• Subscribe to our e-letters

  • Facebook_icon

The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, first prize

Read the judges’ comments
To obtain the free booklet of winning entries and commentaries,
please email:

Patrick Heaton

Penelope to Odysseus
Heroides 1 (lines 1–50)

Another page of paper wasted on you, slow Odysseus,
Not a word I’ve heard: Come home!
You’ve certainly razed Troy, the enemy of so many girls.
But Priam and Troy were never even of any concern to me!
If only when that philanderer went sailing to Sparta,
Mad waves had covered him!
Then I wouldn’t have stayed in this frigid bed,
Then I wouldn’t have had reason to complain about the sluggish days,
Then I wouldn’t have had to waste what little energy remained on brushing away cobwebs,
While I whiled away the dark hours.

Always fearful of the worst, I was.

Love was the cause of this fear, invading my mind,
Whilst the shadows of violent Trojans surround your memory,
And Hector chases the colour from my cheeks.
If someone unwittingly told me of the death of Antilochus,
I grew faint with this new worry;
Or if Patroclus fell in selfish armour,
I prayed that lightning never struck twice.
When Tlepolemus warmed Sarpedon’s blooded spear,
My pacing resumed.
You get the picture, whenever news of a death filtered through,
My heart skipped a beat.

Thank the god who values such pure love as ours!

Troy is dust, and the victor lives.
All the others have returned:
The sweet smell of sacrifices fills the air:
Exotic booty is offered to the gods of our lands:
Wives add to the piles in thanks for their safe husbands:
Victory songs fill the air:
All, young to old, male and female, are amazed:
A wife hangs on the narration of her husband.

Some ex-soldier uses utensils to describe the battle around a table,
Where Troy is demoted to a puddle of wine.

‘Imagine that this fork is the Simois, that plate is Sigean land.
Priam dwelled in the lofty candle.
Achilles made this napkin his home, Odysseus that one.
Hector, a dishevelled salt cellar, put the fear of the gods into the oncoming peppercorns.’

Aged Nestor spun the tale to your son, whom I sent to seek you,
And he told me of Rhesus and Dolon’s bitter end,
How sleep betrayed the former, and trickery the latter.
You – reckless oaf, brushing your family ties to one side! –
Dared to attack the Thracian camp under night’s disguise
And killed many men, with the help of only one!
My bosom quivered endlessly with fear, until you were named, victorious
And rode through the friendly ranks on fine horses.

Thank the gods my memory kept you measured in your victory!

But these things are all useless!
I don’t care that Troy has been destroyed, even if it were by your hand,
Because I am still waiting as I always have been,
Filled by an empty chasm where you should be.

Translated from the Latin by Patrick Heaton

Penelope Ulixi
Heroides 1 (lines 1–50)

haec tua Penelope lento tibi mittit, Ulixe;
nil mihi rescribas attinet: ipse veni!
Troia iacet certe, Danais invisa puellis;
vix Priamus tanti totaque Troia fuit.
o utinam tum, cum Lacedaemona classe petebat,
obrutus insanis esset adulter aquis!
non ego deserto iacuissem frigida lecto,
nec quererer tardos ire relicta dies;
nec mihi quaerenti spatiosam fallere noctem
lassaret viduas pendula tela manus.
quando ego non timui graviora pericula veris?
res est solliciti plena timoris amor.
in te fingebam violentos Troas ituros;
nomine in Hectoreo pallida semper eram.
sive quis Antilochum narrabat ab hoste revictum,
Antilochus nostri causa timoris erat;
sive Menoetiaden falsis cecidisse sub armis,
flebam successu posse carere dolos.
sanguine Tlepolemus Lyciam tepefecerat hastam;
Tlepolemi leto cura novata mea est.
denique, quisquis erat castris iugulatus Achivis,
frigidus glacie pectus amantis erat.
sed bene consuluit casto deus aequus amori.
versa est in cineres sospite Troia viro.
Argolici rediere duces, altaria fumant;
ponitur ad patrios barbara praeda deos.
grata ferunt nymphae pro salvis dona maritis;
illi victa suis Troica fata canunt.
mirantur iustique senes trepideaque puellae;
narrantis coniunx pendet ab ore viri.
atque aliquis posita monstrat fera proelia mensa,
pingit et exiguo Pergama tota mero:
‘‘hac ibat Simois; haec est Sigeia tellus;
hic steterat Priami regia celsa senis.
illic Aeacides, illic tendebat Ulixes;
hic lacer admissos terruit Hector equos.’’
omnia namque tuo senior te quaerere misso
rettulerat nato Nestor, at ille mihi.
rettulit et ferro Rhesumque Dolonaque caesos,
utque sit hic somno proditus, ille dolo.
ausus es – o nimium nimiumque oblite tuorum! –
Thracia nocturno tangere castra dolo
totque simul mactare viros, adiutus ab uno!
at bene cautus eras et memor ante mei!
usque metu micuere sinus, dum victor amicum
dictus es Ismariis isse per agmen equis.
sed mihi quid prodest vestries disiecta lacertis
Ilios et, muros quod fuit, esse solum,
si maneo, qualis Troia durante manebam,
virque mihi dempto fine carendus abest?


Translation commentary

I decided to translate one of Ovid’s Heroides for several reasons. For English Literature GCSE I had to read some poems by Carol Ann Duffy, many of which came from her book The World’s Wife. The poems from this book take their lead from Ovid’s Heroides, in that they talk of a tale, often a mythical one, from the point of view of the woman in the story. I wanted to translate one of the Heroides to see the similarities and differences between the approach of Duffy and Ovid. I therefore decided to translate Heroides 1 because Duffy had written a poem called ‘Penelope’ in the same vein. I chose to break the structure of my translation up by leaving several lines separate from the rest of the text. I did this as I feel these phrases need to be emphasised and stood well as separate sentences.

I use colloquial language in my translation in parts. An example of this is during the speech in lines 33–36. I wanted to vary the language used in the translation and felt that this was an effective place to do it.

Penelope is often thought of as the perfect wife. She waited 20 years for her husband to return from Troy, and stayed faithful the whole time, refusing to remarry. Although she is thought of as being a patient individual, I wanted to translate this poem in a way that portrayed her as both patient and faithful but also annoyed, worried and tired. I translated the opening in a way that suggests that Penelope is fed up of waiting, translating missit as ‘wasted’, implying her frustration. I varied this style of translation from line 12. Here I wanted to suggest Penelope’s fear, and so stuck close to the structure of the Latin, which I thought was particularly evocative of her distress by the use of parallel structure. From line 25 I use short clauses to suggest Penelope’s longing for her husband to return – she is saying how all the other couples and women are reacting, but she has nothing to be thankful for. At the end I return to the feeling of the beginning of my translation, one of disappointment and anger.

Patrick Heaton