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

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Read the winning entries from previous years

Takis Galatis


Toothache, when it happens to you,
Is definitely unwelcome;
But the one good thing about it;
Is that live energy
That usually is wasted on external matters
On one point turns inside
And here the energy concentrates.
As soon as you sense the first prick
As soon as you feel the well known drilling
The lurch, twitch, and rumblings,
And out with world history
You forget the latest currency rates
Taxes and the multiplication tables
In short, everything you usually are,
Otherwise the things that appear real and important
Become suddenly pointless and irrelevant
Yes, even the strongest love fades
You don't even know how much butter costs
Because only in that small hollow
Your soul is wholly focused in the small space of your molar
And in the midst of the throbbing bout,
The decision is made. It must come out.

Translated from the German by Takis Galatis


Das Zahnweh, subjektiv genommen,
ist ohne Zweifel unwillkommen;
doch hat's die gute Eigenschaft,
daß sich dabei die Lebenskraft,
die man nach außen oft verschwendet,
auf einen Punkt nach innen wendet
und hier energisch konzentriert.
Kaum wird der erste Stich verspürt,
kaum fühlt man das bekannte Bohren,
das Zucken, Rucken und Rumoren,
und aus ist's mit der Weltgeschichte,
vergessen sind die Kursberichte,
die Steuern und das Einmaleins,
kurz, jede Form gewohnten Seins,
die sonst real erscheint und wichtig,
wird plötzlich wesenlos und nichtig.
Ja, selbst die alte Liebe rostet,
man weiß nicht, was die Butter kostet,
denn einzig in der engen Höhle
des Backenzahnes weilt die Seele,
und unter Toben und Gesaus
reift der Entschluß: Er muß heraus!

Wilhelm Busch

Translation commentary

I chose this poem as almost all of us can relate to this situation – I certainly can. We can all understand this poem because it is about a universal topic. It is a simply structured poem yet it conveys a clear message and cannot be misunderstood.

I encountered several problems along the way but the biggest problem was that it did not flow as a direct translation and some of it did not even make sense. I went about translating by trying to make it flow and turn into proper English. My translation is not exact but that is better than if the poem did not make sense.

I have tried to preserve the number of words on each line, or, for most of the poem, the meaning of the words on each line.

Takis Galatis