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The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, joint first prize

Read the judges’ comments
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Beatrix Crinnion


After a dark day,
I sit down to play Haydn
and the simple heat of my hands warms the gloom away.
The keys are ready. The gentle hammers beat.
The melody is green, vibrant, serene.
The melody says that freedom exists
and that there is one who doesn't render unto Caesar.
I shuffle along, hands in my Haydnpockets.
I hoist my Haydnflag to declare our message:
'We do not back down. But we strive for peace.'
The music is a house of glass on the hillside.
There stones fly and there stones roll.
Roll straight through.
But each pane remains

Translated from the Swedish by Beatrix Crinnion


Jag spelar Haydn efter en svart dag
och känner en enkel värme i händerna.

Tangenterna vill. Milda hammare slår.
Klangen är grön, livlig och stilla.

Klangen säger att friheten finns
och att någon inte ger kejsaren skatt.

Jag kör ner händerna i mina haydnfickor
och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen.

Jag hissar haydnflaggan – det betyder:
»Vi ger oss inte. Men vill fred. «

Musiken är ett glashus på sluttningen
där stenarna flyger, stenarna rullar.

Och stenarna rullar tvärs igenom
men varje ruta förblir hel.

Tomas Tranströmer
Reproduced by permission of Monica Tranströmer

Translation commentary

The opportunity to enter the Stephen Spender competition arose not long after I had begun to teach myself Swedish, and I thought that having a go at it would be a fun way to discover more about the Swedes, their country and their language. While I do tend to use music to learn more vocabulary, reading and translating foreign poetry was something which I had not yet considered. So I started, as a beginner, simply: searching Swedish poetry on Google.

One of the poets who stood out to me most was Tomas Tranströmer; he has been praised for being such an accessible and influential poet and even won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. It is not difficult to understand why. The Swedish he uses is not particularly extravagant or elaborate, and yet his poems create very intricate and pure images. Tranströmer, who died in March this year, is one of the most translated Scandinavian poets of his time – his poems have been translated into more than sixty languages – and arguably the most celebrated too. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I wanted to try to give the same image and fluency without being too wordy.

There were several challenges in this poem, one being the line 'och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen'. I eventually opted for just the one word 'nonchalant', as not only was it short and precise, it gave the calm and detached sense that would otherwise feel quite clunky in the English. The choice to make the poem one stanza instead of couplets came naturally while translating. I felt that it made the poem mirror the peace and serenity of the music, but without losing its structure as it still had the one-word lines 'nonchalant' and 'unbroken' which framed the two themes of the music (ie the music versus the metaphor).

Beatrix Crinnion