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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

Sarah Fletcher

You Want Me Pale

You want me pale,
Made of sea foam,
A mother of pearl.
Made of white lily,
Untouched among the others.
Made of thinning perfume.
Petals sealed.

Not touched by moonbeams,
Not called 'sister' by the daisies.
You want me like snow,
You want me white,
You want me pale.

You have had all
The cups in your hands,
Flowing fruit and honey,
Staining your lips dark.
You have been in the banquet
Laced with grapevines,
Relinquishing your meat,
Reveling in Bacchus.
You have been in the gardens,
Black with deception,
Wearing red and
Running into ruin.

You have kept your
Skeleton intact, and by
Miracles I do not know,
Still expect me to be white
(God forgive you for it),
Still expect me to be spotless
(God forgive you for it),
Still expect me to be pale.

So flee into the woods,
Run into the mountains;
Clean your mouth;
Live in a cottage;
Touch the damp earth
With your hands;
Nourish your body with
The bitter root;
Drink, like Moses,
From the rocks;
Sleep upon the frost;
Rejuvenate your flesh
With saltpetre and water;
Speak with the birds,
Rise with the sun.
And when your body
Has returned to you,
When it's become entangled
In the bedroom of your soul,
Only then, good man,
Can you expect me to be pale,
Expect me to be snow,
Expect me to be untouched.

Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Fletcher

Tú Me Quieres Blanca

Tú me quieres alba,
Me quieres de espumas,
Me quieres de nácar.
Que sea azucena
Sobre todas, casta.

De perfume tenue.
Corola cerrada
Ni un rayo de luna
Filtrado me haya.
Ni una margarita
Se diga mi hermana.

Tú me quieres nívea,
Tú me quieres blanca,
Tú me quieres alba.
Tú que hubiste todas
Las copas a mano,
De frutos y mieles
Los labios morados.
Tú que en el banquete
Cubierto de pámpanos
Dejaste las carnes
Festejando a Baco.
Tú que en los jardines
Negros del Engaño
Vestido de rojo
Corriste al Estrago.

Tú que el esqueleto
Conservas intacto
No sé todavía
Por cuáles milagros,
Me pretendes blanca
(Dios te lo perdone),
Me pretendes casta
(Dios te lo perdone),
¡Me pretendes alba!

Huye hacia los bosques,
Vete a la montaña;
Límpiate la boca;
Vive en las cabañas;
Toca con las manos
La tierra mojada;
Alimenta el cuerpo
Con raíz amarga;
Bebe de las rocas;
Duerme sobre escarcha;
Renueva tejidos
Con salitre y agua;
Habla con los pájaros
Y lévate al alba.
Y cuando las carnes
Te sean tornadas,
Y cuando hayas puesto
En ellas el alma
Que por las alcobas
Se quedó enredada,
Entonces, buen hombre,
Preténdeme blanca,
Preténdeme nívea,
Preténdeme casta.

Alfonsina Storni

Translation commentary

'Tu Me Quieres Blanca' by Alfonsina Storni is a beautiful poem that deserves to be read and appreciated outside the context of South America. The poem angrily questions the sexual double standard for men and women. When I originally read the poem, I was captivated by how Storni used the Spanish language to evoke a natural musicality and cadence. Yet this was also the cause for my speed bumps when translating it, especially as many verb conjugations and adjectives end with similar sounds, making what would rhyme in Spanish difficult to translate to English. Since I wanted to preserve the euphonious experience I had in my initial reading, many of my translation decisions were based on sound quality rather than direct linguistic parallels.

My biggest challenge was translating the refrain of the poem 'tu me quieres blanca'. Though the literal translation in English is 'you want me white', I found the word 'white' lacked the same connotations and music of 'blanca'. After careful consideration and back-and-forth, I decided to choose the word 'pale' as it sounded more feminine than the cacophony of 'white.' Also the word 'pale' implies weakness and its pallid imagery contrasts with the 'dark' words that describe the man. Though 'pale' was subtler in translation, it effectively summed up the 'feminine ideal' dictated by the man: that she be sheltered from the outside world he revels in. Though other possible words, like chaste, would have conveyed a more literal interpretation, my focus of translation for both the refrain and the entire poem was that of metre and connotation.

Sarah Fletcher