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

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Clio Takas

The Third Man

Three men sat at the window, looking at the sea.
The first man talked about the sea. The second man listened. The
third man
neither talked nor listened; he was at the bottom of the sea;
From behind the glass, his movements seemed slow, lucid,
through the watery blue. He was exploring a shipwreck.
He sounded the dead bell, the end of the shift; fragile bubbles
Rising up, bursting with soft sounds. Suddenly
'Has he drowned?' asked the first man. 'He has drowned,' said the
   second man. The
third man
looked at them, helpless, from the sea-bed, as one looks upon the

Translated from the Greek by Clio Takas

The original poem may not display properly in older browsers or on computers running non-unicode-compliant operating systems. To view an image file of the poem and commentary, click here (opens in new window).


Κάθονταν κι οι τρείς στο παράθυρο, κοιτώντας τη θάλασσα.
Ο ένας μιλούσε για τη θάλασσα. Ο δεύτερος άκουγε. Ο

ούτε μιλούσε ούτε άκουγε΄ βρισκόταν στο βυθό της θάλασσας΄

Πίσω απ'τα τζάμια φαίνονταν αργές, διαυγείς οι κινήσεις του
μες στο αραιό γαλάζιο. Εξερευνούσε ένα ναυαγισμένο πλοίο.
Χτύπησε το νεκρό καμπανάκι της βάρδιας΄ λεπτές φυσαλίδες
ανέβαιναν σπάζοντας με ήσυχους ήχους. Άξαφνα
"πνίγηκε;" ρώτησε ο ένας΄ ο άλλος: "πνίγηκε", είπε. Ο

απ' το βυθό του τους κοίταξε αβοήθητος, όπως κοιτούν τους



Reproduced by kind permission of Kedros Publishers

Translation commentary

This poem appealed to me because, unlike most poems with a political message, it resists a didactic tone. Instead, Ritsos uses a seemingly simplistic structure that resembles the prose style of a traditional fable. It does, however, maintain a poetic identity through the use of enjambement and metaphor.

The most challenging line to translate was «Χτύπησε το νεκρό κάμπανακι της βάρδιας». Firstly the «κάμπανακι της βάρδιας» would have been something factory workers and ship-makers and ship-workers – most Greek men in the 1970s – would have recognised immediately. But for modern English readers, this is something unfamiliar, which needs a literal explanation: a bell signalling the end of a shift. However, when the literal dimension of a metaphor becomes obscure, the metaphor itself is put at risk, and so I had to allow the definition of the 'shift-bell' to remain somewhat ambiguous. Another problem with this line was the ambiguity inherent in the Greek verb «Χτύπησε» which in Greek could mean the man rang the bell or the bell rang. As a translator I had to make the conscious decision to choose one out of the two readings. I chose the former: given that the man is involved in the shipwreck and is the only human presence underwater, it makes sense he would ring the bell, especially this bell, a 'dead' or silent signal which produces only soundless bubbles and fails him in his attempt to communicate with the others, allowing him to drown.

The most arresting aspect of the poem is its ending. The poet lulls the reader into the familiar genre of the fable and springs on him a powerful and ironic reversal of perspective in the final line, in the manner of Robert Frost.

Clio Takas