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The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 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


Anissa Felah

The Cicada and the Ant


Cicada's been singing all summer long,
And now her song is not so strong

North Wind has driven all to waste
Not even a morsel of worm to taste.

'I'm going to starve!' she cried out loud.
A neighbour ant heard, but was far too proud

To lend his grain for her to eat,
Despite her begging for this treat.

'I promise with my insect heart
To pay you back when Harvest starts,

The grain you lend and more besides –'
But the ant didn't listen to her cries.

'What were you doing all summer long,
If not gathering food to keep you strong?'
'Didn't you hear me all day, every night?
My song didn't please you? I hoped that it might.'

'So, you're a singer, My! How nice for you…
Perhaps you will do a dance for me too!'

Translated from the French by Anissa Felah
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La Cigale et la Fourmi


La cigale ayant chanté
Tout l'été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue:
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu'à la saison nouvelle.
"Je vous paierai," lui dit-elle,
"Avant l'août, foi d'animal,
Intérêt et principal."
La fourmi n'est pas prêteuse:
C'est là son moindre défaut.
"Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?"
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
— Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
— Vous chantiez? J'en suis fort aise:
Eh bien! Dansez maintenant.

Jean de La Fontaine
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Translation commentary


I chose this poem because it is Mum's favourite poem. I love the way it sounds in French, it makes me feel happy but it also a very sad poem because the ant is not a lender. At school we learn values and our motto is Together we can achieve more. I am a 'Young Interpreter' which means it is my responsibility to help children when they first come to the school and don't speak any English. There are lots of languages at our school.

My mother is French. I've been speaking French all my life, I'm eight years old. But there are some words in Jean de la Fontaine's poem I don't recognise. My mum told me that's because they're in Old French. Words like 'la bise fut' (which I found out means North Wind) and 'alla'. I wanted to write this poem in English so that everyone could know the story. Even though it is an old poem I think it's a good story. It's about how sad it is when someone is rich and doesn't appreciate what poor people do for them.

Jean de la Fontaine liked to write poems that told stories, especially fables, because they can teach people lessons. I think Monsieur de la Fontaine liked values too because he puts his beliefs into his poems. At first I didn't understand what was meant by 'Intérêt et principal' but when I talked to an adult I learned it was to do with paying back something you have borrowed. I wanted my translation to sound happy and fun like the French version. Rhyming couplets seemed a good way of doing that. I think 'strong' and 'song' are important words in the story so I have used them twice in my translation. I liked giving the ant and the cicada voices.

Anissa Felah