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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, commended

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Nadan Hadzic

‘Sarajevo’s Prayer’ from About the Spirits
by Abdulah Sidran

I’m begging you, great Lord,
Free the world of the Beasts!
Let there remain everything from the kingdom of cats,
My poverty can stay,
But – remove the Beasts.

Don’t harm the dogs,
Don’t touch the birds,
I’m only begging you, merciful Lord –
Remove the Beasts.

Remove the Beasts from the hills, move them.
Remove the Beasts, I’m on my knees, Lord –
But don’t touch the pig or the wild boar, don’t touch
The nightingale, nor the singing bird.

Don’t touch anything that’s nice to look at!
Don’t touch anything. But still remove the Beasts.

Don’t touch the ants, or the cattle,
But the Beasts – remove them.
Remove them from where You placed them.
From the hills above the cities, remove them.
From where You placed them in the world, remove them.

Remove them, Lord,
And help them, Lord.
They can’t be helped without You.

They have neither dwellings nor whereabouts,
On both worlds – neither house nor home.

Remove them, Lord,
From both worlds.

Remove them,
And help.

Translated from the Bosnian by Nadan Hadzic

Sarajevska Molitva

Kumim te Bogom, veliki Bože,
skloni sa svijeta Životinje!
Neka preostane sve od mačijeg roda,
moje sirotinjstvo neka preostane,
ali – skloni Životinje.

U pseći rod ne diraj,
ne dotiči tice,
samo te molim, milosni Bože –
skloni Životinje.

Skloni Životinje, sa obronaka, skloni.
Skloni Životinje, preklinjem te, Bože –
ali mi ne diraj svinju ni vepra, ne diraj
slavuja, ni kućnog šarenog pjevača.

Ne diraj ništa u šta je lijepo pogledati!
Ne diraj ništa. Ali Životinje svakako skloni.

Mrava ne diraj, i marvu zanemari,
ali Životinje – skloni.
Gdje si ih metno, otuda ih skloni.
Sa obronaka, poviše gradova, skloni.
Sa svijeta, gdje si ih metnuo, skloni.

Skloni ih, Bože,
i pomozi im, Bože.
Niko im, bez Tebe, pomoći ne može.

Nema im nigdje stana ni staništa,
na oba svijeta – kuće ni kućišta.

Skloni ih, Bože,
sa oba svijeta.

i pomozi.

Abdulah Sidran

Translation commentary

I chose this poem for two particular reasons: I felt extremely moved when I first read the poem and I also recognised its originality and potential interest to a wider audience. However, I was uncertain whether its message could be captured and translated well. That was my real challenge.

Before reading, it is important to be aware of the historical context of the poem. Written in June 1992, it coincides with the beginning of the four-year siege of Sarajevo, during which thousands of civilians of the city, including children, were killed or injured by snipers and shells from the surrounding hills. Survivors of the siege are amongst those agreeing that the poem was an authentic account of the feelings of Sarajevans. Bearing this in mind, I regarded the poem as definitely being one worthy of translation.

As for the translation itself, I faced some linguistic issues. Firstly, the poet labels the snipers on the hills ‘animals’, but I opted for ‘beasts’. This is because animals are referred to, more often than not, in a positive manner, while the word beasts has more negative, aggressive connotations. Similarly, I was unsure which word would be more effective: ‘remove’ or ‘move’. I felt that the former was more powerful, and more in line with the poem’s rhythm, as the Bosnian word used has the same number of syllables. Rhythm was an important consideration, and I sought to maintain a similar flow to the original by trying to emulate the number of syllables per line. Lastly, the poet asks the ‘Lord’ for help. I decided on this word as the poet did not want the poem to be linked directly with any specific religion, but rather with spiritual support in its broadest sense.

Nadan Hadzic