• Subscribe to our e-letters

  • Facebook_icon

The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, joint winner

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

Euan Ong

In Circulation

Dust will never cover these pages.
Whether I will live or die,
a wind will stir them, and,
if the world needs new meaning,
it will take them
over the mountains
past endless sands
perhaps to settle among
the foothills of confusion.
Maybe a prince,
maybe a horse-thief
may pluck them like water-lilies.
Maybe they may baulk
At the scratches upon them.
Maybe a prophet might order their translation.
Then the scratches will be words,
then the words can be reborn,
with new life, with new sense;
Even the children who play amongst the rocks
will pale with new understanding,
or even twist the words themselves so
the pages themselves will be renewed,
so white,
so pure
so cruel
and now no longer mine.

Translated from the French by Euan Ong

Pages Volantes

a poussière jamais ne couvrira ces pages.
Que je sois vif ou mort,
un vent viendra les agiter
et, s'il le faut, elles s'envoleront
par-dessus la montagne,
pour se poser chez quelque peuple migrateur.
Un prince, un voleur de chevaux
les cueilleront comme des nénuphars,
puis un prophète ordonnera qu'on les traduise.
Elles prendront un sens nouveau,
et les enfants parmi les pierres pâliront
de les comprendre,
ou de les déformer pour qu'elles rajeunissent,
plus blanches,
plus pures
et plus impitoyables.

Alain Bosquet
Reproduced by permission of Editions Gallimard

Translation commentary

The process of translation is a challenge in itself – a fact I was deeply acquainted with when attempting to translate 'Pages Volantes'. I had studied this poem before and enjoyed its message about the difficulties of translation, leading me to choose it to translate. I had to make a radical title change – a literal translation of 'Pages Volantes' seemed a little awkward. I believe that the point of the poem is not just about the pages 'flying' but actually ideas being transferred from culture to culture, hence the title 'In Circulation'.

I hint at the concept of theft ('volantes') in the last two lines. The final line of the poem is 'et plus impitoyables', conveying a sense that the words are merciless to the author. I interpreted this as the author regretting that if another culture translates his work, the process will be cruel (it will not have the depth of the original), and yet it can no longer be said that the translations belong to the author. I felt this point needed an extra line to explain.

The 'peuple migrateur' would probably refer to some non-European people. This tribe will almost definitely use a non-Latin script (for them, our alphabet will be 'script unknown'), and the 'prophet' suggests religion. Perhaps the pages are religious texts? I hinted at religion with vocabulary such as 'reborn'.

I, personally, believe translation is your best attempt at bringing the ideas of one language into the culture of another: language embodies the culture of the nation who speaks it. For me, with little experience in translation, it seems fitting to translate this poem about translation and the hardships endured – you are writing your experience of translating the experiences of translation – and in doing so giving the world new meaning.

Euan Ong