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

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

Amanda Thomas


Take me, eternal night, into your arms,
And call me your son... for I am a king
Who abandoned, quite voluntarily,
My throne of restless dreams and weariness.
That sword, so heavy in my tired arms,
I passed on into stronger, calmer hands
And left my sceptre and my royal crown
Broken in pieces in the anteroom.
My chainmail coat, that useless, worthless thing,
My spurs, with their futile, clanging ring,
I left them outside on the cold stairway.
I stripped my monarchy, body and soul,
And returned to the night, so tranquil, old,
Like landscapes at the dying of the day.

Translated from the Portuguese by Amanda Thomas


Toma-me, ó noite eterna, nos teus braços
E chama-me teu filho... eu sou um rei
que voluntariamente abandonei
O meu trono de sonhos e cansaços.
Minha espada, pesada a braços lassos,
Em mão viris e calmas entreguei;
E meu cetro e coroa - eu os deixei
Na antecâmara, feitos em pedaços
Minha cota de malha, tão inútil,
Minhas esporas de um tinir tão fútil,
Deixei-as pela fria escadaria.
Despi a realeza, corpo e alma,
E regressei à noite antiga e calma
Como a paisagem ao morrer do dia.

Fernando Pessoa

Translation commentary

I chose this poem because of the striking imagery and strong emotions that Pessoa describes in his portrayal of the king abandoning his position, all contained in the concise form of a sonnet. I feel that the great linguistic control that the poet demonstrates, using simple syntax and word choice, makes it suited to translation as the ideas can be expressed with the same concentrated images of night and solitude. For example, the sunset of 'ao morrer do dia' can be replicated by 'the dying of the day' in English; the idiom has the same connotations of death or surrender in both languages.

I found that the images were relatively easy to recreate in English, but it was harder to get across the idea of movement as the king comes away from the chamber, out of the antechamber and down the stairs.

Pessoa uses the strict rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet, which is hard to achieve in English if one stays true to the literal meaning and images of the original. I decided to sacrifice rhyme for fidelity to Pessoa's words, and instead relied on assonance, especially in the sestet, to replicate the stylistic integrity of the poem. Pessoa's lines have a strong rhythmic regularity which I tried to echo using lines of pentameter, although this sometimes meant I had to think of different phrasing in order to have the right numbers of syllables in the lines, such as in line 6 when I chose to use comparatives ('stronger, calmer') rather than simple adjectives (viris e calmas).

Amanda Thomas