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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2011

18-and-under, joint second prize

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Phoebe Power

Blood Orange

The zip slid down the small of your back
and all the happy storm of your passionate body
submerged in darkness
burst suddenly
And your dress dropping on to the polished parquet
made no more sound
than an orange peel dropping on carpet
But under our feet
its little pearl buttons crackled like pips
Blood orange
lovely fruit
the tip of your breast
has traced a new line of fortune
in the palm of my hand
Blood orange
lovely fruit

Sun in the night.

Translated from the French by Phoebe Power


La fermeture éclair a glissé sur tes reins
et tout l’orage heureux de ton corps amoureux
au beau milieu de l’ombre
a éclaté soudain
Et ta robe en tombant sur le parquet ciré
n’a pas fait plus de bruit
qu’une écorce d’orange tombant sur un tapis
Mais sous nos pieds
ses petits boutons de nacre craquaient comme des pépins
joli fruit
la pointe de ton sein
a tracé une nouvelle ligne de chance
dans le creux de ma main
joli fruit

Soleil de nuit.

Jacques Prévert

Translation commentary

I chose to translate this poem because I love the way that it sketches a scene of intense sensuality with such economy of language. The poem’s impact is due to the precision of Prévert’s verb choices, which act like highly-charged flickers of energy in this moment of passion captured by the poet. I was interested to see whether words of the same precision, if chosen carefully enough, could be found in English to recreate this impact.

My initial problem was the title. It was difficult to convey the connotations of ‘Sanguine’, which in French hints at a fiery personality, blood, and a flushed face, all of which add more substance to the image of the passionate woman of the poem. I decided eventually, however, to translate the title literally as ‘Blood Orange’ to maintain the clarity of the fruit metaphor, while exploiting the sense of violence implied in ‘blood’ to reverberate later with ‘burst’ and ‘crackle’. Some concise French words such as ‘reins’ were also difficult to translate in brief, thus requiring special attention to metre in the English.

Prévert uses loose rhymes and assonance (eg ‘heureux’, ‘amoureux’, ‘bruit’, ‘tapis’) to convey the waves of movement in the poem. Rather than altering the meaning of words to make them rhyme, I instead tried to suggest movement using consonance; for example, the repetition of d’s and p’s in ‘your dress dropping on to the polished parquet’ to convey the languid softness of the dress drifting to the floor. Finding the best translation of certain verbs could also be challenging, in order to recreate the exact physical sense of pearl buttons being stepped on, for example. Overall, my aim was to imitate the charged focus of Prévert’s language in English as well as possible.

Phoebe Power