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

18-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2017 booklet
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Read the winning entries from previous years

Isobel Sanders

Elegy 3.8

I got a kick out of last night's lamp-lit tiff
And the countless curses from your foaming mouth!
Yes, you minx, grab at my hair and
Claw at my face with those pretty talons.
Threaten to scorch my eyes with fire,
Shred my shirt, lay bare my chest!
In your boozed-up blind-rage you hurled the table away and
Wild-fisted, flung full highballs at me.
No question about it – you give me proof of passion, since
No woman moans unless deeply in love.
The banshee-bitch who spits abuse with fierce tongue
Also grovels at the feet of glorious Love.
Out on the town, maybe tight-flanked by the muscle,
Maybe doing a mid-street samba like a stricken Madwoman,
Maybe scared to death by nightmares, the poor darling,
Maybe miserably moping at a painted girl:
– Frankly, I can read a tortured heart, I'm an old hand –
These are surely signs of true love.
No yelling means no knowing if you are true:
I leave clingy girl-friends to my rivals.
Brothers, look at the wounds on my bitten neck,
The bruises show… I have a girl-friend!
To moan or to hear moaning is what I want in love,
My tears or yours! That's what I want to see
When your eyebrows send out secret words,
Or your fingers tap out silent codes.
I hate passing peaceful nights asleep:
I'd rather suffer cold sweats over this grouchy girl!
Passion pleased Paris more when, shimmying through Greek swords,
He could bring bliss to his Helen.
As the Greeks struck it big, as yobbish Hector stood his ground,
Paris waged the greatest war in Helen's lap.
I'm always up for a fight – if not with you, for you;
Your cease-fire has me worried!
Enjoy your queen-bee beauty while it lasts: You would
whine if someone else were prettier.
As for you, who booby-trapped the bed,
I hope your pa-in-law never dies, and your house is never ma-less!
And you, to whom she gave the booty of a stolen night,
She was mad with me, not in love with you!

Translated from the Latin by Isobel Sanders

Elegy 3.8

Dulcis ad hesternas fuerat mihi rixa lucernas
  vocis et insanae tot maledicta tuae.
tu vero nostros audax invade capillos
  et mea formosis unguibus ora nota,
tu minitare oculos subiecta exurere flamma,
  fac mea rescisso pectora nuda sinu!
cum furibunda mero mensam propellis et in me
  proicis insana cymbia plena manu,
nimirum veri dantur mihi signa caloris:
  nam sine amore gravi femina nulla dolet.
quae mulier rabida iactat convicia lingua,
  haec Veneris magnae volvitur ante pedes.
custodum grege seu circa se stipat euntem,
  seu sequitur medias, maenas ut icta, vias,
seu timidam crebro dementia somnia terrent,
  seu miseram in tabula picta puella movet,
his ego tormentis animi sum verus haruspex,
  has didici certo saepe in amore notas.
non est certa fides, quam non in iurgia vertas:
  hostibus eveniat lenta puella meis.
in morso aequales videant mea vulnera collo:
  me doceat livor mecum habuisse meam.
aut in amore dolere volo aut audire dolentem,
  sive meas lacrimas sive videre tuas,
tecta superciliis si quando verba remittis,
  aut tua cum digitis scripta silenda notas.
odi ego quos numquam pungunt suspiria somnos:
  semper in irata pallidus esse velim.
dulcior ignis erat Paridi, cum Graia per arma
  Tynaridi poterat gaudia ferre suae:
dum vincunt Danai, dum restat barbarus Hector,
  ille Helenae in gremio maxima bella gerit.
aut tecum aut pro te mihi cum rivalibus arma
  semper erunt: in te pax mihi nulla placet.
gaude, quod nullast aeque formosa: doleres,
  si qua foret: nunc sis iure superba licet.
at tibi, qui nostro nexisti retia lecto,
  sit socer aeternum nec sine matre domus!
cui nunc si qua datast furandae copia noctis,
  offensa illa mihi, non tibi amica, dedit.


Translation commentary

Studying Roman love elegy at school, I felt that many of the translations of works by Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid were old-fashioned. Tibullus wrote about scandal ('fabula'), Propertius called himself scandalous, and Ovid was supposedly exiled for the adulterous Ars Amatoria, so it is safe to say that these poets weren't conservative! I chose to translate this poem by Propertius because I loved the idea of presenting a modern-day Cynthia; fierce and feisty. She couldn't just be a woman (mulier), she had to be a 'banshee-bitch', she had to hurl 'full highballs' and be escorted by 'the muscle' (custodum). The narrator was also very appealing, however sometimes I found it difficult to give the reader a sense of the character behind the voice - his misreading of Cynthia's behaviour (the typical Elegiac topos of anger representing love) is comic but subtle. Also humorous is the poet's self-mythologising with his reference to Paris's exploits with Helen. Allusions to classical figures were problematic and so I treated each name differently, according to context, with the intention that the reader shouldn't need to stop reading to look something up. For example, in Greek mythology, maenads were mad, drunk, dancing women. I altered the verb 'sequitur', which means 'she follows', so that it might express the qualities of a modern maenad. 'Madwomen' could then be used without altering the overall mood of the line. Typical of the elegiac form, this poem has a very strict metre and prescribed rhythm, yet a conversational tone. When translating, I took care to write poetry rather than prose, whilst keeping speech-rhythm. This poem is a bit of a boast by the poet, addressed to Cynthia, his friends, and his rivals.

Isobel Sanders