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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

Victoria Fletcher

A Song about the End of the World

On the day the world ends,
A lone bee circles above the nasturtiums,
A fisherman repairs his glistening net,
Joyous dolphins leap about in the sea,
Young sparrows cling to the gutter
And the snake has golden scales, as God intended.

On the day the world ends,
Women stroll through the meadows, beneath their parasols,
A drunkard is falling asleep on the edge of the lawn,
Grocers shout of their wares in the streets,
And a yacht with a golden sail nears the island,
The sound of a violin hangs in the dusk air
And the starry night begins to spill across the sky.

But those who awaited thunder and lightning
Are disappointed.
But those who awaited signs and archangels' trumpets
Do not believe that it is happening now.
As long as the sun and moon are in the sky,
As long as the bees haunt the roses,
As long as women bear rosy children,
Nobody believes that it is happening now.

Only a silver-haired old man, who would be a prophet,
But isn't one, because he has other chores to do
Says, thoughtfully, while lashing the tomato plants to their canes:
There won't be a different end to our world,
There won't be a different end to our world.

Translated from the Polish by Victoria Fletcher

Piosenka o końcu świata

W dzień końca świata
Pszczoła krąży nad kwiatem nasturcji,
Rybak naprawia błyszczącą sieć.
Skaczą w morzu wesołe delfiny,
Młode wróble czepiają się rynny
I wąż ma złotą skórę, jak powinien mieć.
W dzień końca świata
Kobiety idą polem pod parasolkami,
Pijak zasypia na brzegu trawnika,
Nawołują na ulicy sprzedawcy warzywa
I łódka z żółtym żaglem do wyspy podpływa,
Dźwięk skrzypiec w powietrzu trwa
I noc gwiaździstą odmyka.
A którzy czekali błyskawic i gromów,
Są zawiedzeni.
A którzy czekali znaków i archanielskich trąb,
Nie wierzą, że staje się już.
Dopóki słońce i księżyc są w górze,
Dopóki trzmiel nawiedza różę,
Dopóki dzieci różowe się rodzą,
Nikt nie wierzy, że staje się już.
Tylko siwy staruszek, który byłby prorokiem,
Ale nie jest prorokiem, bo ma inne zajęcie,
Powiada przewiązując pomidory:
Innego końca świata nie będzie,
Innego końca świata nie będzie.

Czesław Miłosz

Translation commentary

According to the poem 'A Song about the End of the World' by C. Miłosz, the end of the world will come gradually, as slowly as a candle burning down. It describes, how on the day the world ends, life will go on as normal until night falls. I was intrigued by this unusual description of the end of the world and this is why I decided to translate the poem for the Stephen Spender Prize.

The poem covers a serious topic, yet the title in Polish 'Piosenka o końcu świata' indicates the contrary because 'piosenka' as opposed to 'pieśń', is a joyous song so Miłosz's choice of the title for his poem may seem strange. The fear of the end of the world has existed since the dawn of civilisation and becomes particularly visible at the end of each century and when cataclysmic events occur (this poem was written at the end of the Second World War). It can be seen in such great works as Michelangelo's 'The Last Judgement', although the end described in this poem could not be more different, which explains why it is called 'piosenka'.

It was challenging to capture this idea of a peaceful and happy end of the world when translating the poem. Each line of the poem creates a simple yet vivid image of an everyday scene not always easy to recreate in English. I wanted my translation to sound like a story without losing its poetic character, as the original has a narrative feel to it. The poem has very little rhyme and no regular metre whatsoever. I decided to maintain this in my translation. However, it was still challenging to translate this Polish into English as Polish has a far more complicated grammar than English with seven grammatical cases for nouns and adjectives as well as several different conjugation patterns for verbs. Translating this poem was like creating a series of pictures created by Miłosz in the original but using different artistic technique.

Victoria Fletcher