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

Read the judges’ comments
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Read the winning entries from previous years

Claudia Habergham

The Eiffel Tower

Translated from the French by Claudia Habergham

La Tour Eiffel

Guillaume Apollinaire

To view an image file of the translation and the original poem, click here (opens in new window).

Translation commentary

I chose this poem because I love the idea of an image being a poem rather than a poem being an image, so to speak. It also touched me that, published in 1916, it was intended as an almost comedic act of defiance towards the Germans; little did Apollinaire realise that they would march into Paris in just over 25 years' time. Art and literature which engage in contemporary issues are particularly fascinating in my opinion.

The main problem I encountered in translating this poem is that the words had to fit into the overall shape of the Eiffel Tower, a symbol of France, 'la dame de fer', and of defiance against the Germans, since without this image the poem would cease to have any meaning. Looking at the shape in detail, I made sure I kept some of the little nuances, for example I broke the word 'eloquent' up just as Apollinaire did since this defies the sense of the word, and I increased the size of the words 'Paris' and the 'Germans' for contrast and emphasis.

As for translating the words of the poem, I did not need to worry about rhyme or metre but one particular difficulty I found was translating 'tire et tirera', the words which I feel are the heart of the poem. I tried different verbs. I found 'stick out' too informal and colloquial, and, being a compound verb, it was difficult to place in the poem because it sounded better to have the two words separated but this reduced the force of the line; 'protrude', on the other hand, sounded more poetic, but it didn't really convey the sense of bravado in the gesture of sticking out your tongue. I settled, therefore, for what I believe is a happy medium between the two with 'poke'. I hope that I have managed to convey the defiance which Apollinaire captured in the French.

Claudia Habergham