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

18-and-under category, second prize

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


Marina Kisluik

A Mistake


A flying snowflake,
Falling like a shooting star…
It touches your hand, but melts away,
as if it is a tear –
It leaves nothing behind.

You try and embrace a jellyfish,
Which seems no more than a ghost –
                                                        so pale it is,
Instead, it goes away,
And you're left there alone with your memories.

Now you're trying to catch a firefly
In the comfortable silence of the night,
Trying to catch the invisible beauty,
But, everything you are left with
Is harsh reality –
Your fingers, covered with coloured dust,
Are all you're left with.

You are the one disturbing them,
But now just leave them all alone!

Don't lock your dreams,
And, stop trying to hold them,
Or otherwise they'll fade away.

Stop forcing sadness into passion,
Stop trying to wake up.
Your love was so misleading,
But due to it I bothered to wake up.

Translated from the Russian by Marina Kisluik
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Orgullo Arquitectónico


Ahí donde vives vivió gente,
no les oyes, ya se han ido,
dejaron vacíos jarrones y camas.
Tú estás ahí y eres tú mismo.

Otros
cada día amasan pan, sale otro sol,
se renueva cada célula, tu cuerpo
entero va cambiando, mañana
otro brazo, otro pie, otra forma de pensar
las mismas cosas.

Sin embargo,
la ciudad, con su orgullo arquitectónico
de hormigón armado y de cristal
siempre es la misma:
nos va acogiendo, nos va dejando hueco
dentro de ella, nos ve morir indiferente.

Alguien vendrá después de ti,
y quitará el póster donde la infancia duerme,
pintará de un color que no es el tuyo,
alguien extraño vendrá con su vida aparatosa
y ocupará donde no quedan ni tus pasos ni tu olor,
ni una triste idea de las tuyas.

La ciudad ahí se queda, ahí el sitio que viviste,
dentro de nada nadie que conozcas quedará
para pasar por estas calles, señalar a tu ventana
y decir:
mirad, ahí vivió este.

Marina Tsvetaeva
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Translation commentary

Brought up surrounded by Russian literature, I was always fascinated by the poets whose works became part of so called Silver Age of the Russian poetry. Russian was my first language, yet the works of Marina Tsvetaeva,who has put a great effort into the development of Russian poetry, always seemed rather mysterious to me. I could read them again and again, and still quite an easy rhyme would make the meaning fade.

"A Mistake" is peculiar and unique precisely in that way – it's written in an easy manner, though with a hidden philosophical meaning which needs to be read between the lines. However, I wouldn't choose to translate it just for that reason. In my opinion, this poem is uncommon in a way in which Marina Tsvetaeva describes love. How subtly she talks about it! Weightless subjects described in the poem are close in their meanings to dreams that are cherished by every single human being: the snowflake melts, the jellyfish dies and the firefly dies away. Thus, we dream about everything beautiful and unusual, however we can never be sure that those dreams will come true, and if they do, would it make us happier?

How often do people make mistakes? And, can we say that love is sometimes a mistake? But isn't it true that a human cannot fully be a human if he doesn't have this great emotion? And, as the answers to these questions are controversial, maybe Tsvetaeva meant that every single one of us is waiting for the great miracle in our lives? And this miracle must be true love…it is said that translation is hard and sophisticated work as the translator must not only transfer the author's words, but also transfer his thoughts. I hope my attempt to do that was successful.

Marina Kisluik