• Subscribe to our e-letters

  • Facebook_icon

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

Open 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

Graham Sells


My love, amid the steam and clatter of a bar
at dawn, my love, oh what a long
winter, waiting for you, shivering, here
where marble's ice in the veins, and eyes
brim chill.
                    Is that a tram,
that distant rumbling rolling over the frost –
doors for ever opening, slamming to
on emptiness? My love, my hand
is steady, and if in the thin scattering
of sounds the glass between my teeth betrays
a tremor, it may be echoing those wheels.
Yet, do not tell me it will not be you
alighting from those doors with your light step,
approaching with the rising sun, but death.

Translated from the Italian by Graham Sells


Amore mio, nei vapori d'un bar
all'alba, amore mio che inverno
lungo e che brivido attenderti! Qua
dove il marmo nel sangue è gelo, e sa
di rifresco anche l'occhio, ora nell'ermo
rumore oltre la brina io quale tram
odo, che apre e richiude in eterno
le deserte sue porte?… Amore, io ho fermo
il polso: e se il bicchiere entro il fragore
sottile ha un tremitìo tra i denti, è forse
di tali ruote un'eco. Ma tu, amore,
non dirmi, ora che in vece tua già il sole
sgorga, non dirmi che da quelle porte
qui, col tuo passo, già attendo la morte.

Giorgio Caproni

Translation commentary

I chose to translate a poem by Giorgio Caproni: his use of words is spare and essential, to lyrical and evocative effect. This also constitutes a great difficulty for the translator. For example, in the first line 'vapori', in the plural, suggests steam spurting from the coffee machine, rising from the sink, steaming the windows, etc, but there is no way of translating it literally into English: steams, vapours… ridiculous, of course. Here I added another word to evoke the atmosphere, but otherwise I have followed the literal sense as closely as possible. I have laboured to reflect his accurate, passionate craftsmanship, and to some extent I think I have succeeded.

Graham Sells