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The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 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 Leader


the train halted mid-route. outside,
the gears stopped whirring: the land lay still
like a picture before the third tap of the auctioneer's gavel.
a town with its back to the day. groups of
dark-hooded trees. rectangular fields,
the cards of an enormous game of solitaire.

in the distance two turbines
took a tentative spin in the sky:
god held his breath.

Translated from the German by Anna Leader


der zug hielt mitten auf der strecke. draußen hörte
man auf an der kurbel zu drehen: das land lag still
wie ein bild vorm dritten schlag des auktionators.
ein dorf mit dem rücken zum tag. in gruppen die bäume
mit dunklen kapuzen. rechteckige felder,
die karten eines riesigen solitairespiels.

in der ferne nahmen zwei windräder
eine probebohrung im himmel vor:
gott hielt den atem an.

Jan Wagner

Translation commentary

This is a beautiful snapshot of a poem – it paints a detailed picture of a moment suspended in time outside a stalled train carriage. The experience of looking out from a train at the surrounding countryside is a universal one (for example, as in Hardy's poem 'After a Romantic Day'), although usually the train is moving. The speaker notes the different elements of the countryside with a poetic eye, comparing the fields to playing cards and the whole landscape to a picture at an auction. The impulse is to see human influence or attributes: the trees are 'dark-hooded' and the turbine 'breathe[s] in'.

The poem has no rhyme to make it especially technically difficult to transpose into English, but I tried to keep the beauty of the language intact with alliteration, as in the line, 'two turbines / took a tentative spin in the sky'. I also tried to eliminate any phrasing that became heavy or unpoetic in the English: 'groups of trees with dark hoods'" became 'groups of/ dark-hooded trees' (the fewer prepositions the better when going from German to English). Although present tense seemed more natural when I was translating, and I kept trying to revert to present-tense verbs, I preserved the use of past tense, which I think heightens the sense of this being one discrete moment in time, now passed.

Anna Leader