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

Open category, third 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


Antoinette Fawcett

Wind-still


I almost dreamt I was asleep
and walking through a water meadow
and in the silent heat of spring
I saw the stock-still silent white
cow-parsley blooming by the ditch
in a deathly hush, for there was no wind,
and high and white above the dyke
the slack sails of a wind-stilled boat
that glided as the Ijssel flowed
for there was no wind
I was dreaming of
across the dyke-path cyclists rode
because I heard the gravelly sound
of eighty years ago
and that was it

Translated from the Dutch by Antoinette Fawcett
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Windstil


Ik droomde bijna dat ik sliep
en door een wijde polderweide liep
en in de stille lentehitte
zag ik de doodstil staande witte
schermbloemen langs de sloot,
want er was geen wind
en boven de dijk de witte
slappe zeilen van een boot,
ze gleden zoals de IJssel stroomde
want er was geen wind
waar ik van droomde
en over het dijkpad reden
fietsers want ik hooarde het grind
van tachtig jaar geleden
en verder niets

Leo Vroman
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Translation commentary

The word 'wind-still' doesn't exist in English, but it is a compound word that I believe most English speakers would intuitively understand, particularly in the context of this poem. To translate the word – as a dictionary would – as 'windless' or 'calm' wouldn't give the sense that something that was active – full of breath, and life, and spirit – has come to a halt. What might seem like an over-literal translation of the Dutch word 'windstil' is, in fact, a considered choice, selected for its effect within the full poetic dynamic.

The poem was published in Vroman's 2011 collection Daar – a kind of diary of poems and sketches, in which Vroman was almost literally gesturing 'over there', the place or point where he would be at his death, and perhaps after (although he had no conventional views on any kind of afterlife).

I first came across Vroman's poems many years ago, when I was immersing myself in Dutch poetry, trying to discover what I liked, what made an impact on me. I was struck then by the nakedness of Vroman's words, as well as the vivid imagery and often idiosyncratic mode of expression. This short poem, which I discovered recently, I also found powerful, but in a much more pared-down and seemingly casual way than some of the perhaps more famous earlier pieces.

In translating the poem I have tried to retain the clarity of the imagery, which conveys the hyper-reality of a near-dream state, and have worked with sounds and rhythms. I have not used exactly the same rhyme-patterning, as I didn't wish to stiffen the natural flow of the words, wanting them to move as freely as they do in the Dutch. Instead I have used fleeting rhymes, assonances and alliterations to catch the stillness – and sound – that is heard.

Antoinette Fawcett