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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2012
Open, commended

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Read the winning entries from previous years


Antoinette Fawcett

Alcyone


I am not dead, father, I'm a bird
whose beak is a dagger. Who can I kiss now.
You who are god of the winds, and can
shove them in sacks or in caves, let them fly.
What did that ship mean to you, or the wet
ghost which appeared by my bed. For you,
immortal, what does it matter if I'm a woman,
whether that corpse which I see from my branch
over the stream is my love or my bait. But gods,
father, have nothing to do with remembering.
Under my feathers the fresh desire stings
to open my arms again, to have him.

Translated from the Dutch by Antoinette Fawcett
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Alcyone


Dood ben ik niet, vader, enkel dier
met dolk als snavel. Wie zal ik strelen.
Jij die toch god bent van de winden,
ze propt in zak of grot, liet ze begaan.
Wat zeiden je dat schip, de natte schim
die aan mijn bed verscheen. Voor jou,
een eeuwige, maakt het niet eens verschil
of ik een vrouw ben, aas vanaf mijn tak
boven de beek, omhels of vlieg. Maar goden,
vader, gaan niet over de herinnering.
Onder mijn veren steekt zo jong de wil
geil en met open armen terug te keren.

Ed Leeflang
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Translation commentary


Ed Leeflang (1929–2008) is recognised in The Netherlands as being amongst the best poets of his generation, yet his work is little known outside the Dutch-speaking world. 'Alcyone' is the first poem in his posthumous collection Gaandeweg [gradually/along the way/going away], a collection shot through with a love of life, as well as with an awareness of forthcoming death. The tone, however, is never resigned, but energised and energising, even when deeply conscious of human tragedy, as in this poem. I loved the way in which Leeflang captures Alcyone's anger with her father, Aeolus, but even more I loved the fact that in this portrayal her lust for human life and love is so movingly and convincingly voiced.

In translating the poem, I found it most important to concentrate on catching the voice of the bird who still thinks of herself as a woman. The punctuation is, I feel, a distinctive part of this voice, in particular the mournful, reproachful or angry questions which are signalled by tone and question-words (wie [who] and wat [what]) and not by conventional marks. In them, and especially in the free-floating question 'Wie zal ik strelen' [whom shall I caress], I seem to hear the doubled call of the kingfisher itself [/ x x / x]. I felt it was vital, then, to preserve, as far as possible, the rhythms of those cries and calls, and the slight sense of estrangement they bring to the reader.

Although this poem is short, it proved surprisingly difficult to translate. One difficulty, for example, centred on the translation of 'aas' [carrion], which I double-translated as both 'corpse' and 'bait' (again, in a double sense). I hope that in resolving such questions I have been able to capture the tussle between Alcyone's bird-self and her remembered woman-self, between her two different hungers.

Antoinette Fawcett