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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2013
14-and-under, commended

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Ludovica di Vincenzo

Death will come and she'll have your eyes

Death will come and she'll have your eyes –
This death which escorts us
From dawn till dusk, sleepless,
Deaf, like an ancient regret
Or an absurd habit. Your eyes
Will be an empty word,
A stifled scream, a silence.
Thus you see them every morning
When you fold yourself
Into the mirror. O dear hope,
That day, we too will know
That you are life and you are nothing.

Death has a look for everyone.
Death will come and she'll have your eyes.
It will be like quitting a habit,
Like seeing a dead face
Re-emerge from a mirror,
Like listening to a closed lip
We will descend into the gorge, soundless.

Translated from the Italian by Ludovica di Vincenzo

Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi

Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi –

questa morte che ci accompagna

dal mattino alla sera, insonne,
sorda, come un vecchio rimorso

o un vizio assurdo. I tuoi occhi

saranno una vana parola,

un grido taciuto, un silenzio.

Così li vedi ogni mattina

quando su te sola ti pieghi

nello specchio. O cara speranza,

quel giorno sapremo anche noi

che sei la vita e sei il nulla

Per tutti la morte ha uno sguardo.

Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi.

Sarà come smettere un vizio,

come vedere nello specchio

riemergere un viso morto,

come ascoltare un labbro chiuso.

Scenderemo nel gorgo muti.

Cesare Pavese

Translation commentary

When I was choosing a poem to translate, this one stood out straight away. It conveyed a vivid sense of desperation and anger that drew me in and the story behind it was fascinating. The author, Cesare Pavese, was in love with an American actress and her rejection or, in his words, the revelation of his 'nudità, miseria, inermità, nulla' caused by his love for her, ultimately led to his suicide five months later. In this poem, he personifies Death as this woman.

There were several difficulties in translating, given the differences between the two languages. Since the word 'death' in Italian is feminine, all the adjectives in the original poem are in the feminine form. In English this is not possible. I wanted to keep this personification of Death as a female in my translation because of the actress, so instead of using 'will have' in the recurring line, I used 'she'll have'.

Lines 16–17 literally translate as 'Like seeing in the mirror / Come out a dead face'. This sounded odd so I switched to 'Like seeing a dead face / Re-emerge from a mirror', with an even number of words for both lines.

I tried to keep the sound of the poem similar to the Italian, while keeping the same meaning. In line 2, I kept the Italian 'ci' sound (chee) by using 'which'. In the last line, I used the word 'gorge' to echo the Italian 'gorgo' because, while not a literal translation, it made sense in context and it kept the 'g' sound.

Where impossible, I added poetic qualities in the English. In line 4, I used 'Deaf' which sounds like 'Death' but is a correct translation of 'sorda', and in line 7 I used alliteration with the s to make the line spooky, which reflected the feeling of the poem.

Ludovica di Vincenzo