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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2012
14-and-under, first prize

Read the judges’ comments
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Read the winning entries from previous years

David Meijer

The Lion Is Loose!

The lion is loose! The lion is loose!
He's strolling down the street.
He wants to go to London's woods,
and look for something to eat.
He growls and grumbles and grunts
at everyone that he confronts.

There he is on Wimbledon lawn,
there walks on Downing Street!
The bus has to stop and beeps its horn
like beepedybeepedybeep.
The whole lane comes to a halt…
and prepares for the lion's assault!

Now he's there in Bloomsbury!
The longer we're here the more afraid…
And everyone hides in his or her tree,
the carpenter and the kitchen maid.
Oh! shouts the picture framer,
where on earth is that lion tamer!

Oh look, there comes a boy,
what a brave young soul.
Do you think his mother knows,
that lion could swallow him whole?!
Who is that young boy then?
Oh my, that's little Ben…!

He takes a yarn ball from his bag,
and with an anxious shriek…
The lion's gone meek! The lion's gone meek!

The lion starts to purr!
He even strokes his fur
and returns him to the circus. Hurray!
And returns him to the circus. Hurrah!!!!

Translated from the Dutch by David Meijer

De leeuw is los!

De leeuw is los! De leeuw is los!
Hij wandelt al door de straten.
Hij wil naar 't Amsterdamse bos,
Dat heb ik wel in de gaten.
Hij bromt en hij briest en hij brult
en iedereen schrikt zich een bult.

Daar is ie al op de Postzegelmarkt,
daar loopt ie al over het Singel!
De tram blijft staan en klingelt hard
van klingeldeklingeldeklingel.
Het hele verkeer staat stil...
en de tramconducteur geeft een gil!

Nu is hij op de Overtoom!
We worden hoe langer hoe banger...
En iedereen klimt in z'n eigen boom,
de timmerman en de behanger.
O! Roept de pianostemmer,
waar blijft nou die leeuwentemmer!

O kijk, daar komt een jongetje aan,
o, zou z'n moeder dat weten?
Tjee, kijk dat jongetje daar eens staan!
Straks wordt ie opgevreten!
Wie is dat jongetje dan?
Werempel, het is onze Jan...!

Hij haalt een klontje uit z'n zak,
Wat gaat hij toch beginnen?
De leeuw wordt mak! De leeuw wordt mak!

De leeuw begint te spinnen!
Hij aait hem eens over zijn rug
en brengt hem naar 't circus terug. Hoi!
En brengt hem naar het circus terug. Hoera!!!!

Annie M.G. Schmidt
Reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Annie M.G. Schmidt and Querido Publishers

Translation commentary

I have chosen to translate this particular poem because Annie M.G. Schmidt's stories play a large role in the childhood of any Dutch boy. There are very few Dutch children who have never heard of 'Jip en Janneke' or 'Pluk van de Petteflat'. I myself was always read poems by her when I was young, and therefore thought it was most appropriate to use her as a representative for Dutch poetry here in England.

Because they are children's stories, the rhyming of the scentences plays an important part in the flow of the poem, so I simply couldn't afford not to have the poem rhyme in the translation. It is very difficult however to keep the balance between keeping the rhymes and keeping the storyline. Sometimes I resorted to changing the rhyme scheme to avoid such problems, sometimes I had to change the original meaning of the words. It was simply a question of trial and error, to make sure I kept the right balance.

One other thing I translated was the place the poem was set in. The place names featured in the original are well known throughout the Netherlands but are virtually unheard of in England. I therefore replaced the place names in Amsterdam with place names in London to make the poem more relatable.

David Meijer