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The Stephen Spender Prize 2018 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2018 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Jasper Hersov

Under Mirabeau Bridge


Under Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine
And our loves
Must I remember them:
Joy always came after the Pain

Let night come and toll time away
The days pass by, yet I stay

Hand in hand, let's remain face to face
While underneath
The bridge of our embrace
The weary waves pass from our endless gaze

Let night come and toll time away
The days pass by, yet I stay

Love, like this water, flows ever past me
Love passes away
Like life, slowly,
Just as violent as Hope can be

Let night come and toll time away
The days pass by, yet I stay

The days are spent and the weeks are spent
But neither time
Nor Love returns again –
Under Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

Let night come and toll time away
The days pass by, yet I stay

Translated from the French by Jasper Hersov
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Le pont Mirabeau


Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
          Et nos amours
     Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

          Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
          Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
          Tandis que sous
     Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

          Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
          Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
          L'amour s'en va
     Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

          Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
          Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
          Ni temps passé
     Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

          Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
          Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Guillaume Apollinaire
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Translation commentary

I chose this evocative poem by Apollinaire because I loved the way he uses the River Seine as a metaphor for love and life – ever flowing onwards, never backwards.

The first challenge I encountered was whether or not to maintain the rhyme scheme of the original poem. In the end, I decided to keep it, at the cost of a very literal translation, as I felt it important to retain the flow of the poem which is suggestive of the flowing river. For this same effect, I decided to omit full stops. I also capitalised the abstract nouns, such as 'Love' and 'Joy' which are the key emotions in the narrator's life and also key words in the poem.

Regarding the rhyming couplets, I knew that 'sonne l'heure' referred to the ringing of the bells, marking the hour, but instead of going for a more obvious onomatopoeic translation, I decided on 'sonne' as 'toll' firstly, to maintain some rhythm, secondly for the alliteration of the 't' and finally because of its double meaning in English. Apart from striking/ringing it is also means charging someone on a journey, just as the narrator has to give up time and love in order to continue the journey of life.

When reading through the poem, I noticed that the last line of the final quatrain is a repeat of the first line: 'Under Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine'. The water passing under the bridge is a metaphor for lost love and precious time, which can never return. I emphasised this with a simple dash to make it slightly more evident. After all, a translation doesn't mean transposing every individual word from French to English, but rather taking the overall meaning of the poem and making it easier for English speakers to understand.

Jasper Hersov