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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2012
14-and-under, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Emelia Lavender

If it rained tears


If it rained tears
Whenever love is lost,
If it rained tears
Whenever hearts grow heavy,

Throughout the whole world
For forty days
Bitter tears would engulf
Man's Triumph and Victory.

If it rained tears
Whenever a child dies,
If it rained tears
Whenever evil laughs,

Throughout the whole world
In grey streams of ice
Bitter tears would swirl
With anger at the past.

If it rained tears
When a pure heart is struck,
If it rained tears
When we're crushed by heavy walls,

Throughout the whole world
The flood would come,
Bitter tears spilled
Of culprit and judge.

If it rained tears
Whenever death,
Brandishing her arms,
Destroys our fleeting scenery,

Throughout the whole world
Nothing would remain
But bitter tears
Of Grief and Fate.

Translated from the French by Emelia Lavender
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S'il pleuvait des larmes


S'il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un amour
S'il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque les cœurs sont lourds

Sur la terre entière
Pendant quarante jours
Des larmes amères
Engloutiraient les tours

S'il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un enfant
S'il pleuvait des larmes
Au rire des méchants

Sur la terre entière
En flots gris et glacés
Des larmes amères
Rouleraient le passé

S'il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on tue les cœurs purs
S'il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on crève sous les murs

Sur la terre entière
Il y aurait le déluge
Des larmes amères
Des coupables et des juges

S'il pleuvait des larmes
Chaque fois que la mort
Brandissant ses armes
Fait sauter les décors

Sur la terre entière
Il n'y aurait plus rien
Que les larmes amères
Des deuils et du destin.

Boris Vian
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Translation commentary


The translation of this incredibly powerful, concise, poem was surprisingly challenging. In the French, the short rhyming lines seem to flow effortlessly, but translating them proved to be slightly less than effortless! The very sounds of the French language make French poetry beautiful, and the germanic harshness of the English language creates a subtly different atmosphere, however carefully chosen the words are. This – along with the never-ending search for concise, appropriate, idioms – made reproducing the overall tone of the original poem very challenging. I have tried to remain as faithful as possible to the original poem, but where simple translation has failed to convey the poem's true meaning, I have given a looser interpretation of the text.

My first draft followed the original's rhyme and verse, but I found the result unnaturally rigid. I decided to discard the rhyme scheme and allow more flexibility in rhythm and verse, which produced a much more natural text. I very much enjoyed grappling with both the French and the English language to get to the very bottom of Vian's text – when exploring both languages to find the depth of meaning required to convey the ideas in Vian's poem, the subtle differences in nuance between the French and English were very interesting, and I found the experience not unlike kneading bread dough – language is malleable, but demands respect and hard work. Thus, I hope to have been successful in faithfully conveying the depth of meaning at the heart of Boris Vian's S'il pleuvait des larmes, while doing justice to both the French and English languages.

Emelia Lavender