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

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Zélie Everest

King Midas’s donkey ears

The mountain god made his judgment
Which pleased everyone there,
Except for a king called Midas
Who called Tmolus unfair.

The god of Delos forbade him
To keep his ears as they were;
He drew them out and covered them
With grey and shaggy fur.

He made them both unsteady,
Bending at the base.
Midas wore a purple turban
To hide this foul disgrace.

But when his hair grew longer,
A servant cut it with steel,
And saw his master's secret
Which he didn't dare reveal.

But eager to disclose the secret
He took a little stroll,
The story of his master's ears
He whispered in a hole.

He then replaced the earth,
To bury what he knew.
All was silent in the grove
But some quivering reeds soon grew

And when the reeds matured
After about a year,
The grove betrayed the burrower
When a southerly wind blew near.

For when the reeds were stirred
They made Midas' fear come true –
They spread the word of his ass's ears
And now it's come to you.

Translated from the Latin by Zélie Everest

Metamorphoses, Book XI, lines 172–193

Iudicium sanctique placet sententia montis
omnibus, arguitur tamen atque iniusta vocatur
unius sermone Midae; nec Delius aures
humanam stolidas patitur retinere figuram,
sed trahit in spatium villisque albentibus inplet
instabilesque imas facit et dat posse moveri:
cetera sunt hominis, partem damnatur in unam
induiturque aures lente gradientis aselli.
ille quidem celare cupit turpique pudore
tempora purpureis temptat relevare tiaris;
sed solitus longos ferro resecare capillos
viderat hoc famulus, qui cum nec prodere visum
dedecus auderet, cupiens efferre sub auras,
nec posset reticere tamen, secedit humumque
effodit et, domini quales adspexerit aures,
voce refert parva terraeque inmurmurat haustae
indiciumque suae vocis tellure regesta
obruit et scrobibus tacitus discedit opertis.
creber harundinibus tremulis ibi surgere lucus
coepit et, ut primum pleno maturuit anno,
prodidit agricolam: leni nam motus ab austro
obruta verba refert dominique coarguit aures.


Translation commentary

I came across this poem while doing some Latin research and I loved it. I had vaguely heard the story before but this was the first time I had ever seen the full version. I found it very amusing, not just because of King Midas' donkey ears but because of his servant who couldn't keep a secret which seems very childlike.

I think the servant's childishness helped me to decide on the structure of my translation because I wanted it to appeal to younger readers as the storyline is fun and silly. I decided that the best way to achieve this light-hearted feel was to add stanzas and rhyme.

By choosing to rhyme I accepted that it wasn't going to be perfectly in sync with the original, but I hope that my version still manages to capture the meaning of Ovid's. I found this quite difficult as it was easy to lose track of the original, so I decided to only make two lines in each verse rhyme. This gave me more freedom to translate from the Latin without going off course.

Zélie Everest