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The Stephen Spender Prize 2014 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Kirsty Gaston

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how it is:
if I gaze at
the luminous moon, the red branch
the eternal autumn encroaching through my window,
if I touch
the fire,
the untouchable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything ferries me home to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

if little by little you stop loving me,
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
as I will have already forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad
the wind of banners
that passes through my life
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
where my heart is, where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that time
I will lift my arms
and uproot,
in search of another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me,
with implacable sweetness.
If each day goes past,
with a flower climbing to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all my fire will return,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, my beloved,
and while you live, it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Translated from the Spanish by Kirsty Gaston

Si tu me olvidado

Quiero que sepas
una cosa.

Tú sabes cómo es esto:
si miro
la luna de cristal, la rama roja
del lento otoño en mi ventana,
si toco
junto al fuego
la impalpable ceniza
o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
todo me lleva a ti,
como si todo lo que existe,
aromas, luz, metales,
fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

Ahora bien,
si poco a poco dejas de quererme
dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

Si de pronto
me olvidas
no me busques,
que ya te habré olvidado.

Si consideras largo y loco
el viento de banderas
que pasa por mi vida
y te decides
a dejarme a la orilla
del corazón en que tengo raíces,
que en ese día,
a esa hora
levantaré los brazos
y saldrán mis raíces
a buscar otra tierra.

si cada día,
cada hora
sientes que a mí estás destinada
con dulzura implacable.
Si cada día sube
una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
ay amor mío, ay mía,
en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
sin salir de los míos

Pablo Neruda

Translation commentary

After discovering Pablo Neruda's endless collection of poems, I soon came across this poem which immediately appealed to me. Like many others I was under the impression that Neruda was writing about a wife or lover and I began to translate with this assumption. I chose words such as 'luminous moon' to create a romantic atmosphere, and 'eternal' in reference to a lifelong marriage. After research, I discovered that he was writing about his exile from his home country, Chile. A panic set in. It was then that I realised there was no problem – Neruda's love for his country was equal to that towards a lover. Neruda had fulfilled many government tasks that required him to travel, but would always return to his 'beloved' Chile.

On line 27, it literally translated to 'of the heart where I have roots'. I changed this as I felt it sounded strange. When changing it to 'where my heart is, where I have roots' I loved the repetition and imagery. In spite of the fact it was most probably effortless and unintentional, I loved how the first few lines of the original poem were in rhyming couplets, and how this sequence disappeared along with Neruda's warm tone, when he makes it clear that he will stop loving his country if it abandons him. Despite my best efforts I was unable to transfer this to my English translation. By using the verb 'to ferry', I hoped to further the simile used about the 'little boats' sailing towards the 'isles'. Throughout the poem, there are several references to exploring or searching to a new land, this beautifully expresses the journey that Neruda must have endured, battling the authorities to have his voice heard. I thoroughly enjoyed translating the poem and think that the background behind it is amazing.

Kirsty Gaston