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

18-and-under category, first prize

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

John Tinneny


Listen to Persephone

'Now don't be worried about me, mum,
and don't be buck mad,
though yes, I admit, that I was bold
and didn't do as I was told,
and that I got a lift from the tall dark man
in his BMW, but
he was so handsome, and so gentle
you couldn't have said no.

He took me on a trip abroad
beyond everything I'd thought I knew.
The car-ride was so silky smooth
that you'd have thought we'd grown wings and flew.
He promised me velvet, satin,
and he gave them to me, too.
He's so good to me – except for the fact
this house here of his is pretty dark.

He says I'll be queen
over the lands of all his people,
that he'll make me into a star as hyped
as any of them in Hollywood.
If I want diamonds and silk I get them,
but food, now that's limited. He's only after
giving me a pomegranate. Blood-red
and bursting with seeds, like thousands upon thousands

of blood drops.'

Translated from the Irish by John Tinneny


'Ná bí buartha fúm, a mháthair,
is ná bí mallaithe,
cé go n-admhaím go rabhas dána
is nár dheineas rud ort,
gur thógas marcaíocht ón bhfear caol dorcha
ina BhMW,
bhí sé chomh dathúil sin, is chomh mánla
ná féadfainn diúltú dhó.

Thug sé leis ar thuras thar sáile mé
thar raoin m'aithne.
Bhí an gluaisteán chomh mear chomh síodúil sin
gur dhóigh leat go raibh sciatháin faoi.
Gheall sé sról is veilbhit dom
is thug sé dom iad, leis.
Tá sé go maith dhom – ach aon rud amháin,
tá an tigh seo ana-dhorcha.

Deir sé go mbead i mo bhanríon
ar chríocha a chineáil,
go ndéanfaidh sé réalt dom chomh cáiliúil
le haon cheann acu i Hollywood.
ach tá an bia gann. Anois díreach
thugadar chugham úll gráinneach. Tá sé craorag
is lán de shíolta ar nós na mílte is na mílte

braonta fola.'

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
Reproduced by permission of the poet

Translation commentary

I chose to translate this poem by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill because I have a keen interest in the Irish language and Greek myths, and in this poem both passions were combined. The conversational tone Persephone uses with her mother was a challenge as the colloquialisms and idioms of Irish can seem quite strange in literal translation e.g. 'mallaithe' means 'cursed' in English, which would seem unintelligible to an English speaker, whereas 'buck-mad' expresses the anger of the mother, grounds the poem in the Irish context that Ní Dhomhnaill has moved it to, and creates a certain earthiness that with other turns of phrase ('any of them in Hollywood') brings the speaker of the poem to life. Moreover, an aspect I loved about the original poem was its use of humorous anachronisms, like the mention of Hades' BMW, and this was a feature I tried to strengthen with modern phrases like 'hyped'. The structure of the stanzas wasn't something that needed to be overly changed in my opinion, especially the last line, which with its closing imagery of 'blood drops' was highly effective. However, I was quite free with line length and breaks. Irish, with its use of the genitive and compound pronouns, can be quite a compact language, and so I was aware that some short lines would be difficult to preserve completely without hobbling the flow of the poem. That said, the musicality of the original poem and language was a quality I tried to evoke though alliteration and assonance and by introducing rhyme into the poem in the second stanza, which not only gave the poem an aesthetic value but mirrored the seduction of Persephone with a similar easiness on the ear.

John Tinneny