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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2011

18-and-under, commended

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Iman Ahmedani

From the Child to His Foot

The child’s foot does not yet know that it’s a foot,
And would like to be a butterfly or an apple.

But soon the shards of glass and the stones,
The streets and the stairs,
And the tracks of hard earth
End up teaching the foot that it can’t fly,
And that it can’t be a round piece of fruit on a branch.
Then the child’s foot
Is defeated,
Falls in battle,
And is captured,
Condemned to live in a shoe.

Little by little in the darkness
It grows to know the world in its own way,
Without knowing the other foot, shut away,
Exploring life like a blind man.

Those smooth crystal clustered nails
Change into an impenetrable substance, hard horn,
And the child’s tiny petals sprawl, are disturbed,
Take the shape of unseeing reptiles,
Triangular worm-heads.
And soon they become calloused,
Covering themselves with tiny volcanoes of death,
Distasteful hardenings.

But this blind man walked
Without stopping
Hour after hour,
One foot after another,
Now as a man
Now as a woman,
Through fields, mines,
Grocery shops and ministries,
Outside, inside,
This foot works with his shoe,
It hardly has time
To be naked in love or slumber,
He walks, they walk
Until the entire man halts.

And then he collapses to the earth
and doesn’t know anything,
Because here absolutely everything is dark
He doesn’t know that he has stopped being a foot,
Or if they are burying him so he can fly
Or so that he can become
An Apple.

Translated from the Spanish by Iman Ahmedani

Al pie desde su niño

El pie del niño aún no sabe que es pie,
y quiere ser mariposa o manzana.

Pero luego los vidrios y las piedras,

las calles, las escaleras,

y los caminos de la tierra dura

van enseñando al pie que no puede volar,

que no puede ser fruto redondo en una rama.

El pie del niño entonces

fue derrotado, cayó

en la batalla,

fue prisionero,

condenado a vivir en un zapato.

Poco a poco sin luz

fue conociendo el mundo a su manera,

sin conocer el otro pie, encerrado,

explorando la vida como un ciego.

Aquellas suaves uñas

de cuarzo, de racimo,

se endurecieron, se mudaron

en opaca substancia, en cuerno duro,

y los pequeños pétalos del niño

se aplastaron, se desequilibraron,

tomaron formas de reptil sin ojos,

cabezas triangulares de gusano.

Y luego encallecieron,

se cubrieron

con mínimos volcanes de la muerte,

inaceptables endurecimientos.

Pero este ciego anduvo

sin tregua, sin parar

hora tras hora,

el pie y el otro pie,

ahora de hombre

o de mujer,



por los campos, las minas,

los almacenes y los ministerios,


afuera, adentro,


este pie trabajó con su zapato,

apenas tuvo tiempo

de estar desnudo en el amor o el sueño,

caminó, caminaron

hasta que el hombre entero se detuvo.

Y entonces a la tierra

bajó y no supo nada,

porque allí todo y todo estaba oscuro,

no supo que había dejado de ser pie,

si lo enterraban para que volara

o para que pudiera

ser manzana.

Pablo Neruda

Translation commentary

I chose this particular poem because it perfectly captures the innocence and naïveté of a child, yet unusually, from the viewpoint of his foot. The poem encapsulates how even though the child grows up, at least one part of him never does and in fact has a mind and identity of its own. The description of the toes is extremely vivid, and the personification ends up being a very effective tool. The first line is funny and refreshing and what originally drew me in.

The difficulty I encountered translating from Spanish to English was mainly the sounds of the poem. For example, many words and phrases in Spanish can automatically sound more poetic and rhyme as they often end in ‘o’ or ‘a’, and verbs often have similar endings, eg the infinitives have to end in ‘r’ and the gerunds have an ‘nd’ sound somewhere in them. As this does not occur in English, it is always tricky to maintain as fluid a sound when translating.

My main problems when translating this particular poem was that it was hard to keep up the alliteration, eg the line with ‘atras’, ‘afuera’, ‘adentro’ and ‘adelante’. It was also tricky translating the ‘ir + gerund’ phrases, eg ‘van ensenando’ – I settled for ‘ends up teaching’ in this case. I decided to give the foot a gender as it has a viewpoint, so is almost a living being and also the title implies that the foot owns the child (‘SU nino’) rather than the other way around. I went with male because of the word ‘ciego’ – blind man.

The poem does not have a regular rhyme scheme or precise stanzaic structure to preserve and it was therefore straightforward in this respect. With regards to the line breaks, I tried to preserve rough amounts of syllables in corresponding lines, especially with the one-word lines in the fifth stanza. However, I adjusted some line breaks when it felt logical.

I decided to change the tenses in the poem when translating so that it was all in the present tense, which reflects the eternal naïveté of the foot. If translated into the past tense, it sounds quite abrupt, like a list of events and not a poem.

Iman Ahmedani