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

18-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

Anna Tindall

Hymn to the Bankers

He may rejoice and be content
Who does not know these men.
They borrow gold at five per cent
And lend it out at ten.

They're never shocked by what they see.
Their heart is never still.
Their product is discrepancy
(Interpret as you will.)

Their appetite is fathoms deep.
They feed and dominate.
They never sow, they only reap
And let their gold gestate.

Sorcerers in human form
They charm from empty hands.
They make their fortunes on the phone
And petrol from the sands.

Whether gold is scarce or sure
They still make what they need
And slit the throats of others; for
The paper makes them bleed.

They swear by the rule of three
So have no need to pray.
For God they have some sympathy
Though they love gold more easily.
(But they all go bust one day.)

Translated from the German by Anna Tindall

Hymnus auf die Bankiers

Der kann sich freuen, der die nicht kennt!
Ihr fragt noch immer: Wen?
Sie borgen sich Geld für fünf Prozent
und leihen es weiter zu zehn.
Sie haben noch nie mit der Wimper gezuckt.
Ihr Herz stand noch niemals still.
Die Differenzen sind ihr Produkt.
(Das kann man verstehn, wie man will.)
Ihr Appetit ist bodenlos.
Sie fressen Gott und die Welt.
Sie säen nicht. Sie ernten bloß.
Sie schwängern ihr eignes Geld.
Sie sind die Hexer in Person
und zaubern aus hohler Hand.
Sie machen Geld am Telefon
und Petroleum aus Sand.
Das Geld wird flüssig. Das Geld wird knapp.
Sie machen das ganz nach Bedarf.
Und schneiden den anderen die Hälse ab.
Papier ist manchmal scharf.
Sie glauben den Regeln der Regeldetri
und glauben nicht recht an Gott.
Sie haben nur eine Sympathie.
Sie lieben das Geld. Und das Geld liebt sie.
(Doch einmal macht jeder Bankrott!)

Erich Kästner
Erich Kästner: 'Hymnus auf die Bankiers' aus: Lärm im Spiegel © Atrium Verlag 1929 und Thomas Kästner

Translation commentary

I really like Kästner's undecorated style of writing, so I decided to translate one of his poems. I chose this one partly because of its cold satire and partly for its elements of humour.

I tried above all to keep in mind the idea that this was a hymn: for this reason I preserved Kästner's original rhyme scheme. I aimed therefore to make my translation fit when sung to 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks', except of course in the last verse, where Kästner changes the rhythm. I felt that 'rejoice' in the first line was particularly apt for a hymn. Sticking to this rigid rhyme scheme was quite restrictive and at times I found I had to sacrifice the simplicity of Kästner's language for it. However, I feel that the flow and regularity of the rhyme makes the more insightful or unpleasant imagery all the more surprising, which I hope is what Kästner intended.

At several points I have used 'gold' rather than 'money' as a translation for 'Geld'. As it was shorter, it tended to scan better and I think the hard 'g' gives it the gritty feeling that the German 'Geld' has and that Kästner was looking for. I was also a little flexible with 'Sie fressen Gott und die Welt'. While this sounds suitably vicious in German, the English equivalent, 'everything under the sun' or 'all and sundry', felt lame and clichéd in comparison, so I didn't use it. I also had some trouble with Regeldetri, which even my maths teacher hadn't heard of; it turned out to be an obsolete mathematical technique used by people working in finance.

Anna Tindall