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The Stephen Spender Prize 2017 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2017 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Natasha Symes

On our Way Home from School

On our way home from school
We began to play
On an enormous railway
Which whisked us away

All over the World
On a passing sun-ray.
All over the World
We liked to play
With the Sea who strolled and smiled
The shells at her fingers
And her scented isles
With her splendid shipwrecks
Where we dined on
Oysters and champagne.
High up in the Sky
We liked to play
With the Moon and Stars
On a flying barge
On it's way to Japan.
We met the Three Musketeers
Who fought all our fears
And winding the crank
Of a small submarine
Plunging to the depths of the Ocean
Looking for langoustines.
Back to Earth in a single motion
We wanted to play
On the railway
Inside a house which simply ran away
It sprinted all over the world
It jogged all over the Sea
It walked in front of Winter
So we started to chase it
But as it fell into our net
The Sun came out
And saluted us warriors
And a security officer
Thanked us for catching
That runaway house
So Spring made all his flowers
Grow with superpowers
But they soon even towered
Over huge archways
And grew onto the railway
Which chose to fade away
For fear of spoiling the incredible bouquet
Then we returned home on foot
On foot all over the World
On foot all over the Sea
And all around the Sun
The Moon and the Stars
On foot, on horseback, by car, and by boat

Translated from the French by Natasha Symes

En sortant de l'école

En sortant de l'école
Nous avons rencontré
Un grand chemin de fer
Qui nous a emmenés

Tout autour de la terre
Dans un wagon doré.
Tout autour de la terre
Nous avons rencontré
La mer qui se promenait
Avec tous coquillages
es îles parfumées
Et puis ses beaux naufrages
Et ses saumons fumes.
Au-dessus de la mer
Nous avons rencontré
La lune et les étoiles
Sur un bateau à voiles
Partant pour le Japon
Et les trois mousquetaires
Des cinq doigts de la mains
Tournant la manivelle
D'un petit sous-marin
Plongeant au fond des mers
Pour chercher des oursins.
Revenant sur la terre
Nous avons rencontré
Sur la voie de chemin de fer
Une maison qui fuyait
Fuyait tout autour de la terre
Fuyait tout autour de la mer
Fuyait devant l'hiver
Et on s'est mis à rouler
Rouler derrière l'hiver
Et on l'a écrasé
Et la maison s'est arrêtée
Et le printemps nous a salués.
C'est lui le garde-barrière
Et il nous a bien remerciés
Et toutes les fleurs de tout la terre
Soudain se sont mises à pousser
Pousser à tort et à travers
Sur la voie du chemin de fer
Qui ne voulait plus advancer
De peur de les abîmer.
Alors on est revenu à pied
A pied tout autour de la terre
A pied tout autour de la mer
Tout autour du soleil
De la lune et des étoiles
A pied, à cheval, en voiture, et en bateau

Jacques Prévert

Translation commentary

I chose to translate 'En sortant de l'école' by Jacques Prévert because when reading this poem, I found that one can't help but feel that they are with the narrators of the poem, exploring their world of imagination with them. Also it felt quite nostalgic for me, as I too used to do the exact same thing with my sisters after school!

The first question I asked myself was, whether or not I wanted to do a literal translation. I decided against this, as I wanted to convey the feeling of the poem as a whole, rather than do the exact translation of each phrase.

Another question I asked myself was if I should transfer the rhyme scheme of the original poem into my translation. I wanted to do this, as in my opinion, the rhyme provides the poem with an especially childlike, playful feel, and I thought would hopefully contribute in bringing the essence of the original piece into my translation. The dilemma with using the same rhyme scheme in my translation was that it would be very challenging to a very literal translation, so in the end I tried to create a balance of a similar meaning of the phrases, along with it sounding right in English and using the rhyme scheme wherever possible.

In the original poem, the rhyming couplet "Tout autour de lat terre / Tout autour de la mer" comes up repeatedly. Although I had originally planned on using the exact same rhyme scheme, I struggled to find a way of translating this couplet in a way in which it would maintain it's initial meaning, but also still rhyme. Eventually I decided to translate it literally, resulting in there being no rhyme. I did this because I thought that the concept of going 'all over the Earth and All over the Sea' was an important one as these two things make up our world. I think that it also helped to give my translation a more distinct efrain, as the refrain is one of the only phrases that does not rhyme.

Whilst translating the poem, I also found that some of the phrases didn't sound completely natural in English. For example, "En sortant de l'école" literally means 'On leaving school', however I didn't think that this was a phrase that the narrators of the original poem (who are children) would naturally say. It was tricky to find what I thought sounded familiar in English, but eventually I came up with'On our way home from school'.

On some parts of my translation, I had to change an actual noun entirely, in order to maintain the original rhyme scheme. Such as when I changed 'sea urchins' to 'langoustines'. However I tried to be careful to choose a new noun which still conveyed the same feeling as the previous one.

I also made a conscious decision not to find out more about Jacques Prévert, as I wanted to translate his poem entirely on its own merits, in order to keep my 13 year-old's perspective on what I interpreted to be a poem about the wonders and freedom of childhood.

I intentionally used capital letters in the personification of things such as the seasons and the sea, because it helped to exaggerate the illusion of these things being like people.

Natasha Symes