my voice dies on land,
Take it down to the sea
And leave it on the shore.

Take it down to the sea
And make it captain
Of a white man-of-war.

Honour my voice
With a sailor’s standard:
Over its heart an anchor,
And on the anchor a star,
And on the star the wind,
And on the wind a sail.

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Longman

Si mi voz muriera en tierra)

Si mi voz muriera en tierra

llevadla al nivel del mar 

y dejadla en la ribera. 

Llevadla al nivel del mar 

y nombradla capitana 

de un blanco bajel de guerra. 

Oh mi voz condecorada 

con la insignia marinera: 

sobre el corazón un ancla 

y sobre el ancla una estrella 

y sobre la estrella el viento 

y sobre el viento una vela!

Rafael Alberti

Translation commentary

The first sentence and title were quite easy as they use basic words, although I made a classic mistake. I thought that si meant ‘yes’. I now know it can also be ‘if’. I struggled slightly with the next bit. I couldn’t find the definition of ribera (shore) and had to try two dictionaries before I found it. I also couldn’t get it to make sense for a bit and I muddled up the tenses and put it in the past. I had to change the whole poem when I realised.

The second verse I found really difficult. It took me a long time to translate the first two lines and then I didn’t understand the third one. I didn’t get what it meant when it said bajel de guerra (man-of-war). Even after I translated it I didn’t realise it meant the late-fifteenth-century war ship.

I found many different ways to translate the last paragraph so I had to choose the one that sounded right. There were many different ways to translate the words too. Once I got past that bit I found the last few lines easy because it was almost repeating itself.

Robert Longman