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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, commended

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Saskia Volhard Dearman

Ode to Coastal Flowers
by Pablo Neruda

The flowers of the Isla Negra
have opened,
nameless and wild.
seem to blossom from the sand,
ignite the soil
with a citric spark.

I am nature’s poet.
Living like a hunter
next to the sea,
nightly I make fires.

Only that flower,
only these solitary shores,
and you, blissful and untainted.
The land’s own flower.

asked me if, impassioned, I would fight.
My struggling heart,
lifted by its expectations,
broke free:
I am a brother of man, of all.
My two hands are called
Duty and Love.

at cliff-top flowers
nestled between stones
that will wait through
winter and their oblivion
so that they may again
raise a tiny beam of light and
cast out tendrils of their scent.

Once more,
I take my leave
and journey away from
the fire,
the kindling,
the wood,
the sand.
It hurts me to take a step,
I would remain
not in the city’s meandering paths,
but here.
For I am nature’s poet.

But Duty and Love are my two hands.

Translated from the Spanish by Saskia Volhard Dearman

Oda a las flores de la costa

Han abierto las flores
silvestres de Isla Negra,
no tienen nombre, algunas
paracen azahares de la arena,
en el suelo un relámpago amarillo.

Soy pastoral poeta.
Me alimento
como los cazadores,
hago fuego
junto al mar, en la noche.

Sólo esta flor, sólo estas
soledades marinas
y tú, alegre,
y simple como rosa de la tierra.

La vida
me pidió que combatiera
y organicé mi corazón luchando
y levantando la esperanza:
del hombre soy, de todos.
Deber y amor se llaman
mis dos manos.

entre las piedras
de la costa
las flores que esperaron
a través del olvido
y del invierno
para elevar un rayo diminuto
de luz y de fragrancia,
al despedirme
una vez más
del fuego,
de la leña,
del bosque,
de la arena,
me duele dar un paso,
me quedaría,
no en las calles.
Soy pastoral poeta,

Pero deber y amor son mis dos manos.

Pablo Neruda

Translation commentary

The first time I read this poem, I loved it – for its simplicity and beauty, for its wonderful imagery, and for the vivid pictures it conjures up. As with many of his other odes to nature, Neruda uses simple language to represent simple ideas, yet does so in a way that still seems hauntingly beautiful. Furthermore, this is a love poem, but subtly so – the woman Neruda loves is only mentioned fleetingly, as ‘tú’ (line 15).

One of the things I love in the Spanish is the simple language, which balances the more complex structure, with its numerous clauses. English does not have the grammatical flexibility that allows for such convoluted sentences so instead I achieved the contrast between the simple and complex form and language by using more ornate expressions than can be found in the more concise language of the original.

I found the hardest part to translate was the end of the first stanza. ‘Relámpago amarillo’ (line 7) literally translates as ‘yellow lightening-bolt’, but I felt ‘lightening-bolt’ was too laboured, especially due to the somewhat onomatopoeic hard stress of the ‘a’ in Spanish, which emphasises the idea of a flash. I thought that ‘citric spark’ was perhaps the best phrase to echo this striking sound.

There is no formal rhyme scheme and no strict line structure in this poem, something I feel reflects the freedom of the nature it portrays. I decided to translate it following this pattern, in addition to using enjambment and lines of uneven lengths to mirror this lack of restraint.

Saskia Volhard Dearman