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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


Thomas Delgado-Little

The Victims Won't Speak


The victims won't speak:
Silence reigns.
The angry skies
seal every word.
The blood-soiled ground stores
words.

Mothers and wives
dressed in black
are silent.
Tombs and prisons moan
shutting out all words.

Why does man kill? Tell me,
dead man.
You were once alive
capable of killing.
Speak.

Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Delgado-Little
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Las víctimas no hablarán


Las víctimas no hablarán:
Se ha puesto el silencio en marcha.
Cielo con ira palabras sella.
Suelo con sangre palabras guarda.

Las madres y las esposas
Vestidas de muertos callan.
Tumbas y cárceles gimen,
Cerrándose a las palabras.

¿Por qué es hombre el que mata? Dilo,
muerto que fuiste un hombre
Capaz de matarle.
Habla.

Carmen Conde
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Translation commentary


This poem is by Carmen Conde, whose husband fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans. She wrote the poem during the Civil War when about 200,000 soldiers died in combat; of these about 110,000 were Republicans. I did not know this when I chose the poem but there was something in the language of the poem, describing victims and death that caught my eye. My great-grandfather was a Republican soldier who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. This is a poem about the grief of my family.

'Las víctimas no hablarán' is about the waste of war and the silencing of those who are lost forever. The victims of war cannot speak because they have been vanquished. The language is angry, as if the poet is speaking for the dead, eg line 3: 'cielo con ira', or line 4: 'suelo con sangre'. Those who are left behind, 'las madres y las esposas' in line 5, mourn the dead by carrying the weight of the loss with them. The poet uses the powerful metaphor of line 6, 'vestidas de muertos', literally wearing the dead which I chose to translate as 'dressed in black'. Carmen Conde is writing from a woman's point of view. She sees man in line 9, 'hombre', as responsible for the aggression of killing. It is the women who are left behind to deal with the anguish and misery of losing loved ones. The final line contrasts the silence of death that the first two stanzas deal with. It is a call to speak out, line 12 'habla'.

When I first translated it literally, the poem made no sense. The language is quite economical and condensed. I thought about the meaning line by line and came out with my own translation that is led by the metaphors that are about sealing, shutting and silencing so I used sibilance to match the Spanish in lines 2–4: 'silencio, sella, suelo, sangre'. My version uses 'silence, seal, soiled, stores'. Instead of using 'talk' for 'hablarán' in line 1 of the poem, I strengthened the 's' alliteration by employing 'speak'.

Thomas Delgado-Little