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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

Sarah Hudis

Writing in the sand

The lane is a black scar in the snow,
the hoar-frost thick on the trees –
one crow mans the horizon, watches the border,
and llyn Clywedog is under ice:

February in Wales turns sour,
under a picturesque postcard veneer –
mothers wake fearing the phone,
widows count the cost:

and the pictures each night on the satellite
show that God is on our side,
and the writing in the sand of the east says
that oil is thicker than blood

Translated from the Welsh by Sarah Hudis

From Sgrifen yn y Tywod

Mae'r lôn fel craith ddu yn yr eira 

a barrug ar y brigau yn dew 

un frân ar y gorwel yn gwylio'r ffin 

a llyn Clywedog dan rew:

Chwefror yng Nghymru'n troi'n chwerw, 

o dan dlysni fel cerdyn post 

mae mamau yn effro yn ofni'r ffôn 

a gweddwon yn cyfri'r gost: 

ac mae'r lluniau bob nos ar y Satellite
yn dangos bod Duw o'n plaid
a'r sgrifen yn nhywod y dwyrain yn deud
bod olew yn dewach na gwaed

Iwan Llwyd

Translation commentary

In translating Iwan Llwyd's 'Sgrifen yn y Tywod' from Welsh into English, I attempted to reconcile two concepts associated with translation, often portrayed as operating in opposition to each other, as outlined by Walter Benjamin in 'The Task of the Translator': fidelity and freedom. I read Llwyd's poem as a criticism of the motivating forces behind the first Gulf War – forces such as monetary greed, a sentiment epitomised in the line repeated throughout the full text of the poem: 'oil is thicker than blood' – and of the media representation, or perhaps misrepresentation of the conflict, the first to be broadcast on satellite television. I wished to transpose this powerful political commentary, in places privileging the translation of content over that of form in order to reinforce the imagery of a 'veneer' – a layer of snow, a sheet of ice, a television screen – veiling and distorting the truth, the biased portrayal of the situation in the East becoming manifest in the Welsh landscape.

There is not always a word in the target language equivalent to that in the source language – the Welsh 'dewach,' for instance, could be translated both as 'thicker,' and as 'fatter,' so that in my translation the nod to a prevalent, though problematic, association between fatness and greed is lost. Yet I wanted the Welsh-ness of the poem to steer my translation, thus including the Welsh 'llyn', rather than the English 'lake', and often choosing to maintain the Welsh syntax – the lake is 'under ice,' rather than 'frozen'. I aimed to strike a balance between communicating my own understanding of Llwyd's poem, and allowing the language of his writing to shape my own, rather than be obscured.

Sarah Hudis