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

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

James Martin


The darkening road of the seaside garden,
Lanterns fresh and yellow.
I am calm. Only I would prefer
not to talk about him.

You are kind and true,
We shall be friends…
We shall stroll, and kiss, grow old…

And the months, as snowy stars,
Gentle and light,
Shall hasten above us,
Iridescent in flight.

Translated from the Russian by James Martin

Чернеет дорога приморского сада,
Желты и свежи фонари.
Я очень спокойная. Только не надо
Со мною о нем говорить.
Ты милый и верный, мы будем друзьями...
Гулять, целоваться, стареть...
И легкие месяцы будут над нами,
Как снежные звезды, лететь.

Anna Akhmatova

Translation commentary

I chose this poem of Akhmatova's because I found it incredibly moving. I was amazed by how, with such brevity, she conveyed so much depth and emotion: the possibility of two lives spent together, while one suffers from the memory of a past, painful love.

Structurally, the Russian original is quite simple; however, I realised that in order to keep the profound meaning and simplicity of Akhmatova's lines in translation, I needed to do away with both the regular metre and rhyme scheme.

When translating the sentence 'Только не надо/ Со мною о нем говорить', I tried to retain both the intimacy (which I felt may have been lost if translated literally) and the essential meaning of the sentence.

I wished to develop the last two lines a little in my translation to try and capture not only the development of Akhmatova's poetic imagery, but also to preserve the emotional impact due to its poignancy – much of which, I believe, comes from the final rhyme. In translating the last two lines in such a way, I tried to preserve this rhyme and also develop Akhmatova's ideas while staying true to the spirit of the poem by retaining her control of language. The idea of 'iridescence' is a personal addition: I chose this as it is not only reminiscent of the snowy stars, but also perhaps of the 'lanterns fresh and yellow' from earlier in the poem.

I also divided the poem (and some of the lines) up at what I saw to be its logical and emotional turning points, to keep some of the poignancy from being lost in translation through lack of emphasis. I felt the division in the English might convey some of the emotional impact that the regular rhyme and metre does in the Russian.

James Martin