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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
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Read the winning entries from previous years

Alexandra Seizani-Dimitriadi

From The Monogram

It's still early in our world, do you hear me
The beasts have not been tamed, do you hear me
My own lost blood and that sharp, do you hear me
Like The Ram running through the skies
Destroying its own clones, do you hear me
It's me, do you hear me
I love you, do you hear me
I hold you, take you and dress you
In Ophelia's white wedding dress, do you hear me

You are leaving me, where are you going and who, do you hear me
Will be the one to hold your hand through the inundations of the world
Through the forestation and the volcanic lava

The day will come, do you hear me
When they will bury us and thousands of years later
Our petrified casts will shine, do you hear me
Glistening from the heartlessness, do you hear me
                                          Of all other people
And even if we are shattered and knocked down
Into the waters one by one, do you hear me
And in the face of bitterness I must count my own pieces, do you hear me
And time is just an endless church, do you hear me
Where someday the figures of the saints
Will cry real tears, do you hear me
The bells from above will create, do you hear me
A deep path for me to pass
Where angels will be waiting with candles and funeral psalms

I'm going nowhere, do you hear me
It's together or neither, do you hear me

The flower the storm created, do you hear me
We have cut once and forever
Because otherwise it cannot bloom, do you hear me
On another earth, on another star, do you hear me
There is no soil, there is no air
Where we touched, as we touched there, do you hear me

And no gardener has ever enjoyed such weathers

After all these winters and so many storms, do you hear me
To throw the flower, all by ourselves, do you hear me
In the middle of the sea
Only for the desire of love, do you hear me
We lifted up a whole island, do you hear me
With caves and valleys and blossomed cliffs

Listen, listen
Who talks to the waters and who cries – do you hear me?
It's me that shouts and it's me that cries, do you hear me
I love you, I love you, and you heard me.

Translated from the Greek by Alexandra Seizani-Dimitriadi

The original Greek may not display properly in older browsers or on computers running non-unicode-compliant operating systems. To view an image file of the poem and commentary, click here (opens in new window).

Το μονόγραμμα (απόσπασμα)

Είναι νωρίς ακόμη μες στον κόσμο αυτόν, μ' ακούς
Δεν έχουν εξημερωθεί τα τέρατα, μ' ακούς
Το χαμένο μου αίμα και το μυτερό, μ' ακούς
Σαν κριάρι που τρέχει μες στους ουρανούς
Και των άστρων τους κλώνους τσακίζει, μ' ακούς
Είμ' εγώ, μ' ακούς
Σ' αγαπώ, μ'ακούς
Σε κρατώ και σε πάω και σου φορώ
Το λευκό νυφικό της Οφηλίας, μ' ακούς
Που μ' αφήνεις, που πας και ποιος, μ' ακούς

Σου κρατεί το χέρι πάνω απ' τους κατακλυσμούς

Οι πελώριες λιάνες και των ηφαιστείων οι λάβες
Θα 'ρθει μέρα, μ' ακούς
Να μας θάψουν, κι οι χιλιάδες ύστερα χρόνοι
Λαμπερά θα μας κάνουν πετρώματα, μ' ακούς
Να γυαλίσει επάνω τους η απονιά, μ' ακούς
Των ανθρώπων
Και χιλιάδες κομμάτια να μας ρίξει

Στα νερά ένα ένα, μ' ακούς
Τα πικρά μου βότσαλα μετρώ, μ' ακούς
Κι είναι ο χρόνος μια μεγάλη εκκλησία, μ' ακούς
Όπου κάποτε οι φιγούρες
Των Αγίων
Βγάζουν δάκρυ αληθινό, μ' ακούς
Οι καμπάνες ανοίγουν αψηλά, μ' ακούς
Ένα πέρασμα βαθύ να περάσω
Περιμένουν οι άγγελοι με κεριά και νεκρώσιμους ψαλμούς
Πουθενά δεν πάω, μ' ακούς
Ή κανείς ή κι οι δύο μαζί, μ' ακούς
Το λουλούδι αυτό της καταιγίδας και, μ' ακούς
Της αγάπης
Μια για πάντα το κόψαμε
Και δε γίνεται ν' ανθίσει αλλιώς, μ' ακούς
Σ' άλλη γη, σ' άλλο αστέρι, μ' ακούς
Δεν υπάρχει το χώμα, δεν υπάρχει ο αέρας
Που αγγίξαμε, ο ίδιος, μ' ακούς

Και κανείς κηπουρός δεν ευτύχησε σ' άλλους καιρούς

Από τόσον χειμώνα κι από τόσους βοριάδες, μ' ακούς
Να τινάξει λουλούδι, μόνο εμείς, μ' ακούς
Μες στη μέση της θάλασσας
Από μόνο το θέλημα της αγάπης, μ' ακούς
Ανεβάσαμε ολόκληρο νησί, μ' ακούς
Με σπηλιές και με κάβους κι ανθισμένους γκρεμούς
Άκου, άκου
Ποιος μιλεί στα νερά και ποιος κλαίει -ακούς;
Ποιος γυρεύει τον άλλο, ποιος φωνάζει -ακούς;
Είμ' εγώ που φωνάζω κι είμ' εγώ που κλαίω, μ' ακούς
Σ' αγαπώ, σ' αγαπώ, μ' ακούς.

Οδυσσέας Ελύτης

Reproduced by permission of Loulita Lliopoulou

Translation commentary

My family, who are mainly Greek, got me interested in the works of the Greek Nobel laureate Odysseus Elytis. Reading his poems on the internet I found his stuff really interesting, particularly his long poem 'The Monogram' which I like because it shows not just the pleasant side of love but the rougher edges, the things people don't normally talk about…

My Greek is quite good, and was certainly good enough to make a first rough version. Of course some of the words in the Greek simply do not exist in precise English equivalents. For example πετρώματα – a word to do with rocks which also has some associations with graven images and links to ideas about dead bodies. In the end I opted for 'petrified casts' – cast giving both the stillness of death and the idea of a statue.

The other issue I had from the start was the kind of repeated chorus or appeal in the words μ' ακούς. The phrase, which means literally 'listen to me', can be said in Greek imperatively, as by a teacher for example, or in a begging way, as by a lover. I played around with the words, endlessly trying to find a formula I was happy with, to match the tone of entreaty. Versions other than 'do you hear me' sounded too violent or accusing or questioning to my ears.

In this phrase and in the whole poem I played with the punctuation, opting to follow the original in its loose use of punctuation marks. A strange syntax seemed necessary to the whole dramatic essence and drive of the poem. I altered the phrase in the final line, shifting it to the past tense to suggest that the speaker has got a response (maybe a nonverbal response but an indication that his love has been reciprocated) but also to make what is an extract sound like a complete poem in itself.

Alexandra Seizani-Dimitriadi