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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2013
18-and-under, joint first prize

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

Anna Leader

The approaching winter

emotions blockaded! bring me news from the med –
oh, rainfall! oh! nightfall,
oh! the wind, instead…!
all saints', christmas day, and then the new year,
oh, behind drizzle, my factory chimneys

the benches are drenched – no one sits here,
trust me: it's over until the start of next year,
(the benches so wet, so much rust in the groves)
and the horns always blasting, calling out: tally-ho!...

ah, english clouds, rushing in from the west,
you have ruined our last day of rest.

it's drizzling;
in the waterlogged woods, the spider webs bend
and give way under raindrops, sealing their end.

it's the season, it's the season, rust feeds on the masses,
gnawing away at the miles of depression
of telegraph lines on long roads where no one passes.
and the horns, the horns, the horns – how forlorn!...

i cannot get rid of their sound: it echoes!...
it's the season, it's the season, goodbye fields of grain!...
here come the rains with the patience of saints;
farewell, harvests, and farewell full baskets,
the rococo bundles of twigs under trees.
now coughing breeds in the dormitories
(no comforting hearth by which to drink tea),
the neighborhood's stricken with a consumptive disease,
and all the big cities' miseries.

but linens, waterproofs, medicines, dreams,
curtains drawn back from the high balconies
which overlook rooftops, spread out like the sea;
lamps, etchings, cakes and tea –
won't you be the only lovers for me?

(oh, and something else: do you know
– besides the neighbours' tinkling at the pianos –
the weekly newspapers' statistics
and their solemn evening prose?)
no, no! this is the dullest of seasons and days!
let a wind from the south, a pyrenees breeze
fray at the slippers which Time crochets!
it's the season, oh heartbreak! it's the season in which
every year every year
i cannot match pitch.

Translated from the French by Anna Leader

L'hiver qui vient

Blocus sentimental! Messageries du Levant!...
Oh, tombée de la pluie! Oh! tombée de la nuit,
Oh! le vent!...
La Toussaint, la Noël et la Nouvelle Année,
Oh, dans les bruines, toutes mes cheminées!...

On ne peut plus s'asseoir, tous les bancs sont mouillés;
Crois-moi, c'est bien fini jusqu'à l'année prochaine,
Tant les bancs sont mouillés, tant les bois sont rouillés,
Et tant les cors ont fait ton ton, ont fait ton taine!...

Ah, nuées accourues des côtes de la Manche,
Vous nous avez gâté notre dernier dimanche.

Il bruine;
Dans la forêt mouillée, les toiles d'araignées
Ploient sous les gouttes d'eau, et c'est leur ruine.

C'est la saison, c'est la saison, la rouille envahit les masses,
La rouille ronge en leurs spleens kilométriques
Les fils télégraphiques des grandes routes où nul ne passe.
Les cors, les cors, les cors – mélancoliques!...

Je ne puis quitter ce ton: que d'échos!...
C'est la saison, c'est la saison, adieu vendanges!...
Voici venir les pluies d'une patience d'ange,
Adieu vendanges, et adieu tous les paniers,
Tous les paniers Watteau des bourrées sous les marronniers,
C'est la toux dans les dortoirs du lycée qui rentre,
C'est la tisane sans le foyer,
La phtisie pulmonaire attristant le quartier,
Et toute la misère des grands centres.

Mais, lainages, caoutchoucs, pharmacie, rêve,
Rideaux écartés du haut des balcons des grèves
Devant l'océan de toitures des faubourgs,
Lampes, estampes, thé, petits-fours,
Serez-vous pas mes seules amours!...

(Oh! et puis, est-ce que tu connais, outre les pianos,
Le sobre et vespéral mystère hebdomadaire
Des statistiques sanitaires
Dans les journaux?)

Non, non! C'est la saison et la planète falote!
Que l'autan, que l'autan
Effiloche les savates que le Temps se tricote!
C'est la saison, oh déchirements! c'est la saison!
Tous les ans tous les ans,
J'essaierai en chœur d'en donner la note.

Jules Laforgue

Translation commentary

I fell swiftly in love with the writing of Jules Laforgue, which is at times humorous, at times morose, and always beautifully and effortlessly executed. This particular poem spoke to me because the moi poétique laments the onset of winter as if the end of the world was approaching – I also tend to take the weather too personally because it has such an impact on my mood. No good translation of this poem was available online, so I decided to try one myself. I had to cut at least half of what is a very long poem in the original, but I think these stanzas are representative of the whole.

'L'hiver qui vient' is both splendid and splendidly difficult: there were many words I did not know and cultural references I needed to research. (Where does the Autan wind originate? What are 'sanitary statistics'? What is the English equivalent of French hunting cries?) Certain references which I thought were difficult for an English reader – Watteau, for example, or the use of spleen as a symbol for melancholia – I replaced with more general descriptions of what the words were intended to evoke. I think the translating process expanded my vocabulary and made me more aware of the nuances of French poetry. (It also made me endlessly jealous of French rhyming possibilities.)

I decided not to focus on the placement but rather the frequency of the rhymes: it is their denseness, not their position, which thickens and enriches the poem, and there isn't one consistent rhyme scheme throughout the original. I rhymed whenever possible, not always in the same places as in the French, but I tried to keep Laforgue's punctuation: the wistful ellipses and melodramatic exclamation marks are essential in creating the tone and the mood.

Anna Leader