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

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Ryan Frost


If I could live my life anew,
In the next I would try to make more mistakes,
I would not try to be so perfect, I would try to relax more.
I would be more foolish than I have been,
In fact I would take very few things seriously.
I would be less fastidious,
Run more risks,
Make more journeys,
Contemplate more night skies,
I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers.
I would go to places I've never been,
Eat more ice cream and fewer beans,
I would have more real problems and fewer imagined.

I was one of those people who lived sensibly
And productively for every minute of his life;
Sure, I had moments of happiness.
But if I could go back again I would try
To live only the good times.

For if you don't know it, life is made,
Only from moments; don't lose today.

I used to be one of those who never
Went anywhere at all without a thermometer,
A hot water bottle,
An umbrella and a parachute;
If I could go back to living, I'd travel more lightly.

If I could go back to living,
I would start to walk barefoot
From the first day of spring
And remain barefoot till the last day of autumn.
I would take more carousel rides,
Contemplate more dawns,
And I would play more with children,
If I had another life ahead of me.

But as you can see, I am 85 years old,
And I know that I am dying.

Translated from the Spanish by Ryan Frost


Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida,
En la próxima trataría de cometer más errores.
No intentaría ser tan perfecto, me relajaría más.
Sería más tonto de lo que he sido,
de hecho tomaría muy pocas cosas con seriedad.
Sería menos higiénico.
Correría más riesgos,
haría más viajes,
contemplaría más atardeceres,
subiría más montañas, nadaría más ríos.
Iría a más lugares adonde nunca he ido,
comería más helados y menos habas,
tendría más problemas reales y menos imaginarios.

Yo fui una de esas personas que vivió sensata
y prolíficamente cada minuto de su vida;
claro que tuve momentos de alegría.
Pero si pudiera volver atrás trataría
de tener solamente buenos momentos.

Por si no lo saben, de eso está hecha la vida,
sólo de momentos; no te pierdas el ahora.

Yo era uno de esos que nunca
iban a ninguna parte sin termómetro,
una bolsa de agua caliente,
un paraguas y un paracaídas;
Si pudiera volver a vivir, viajaría más liviano.

Si pudiera volver a vivir
comenzaría a andar descalzo a principios
de la primavera
y seguiría así hasta concluir el otoño.
Daría más vueltas en calesita,
contemplaría más amaneceres,
y jugaría con más niños,
si tuviera otra vez la vida por delante.

Pero ya ven, tengo 85 años...
    y s é que me estoy muriendo.

Attributed to Jorge Luis Borges
(the real author may be Don Herold or Nadine Stair)

Translation commentary

I initially decided to translate this poem, known as 'Instantes' in Spanish, because of its universal and engaging subject matter. Its message of enjoying life and living in the moment resonated with me and I believe it should especially be shared now, in a 21st century full of pressures related to education and work. Learning that this poem is in fact wrongly attributed to the poet Jorge Luis Borges and was in fact originally created in English by either Don Herold or Nadine Stair intrigued me further. This poem has been interpreted so many times, but the prosaic English versions lacked the gentle rhythm of the Spanish apocrypha that, for me, represent the inevitable passing of time. I wanted to preserve this poetic form as much as possible – the lack of a strict rhyme scheme or metre had a liberating effect on the translation.

A small issue arose in the two smallest stanzas. The use of the third person plural in Spanish can also be used as a polite form of 'you' plural, so I had to make sure of preserving this direct address to the audience to create an intimate and personal tone. The aspect that proved most difficult, however, was the repeated use of the conditional tense. Since this form is indicated at the end of Spanish words, the emphasis at the start of lines could fall upon the actions indicated by the verb root, thus highlighting the regrets of the speaker. In English, the frequent apparition of 'I would' proved more obtrusive. This had a noticeable effect on other versions. To overcome this, I decided to allow one of these phrases to apply to a series of actions, which in turn aided the poem's metre and extenuated the central theme of fleeting 'moments'.

Ryan Frost