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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

Krishnan Mulholland

Continuous Work

In the shadow of the word cart
Rested an evening of June;
A man wanted to graft
A brown verse on the prose;
This monstrous operation
Occupied him in such a way,
That he didn't see the passing phrase
Which had pulled the obstacle towards him
He was bent with grumbling
However, under the pink sky
The moon was still,
traversing the songlike clouds
When the entrance was finished
The pedantic gardener
Put the lexicon in the shade
And seizing his sweet rammer
He leaned on its new
Mineral-like workings.
Poor Pavers thus you are
When twilight falls,
The echoes of past poets
Along this dark road near night

Translated from the French by Krishnan Mulholland

Le Travail Continu

A l'ombre du mot tilbury
se reposait un soir de juin
un homme qui tentait d'enter
un vers marron sur de la prose
Cette opération monstrueuse
l'occupait de telle façon
qu'il ne vit point passer la phrase
qui l'aurait tiré d'embarras
Il s'acharnait en grommelant
cependant que sous le ciel rose
la lune d'un pas turbulent
traversait des nuages lyriques
Lorsque l'entracte fut fini
l'horticulteur pédagogique
remit dans l'ombre le lexique
et saisissant sa douce hie
il se pencha de nouveau sur
son travail presque minéral
Paveurs Pavés êtes ainsi
lorsque tombe le crépuscule
l'écho des poètes passés
dans cette rue nocturne

Raymond Queneau
© Editions Gallimard

Translation commentary

I chose this poem because work has been quite topical lately, and I wanted to see a poet's take on it to see whether he was advocating work or condemning it. However, after researching the 'poet', I soon found out that he was not one. In fact, the title of the book that this poem came from was 'Raymond Queneau, un poéte?' After further investigation, I found that he was actually a writer. This made the translating quite difficult because lots of things did not make sense to start off with.

The main difficulty of the poem occurred in the first line: 'A l'ombre du mot tilbury'. I was not able to find a suitable translation of the word tilbury. It could have meant the town Tilbury, or some other obscure French word. I could only find one translation of this word online and by using a dictionary: gig. With this word making no sense in the context, I decided to use an English definition. A tilbury is a light open two-wheeled carriage. For this reason, I decided to use the word 'cart'.

An issue of this poem was that, even in French, there was no real rhythm to the poem and the storyline was very obscure. The poet himself was said to prefer the sound of words as opposed to an actual plot. This made the translating harder as I wasn't able to check the English words in the context of a story.

The ending of the poem came quite easily to me, but even now, I wonder why the words Paveurs and Pavés had capital letters. In English, capital letters are never normally in the middle of a poem, and in French, capitals are omitted even more. So I was very surprised to find this out.

Krishnan Mulholland