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The Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2016 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Jamie Kennedy

The Soldier

I spy a dove: it flies, it turns.
Where will you be tomorrow? There it goes: it flies, it turns.
Where are you off to, flying above the chill of the river?
Where are you headed? Is it to the mountains strewn with flowers?
I spy, I honour, I revere the dove that flies and turns. Revered dove, flying high; high against the wind. Solitary.
Weaving a wreath with the moves of its beak, the high dove crosses the river.
Wreaths of death speak of war. Cross upon cross, spilling out over the poisonous oleander hills.
High goes the dove, set apart and alone. Buffeted by the wind: bullets graze its soul.
Unlike the dove that found land and didn't return, this one is trapped: alive yet injured.
Where are the wings that turn no more? Only the shadow's murmur remains.
The dove flew high: there, up with the winds; too high, the dove. It falls. And nothing. Only the moon...
I spy a dove: it flies, it turns.

Translated from the Spanish by Jamie Kennedy

Una Paloma

Palomilla voladora:
vuela y torna.
¿Dónde vas tan de mañana? Vuela y torna

¿Adónde vas con el frío
sobre la espalda del río?

¿Adónde vas por la sierra
sobre la flor de la adelfa?

Alta va la paloma
que vuela y torna.
Alta la palomilla,
alta va y sola.

Guirnaldas en la Muerte
teje su pico. Alta va la paloma
cruzando el río.

Guirnaldas de la Muerte
trae de la guerra. Cruza la palomilla
sobre la adelfa.
Alta va la paloma, alta va y sola. Sobre el viento, las balas
hieren su sombra.

¿Dónde fue la paloma
que ya no vuelve? En la curva del río
sangre caliente.

¡Dónde fue la paloma
que ya no torna? Por las alas prendida
vuela su sombra.

Alta fue la paloma:
alto está el viento.
alta vuela la luna
sobre el silencio...

Palomilla voladora
vuela y torna.

Emilio Prados

Translation commentary

To solve the riddle of this poem I considered where a dove has been used as symbolism. The Biblical Noah sends out a dove to see if there's land; when the dove does not return this is great news. In contrast, Emilio Prados writes: '¿Dónde fue la paloma que ya no vuelve?' (Where is the dove that doesn't return?) 'En la curva del río, sangre caliente" (In the curve of the river, warm blooded). This dove hasn't come back because it has found a safe haven. It is injured, without help. Later, I interpreted 'guirnaldas', literally 'garlands', as 'wreaths', to further emphasise the association between the dove and death.

I believe Prados uses the dove to represent soldiers fighting in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939): men who should have been the future of the nation, 'flying high'. Prados inverts the metaphor of the dove: here representing a war that historians say was characterised by atrocities and reprisals: "Most of the killing was the consequence of anarchy" (Hugh Thomas).

I found the lack of an obvious metre difficult; the syllables change every verse and there is no rhyme. But war is not ordered and structured: it is messy.

I ended my translation with the starting line 'I spy a dove: it flies, it turns', illustrating the momentum of war: person after person killed. The dove spied in the final line is a new dove: another young life stepping onto the frontline, risking death.

The oleander plant, native to Spain, is beautiful but poisonous. With this Prados conveys that what is considered beautiful by some (war, associated with gallantry) is ugly underneath. Of course Wilfred Owen's poem 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' debates whether it is really a noble thing to die for your country: 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.'

Jamie Kennedy