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The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2012


Read the judges’ reports

Huw Davies


Woman in the white transparent outfit,
Standing on the corner in high-heels,
Why've you put your body on the market,
Far removed from toil and grand ideals?

Done up like a doll in all your nightwear,
On your nails a gleaming layer of red,
Maybe someone hurt you badly somewhere,
Maybe it was something someone said?

Why was it you turned to prostitution?
Why not give geology a try?
Bus driving's a worthy institution;
I can see you taking to the sky.

So many careers and trades to learn now,
Go ahead and choose one, start today!
It was a mistake, this road you turned down,
Stop and think a moment, look this way!

See the farmer's tractor ploughing gaily?
See the smoke churned out from factory fires?
Life here's getting better almost daily,
On the country goes, it never tires.

On your cheeks are tell-tale crimson flushes,
I don't think the good life gave you those.
Here's a foreign punter – up he rushes,
Maybe he's a spy, as well – who knows?

He won't judge your character on merit,
Won't care to what heights your soul could soar.
You'll submit to him, his cash inherit,
Love won't come a-calling, that's for sure.

Paying up for love's no way to get it,
Lovers don't let cash get in the frame;
Those who may from time to time forget it
Only have themselves to curse and blame.

Woman in the white transparent outfit,
Standing on the corner in high-heels,
Time to take your body off the market,
Far removed from toil and grand ideals!

Translated from the Russian by Huw Davies


Женщина в прозрачном платье белом,
В туфлях на высоком каблуке,
Ты зачем своим торгуешь телом
От большого дела вдалеке?
Ты стоишь, как кукла разодета,
На ногтях сверкает яркий лак,
Может, кто тебя обидел где-то?
Может, кто сказал чего не так?
Почему пошла ты в проститутки?
Ведь могла геологом ты стать,
Или быть водителем маршрутки,
Или в небе соколом летать.
В этой жизни есть профессий много, В
ыбирай любую, не ленись.
Ты пошла неверною дорогой,
Погоди, подумай, оглянись!
Видишь – в поле трактор что-то пашет?
Видишь – из завода пар идет?
День за днем страна живет все краше,
Неустанно двигаясь вперед.
На щеках твоих горит румянец,
Но не от хорошей жизни он.
Вот к тебе подходит иностранец,
Кто их знает, может, и шпион.
Он тебя как личность не оценит,
Что ему души твоей полет,
Ты ему отдашься из-за денег,
А любовь тебя не позовет.
Нет, любовь продажной не бывает!
О деньгах не думают, любя,
Если кто об этом забывает,
Пусть потом пеняет на себя.
Женщина в прозрачном платье белом,
В туфлях на высоком каблуке,
Не торгуй своим ты больше телом
От большого дела вдалеке!

Igor Irteniev
Reproduced by kind permission of Igor Irteniev

Translator's commentary

I had asked a Russian friend of mine to send me some of his favourite poems, and this one by Igor Irteniev caught my eye. On a first reading I found it striking and quite amusing, but I did not fully appreciate all the irony in the poem; it was only when I learned a bit more about Irteniev's poetry that I was able to do so. I decided to translate it and try to convey the humour and irony which deliberately undermine what is, on the face of it, a moralistic appeal to a prostitute to see the error of her ways and choose a more productive career path.

Dramatic differences between the number of syllables in a line of Russian verse and the direct English translation of that line can sometimes lead to problems. The line 'В туфлях на высоком каблуке' (nine syllables) can be rendered into English in just three syllables: 'In high-heels', but I felt that 'Standing on the corner…' was a fairly effective way to use the remaining six syllables, and would not cause too much controversy! 'Летать соколом' was a phrase I had not come across before, but one or two Russian friends explained it to me and I decided that the main idea here was that even the sky could offer an alternative career path (as a pilot or perhaps an air hostess).

I decided to preserve the rhyme and metre of the original, because I feel that both these features add to the comic effect of the poem: it is amusing to see 'проститутка' being paired with 'маршрутка', for example. The strict metre helps to convey the pomposity and self-importance of Irteniev's narrative persona, as he chides the prostitute condescendingly.

Huw Davies